Written by James Murray-Jones
The latest figures on UK car sales from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), made underwhelming reading. In the month that new “69” registration plates were introduced, year to date new car sales are some 2.5% behind the same period last year.
Behind the detail, September saw a 45% decline in diesel sales, while petrol experienced a modest increase of 4.5%. In contrast battery electric vehicles (BEVs) were up a whopping 236% (5,414 units), boosted by the release of several new models.
According to the SMMT, consumers now have the option of around 80 different hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric and hydrogen vehicles.
Up until now the relative expense of electric vehicles has been a notable deterrent to demand. That, and well-publicised anxieties over mileage-range and concerns over the availability of charging stations.
However things are set to change, with new models like the Mini Electric arriving in 2020 offering 124 miles of range and an accessible price tag of £25,000. Change will also be driven by new emissions legislation coming into effect in 2020. The new rulings will require manufacturers to achieve an average CO2 level of 95g/km across all their vehicle sales. Failure to hit these targets will result in fines that could run into several billions.
Given these punitive measures, many commentators are suggesting that manufacturers may be forced to register electric vehicles (EVs) in order to artificially reach their targets (source: DTinsights September 2019). They might also have to hold back sales of higher emitting petrol and diesel cars to keep within the limits.
At a time when manufacturers are being forced into action, there is plenty of evidence of pent-up consumer demand for EVs. There are long waiting lists for popular models like the Kia e-Niro, Hyundai Kona Electric and the Jaguar I-Pace. While the recently launched Porsche Taycan is said to have a two-year waiting list.
In a sign that EVs are poised to go mass-market, Tesla’s new Model 3 became the third highest selling vehicle in the UK in August. The model, released in June, represented the first time Tesla has appeared in the top-10 best sellers list. In the process it surpassed traditional volume brands like the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Focus.
However, perhaps the biggest EV news of late was last month’s launch of the VW ID 3 hatchback at the Frankfurt motor show. The vehicle, widely heralded as the company’s most important model since the launch of the Golf in 1974, will deliver both range and affordability.
VW have signalled the significance of its launch through the number 3 in ID3 – which according to VW denotes “the third major chapter” for the brand after the Beetle and Golf. A high claim given the legendary status of both its predecessors.
The ID3 officially goes on sale in 2020 at a price of around £30,000. It will offer a claimed range of up to 340-miles and will be the first car to use VW’s purpose-built EV-only MEB platform. This modular chassis will also scale to deliver SUVs, Estates, Saloons and even a Buggy and Campervan.
So, despite September’s car sales looking shaky, the automotive sector at large is poised for a period of accelerated change. 2020 is likely to be a landmark year with legislation forcing manufacturers to make the switch to electric. At the same time, consumers will be tempted by a slew of EVs hitting the market. Some of these cars will undoubtedly change perceptions, opening minds and wallets towards an electric future.