Number of licensed cars fall overall as EV and motorcycle sales rise

Number of licensed cars fall overall as EV and motorcycle sales rise
The number of licensed cars on roads in Britain decreased last year for the first time in 30 years, while demand for green vehicles shot up, official figures reveal.

Year-on-year there were 192,000 fewer cars permitted to be driven in December, largely due to motorists taking unused vehicles off the road amid lockdown restrictions, Department for Transport (DfT) data shows.

The number of statutory off-road notification (SORN) vehicles – taken off public roads so drivers don’t have to pay tax and insurance – had increased 259,000 by December.

A total 31,696,000 passenger cars were licensed at the end of 2020 – marking a fourth consecutive quarter of year-on-year decline. In total, the number of all vehicles legally allowed on the roads decreased by 101,000, while all vehicles with a SORN rose by 421,000.

But in a record first, more alternative fuel cars (338,000) were registered across the country last year compared to diesels (295,000), following an 87% year-on-year increase.

RAC data insight spokesman Rod Dennis pointed out the confirmed rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles in 2020, and also hailed it as a “remarkable year” for registrations of two-wheelers.

Figures show 179,000 ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) were registered for the first time during 2020, an increase of 125% on 2019.

Battery Electric Cars (BEV) accounted for 107,878 sales in 2020 representing a 184% annual increase, while Plug-in Hybrid Electric Cars (PHEV) accounted for 63,048 sales – an 82% upturn. 

Despite the overall decline in car registrations in 2020 – down almost a third to 1.63 million – demand for two-wheelers like motorcycles, scooters and mopeds increased at a record rate in the second half of the year.

Rod Dennis said: “2020 was a remarkable year for registrations of new motorcycles and other two-wheelers such as mopeds and scooters. Despite the pandemic, the second half of the year saw the highest number of new registrations of these since 2016 and meant overall 2020 sales fell by just 5% year-on-year, compared to car sales which fell by a huge 29%.

“It seems Covid and the decline in public transport use have encouraged many more people to think about how they get around. It could also mean some have switched to motorcycles and mopeds as an alternative to a second car.

“What’s more, with more than a quarter of a million cars declared off-the-road (‘SORN’) at the end of last year, it remains to be seen just how people’s mobility choices are affected by the pandemic in the longer term and how many of these cars come back on the road.

“The data also confirms separate figures from the SMMT that shows that more alternatively-fuelled – including pure electrics – cars were newly registered in 2020 than diesel cars for the first time. With ever-more electrified models available, it’s looking increasingly likely that sales of diesel cars may now never recover to previous levels, which will help improve the air quality in towns and cities.”

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