The millionth electric car is sold in the UK – yet EV take-up is dwindling among private buyers

Published: 06 February 2024 Updated: 06 February 2024

► Britain’s millionth EV has been sold
► 22 years after the first electric car
► Pure EVs account for 15% of sales

Britain has passed an important milestone, as the millionth battery electric vehicle has hit the road. It suggests that electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming normalised and accepted by many motorists, despite their higher purchase price.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) announced the millionth electric car in its January 2024 trading update. It reported that the UK’s new-car market was up 8.2% on the same month in 2023, with 142,876 new vehicles registered (a rise of 10,882 year-on-year).

However, despite the UK enjoying an 18th consecutive month of year-on-year growth, it is becoming clear that corporate sales are in ruder health than the retail market. Purchases by private buyers are down by 16%, while fleet purchases accounted for more than six of every 10 cars sold.

Electric cars: who’s really buying them?

Despite all the hoopla over the millionth EV, there is growing concern that electric cars are not yet achieving the critical mass needed if the government is to hit its climate targets. Demand for electric company cars grew by 42% in January 2024, compared with a 25% slump in private demand for EVs.

Critics point out that the UK is alone in mandating the end of combustion cars by 2035 without supporting measures or electric car grants to encourage uptake.

There is no word of which electric vehicle was responsible for passing the millionth milestone. In January 14.7% of all sales were fully electric cars, some margin behind the government’s target of 22% this year.

This is what Britons bought in January 2024:

  • Petrol: 81,905
  • Battery electric vehicle (BEV): 20,935
  • Hybrid: 18,744
  • Plug-in hybrid: 11,944
  • Diesel: 9348

The fall from grace of diesel is no surprise, but the figures show there is still a mountain to climb to propel BEVs past petrol combustion cars.

The political will to support take-up of EVs

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: ‘It’s taken just over 20 years to reach our million EV milestone – but with the right policies, we can double down on that success in just another two. Market growth is currently dependent on businesses and fleets.

‘Government must therefore use the upcoming Budget to support private EV buyers, temporarily halving VAT to cut carbon, drive economic growth and help everyone make the switch. Manufacturers have been asked to supply the vehicles, we now ask government to help consumers buy the vehicles on which net zero depends.’

If you’re thinking of plugging in, be sure to check out our guides to how to go electric in the following stories.

Further electric car reading

The best electric cars and EVs on sale today

What it’s really like to live with an electric car

How much does it cost to charge an EV?

The best cheap electric cars

Long range electric cars

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, car news magnet, crafter of words