New cars sold in the UK jumped last month but fears are mounting that unless the UK decides to drive a lot less, it will struggle to meet its net-zero ambitions.

A total of 74,441 new cars were registered last month, up 26.2 per cent on the same period last year, industry body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.

Global supply chain shortages, particularly of computer chips, has acted as brake on car makers’ ability to meet demand, the SMMT said.

It forecast that registrations across the whole of 2023 will reach 1.79 million, up 11.1 per cent on 2021.
But while registrations of hybrid electric vehicles increased by 40 per cent, the market share for pure electric vehicles was 16.5 per cent, down from 17.1 per cent last month. Only Tesla’s Model Y all-electric featured in the top 10 sellers list.

Steve Gooding, of the RAC Foundation, said: “This rise in overall sales looks like good news. But in terms of the cars we are choosing to buy, the battery-electric share of the market is disappointing given the role electric vehicles are set to play in meeting our climate change objectives.

“Unless we choose to drive less, by the end of 2030 we estimate that well over a third (37 per cent) of all miles driven by cars must be zero emission from the exhaust. At the moment it is under two per cent, which suggests a far more rapid take-up of pure electric models is needed.”

The increased sales of hybrid vehicles will do little to help meet environmental targets the RAC has warned. Its own study found hybrid vehicle drivers used the petrol engine too much and the electric drive too little.

“For plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology to make a greater impact, there would need to be some large changes. For example, if new hybrids came with software that strongly compelled electric use, had a shorter petrol engine range or a greater electric range, or, for fleets, were provided with incentives to drivers to maximise electric operation, progress in this direction might be made,” their report concluded.

Ben Nelmes, at the transport think tank New AutoMotive, said: “To sustain the UK’s progress towards electric transport, the Government needs to try harder to increase the supply of electric vehicles to the UK. The upcoming Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate will incentivise manufacturers to sell electric cars in the UK, ensuring sufficient EVs enter the country or are produced in the UK.

“Finalising the mandate’s specifics as soon as possible is essential given that it’s scheduled to take effect in 2024. Any delay to it being implemented would jeopardise the transition’s pace and punish drivers who want to switch to electric vehicles doing their part to reduce emissions.”

The mandate followed an independent review of the Government’s Net Zero Strategy which suggested it be introduced by 2024. The mandate will force manufacturers to sell a certain proportion of electric vehicles (EVs) in the lead up to 2030.

SMMT boss Mike Hawes said it was “vital” the Government also “backs the transition to green driving. “ The upcoming Budget must deliver measures that drive this transition including increasing affordability of EV’s and ease of charging for all.

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The figures came as it was reported that both Ferrari and Porsche are seeking exemptions for conventional combustion engined vehicles which use synthetic electrofuels, or e-fuels, rather than petrol or diesel, from the European Union’s planned 2035 ban on new conventional engines.

Their lobbying of the German and Italian governments was behind a suspension of a vote on the 2035 ban shortly before it was due to be held, Bloomberg reported.

Formula 1 is set to switch to carbon-friendly synthetic fuels in 2026 and car companies building high performance cars prefer it to heavy electric batteries which reduce performance.

MPs said last week that access to alternative fuels may prove a fairer and more just option for motorists, rather than necessitating purchases of expensive electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.

Greater investment in sustainable fuels could mitigate the risks of electronic vehicle battery production or grid capacity being insufficient and would cater for conventional vehicles that will remain on the road past the point at which sales of new conventional-engine cars will be banned, the Transport select committee said.

Ian Birrell

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