Tracking the UK's progress towards zero-emissions driving

The road to electric - in charts and data

With the announcement in November 2020 that new petrol and diesel cars and vans will no longer be sold in the UK after 2030, with hybrid sales banned from 2035, there is now more momentum than ever around getting drivers into cleaner vehicles.

So at the start of 2021, what progress is the country making, in terms of drivers choosing electrified cars over those powered by petrol and diesel engines, and when it comes to places to charge electric cars? And what do drivers say is holding them back from opting for an electric car next time they change their vehicle?

Use this helpful guide from the RAC to track the progress the UK is making as we head towards 2030, with easy-read charts and graphics to help you make sense of the numbers.

And don't forget - the RAC was the breakdown assistance company to develop a mobile electric vehicle charger system, EV Boost, capable of giving stranded out-of-charge vehicles a boost from a standard orange RAC patrol van. Find out more about the breakdown services we offer drivers of electric and hybrid cars.

How many electric vehicles are there in the UK?

There are a number of different types of electric car available at the moment, and that explains why there are so many acronyms. Use our guide to electric cars to find out which is which, but in short:

  • Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are powered solely by an electric motor/battery, and charged from an external source of electric power. These cars have no tailpipe, and therefore no emissions
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are equipped with both a petrol or diesel engine, as well as a battery that can be charged up by plugging in. These vehicles can be driven from either power source, and only 'zero emissions' when driven in electric-only mode. They are joined by Range-Extended Electric Vehicles (RE-EVs), which use engines or fuel cells to charge up the batteries
  • Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) are similar to PHEVs, but the electric motor/battery is smaller and charged by braking/cruising - it can't be plugged in and charged. They're sometimes referred to as 'self-charging hybrids' for this reason. These cars have very limited 'zero emissions' electric-only modes

In addition there are also Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicles (MHEV) which are powered by petrol and diesel engines and assisted by a secondary electric battery. But importantly, these cars cannot be driven in a zero-emissions mode.

The RAC estimates that there are around 300,000 zero-emission Battery Electric Vehicles on the UK's roads - with nearly 100,000 registered so far in 2021 alone - along with 305,000 plug-in hybrids and 690,000 conventional hybrids. The following charts are the official (lagged) government figures for electric vehicles on the roads, and include cars as well as other forms of vehicle such as light goods vehicles.

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The following chart shows how the mix of electrified vehicles sold in the UK varies - with Battery Electric Vehicles sold in ever-increasing quantities:

While electric vehicles currently account for a relatively small proportion of new car registrations, things are changing quickly - indeed 2020, which saw low volumes of new cars on the roads as a result of COVID-19, saw a greater proportion of new electrified vehicles on the roads than ever before:

How many charging points are there for electric cars?

The number of places to charge an electric car is growing rapidly - and of course people lucky enough to have off-street parking (be this at home or at a workplace) can also have private charge points fitted to give them more places to top up. Our in-depth charging guide helps explain.

The power output of a charger - measured in kilowatts (kW) - dictates how fast it can charge an electric car. Some cars also have limits for how quickly they can be charged. Slower ('non-rapid) chargers are normally older units or are located in places where people are likely to leave their cars for extended periods. Rapid and ultra-rapid chargers can often charge electric cars in less than an hour, some in a matter of minutes.

The chart below shows the current number of charging devices (physical units). Each device may or may not have more than one connector, allowing several cars to be charged at the same time. 

Which are the most popular electric cars?

The chart below shows which electric cars you're most likely to see on the UK's roads, with models from Nissan, Renault and Tesla currently representing around half of all EVs registered.

Read our guide to the best electric cars available now.

How far can electric cars go on a single charge?

While drivers of petrol and diesel cars might be used to driving 500+ miles before filling up, Battery Electric Vehicles don't (yet) offer that sort of range on a single charge - batteries are heavy, and heavier cars are thirstier and less efficient than lighter ones.

But with the average car trip being under 10 miles, with some planning a BEV can still make a sensible choice of car for many people. 

Read our guide to electric car range.

 

The RAC is leading the way when it comes to supporting drivers in the switch to electric vehicles.

An ever-increasing number of our patrol vans have built-in emergency mobile charging systems capable of giving an out-of-charge electric car enough power to be driven a short distance home or to a working chargepoint, while our All-Wheels-Up recovery system allows our patrols to safely rescue electric cars with no need for a flatbed.

Find out more about the RAC’s electric car breakdown cover.

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Read next in Choosing an electric car

Read our electric car buyer's guide next.

Read next

Return to the RAC Drive Electric cars hub

Read our guides on choosing, charging and running an electric car.

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