The UK car market suffered at the hands of lockdowns and supply shortages in 2021, posting only marginal growth compared with Covid-ravaged 2020. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed a total of almost 1.65 million new cars were registered in the UK last year – up just one percent on 2020.

To be exact, 1,647,181 new cars were registered in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 2021, compared with 1,631,064 registered in 2020. Both years were hit by the coronavirus pandemic, although lockdowns were more problematic in 2020, but 2021 saw the global semiconductor shortage hamper vehicle supply.

Compared with 2019, the last year not seriously impacted by the coronavirus crisis, new car sales were down by 28.7 percent. That made 2021 the second worst year for UK new car registrations since 1992. Only 2020 was worse.

Skoda Kamiq SE L Executive

However, the SMMT says there was a small crumb of comfort for the industry, with electric cars posting record sales. In total, the SMMT data shows almost 191,000 new battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) were registered in 2021 – more than were registered over the previous five years combined.

Similarly, more than 114,500 new plug-in hybrid cars (PHEVs) were registered last year, meaning almost one in five new cars could be plugged in and run on electricity alone. When you add conventional ‘self-charging’ hybrids to the mix, the total market share for hybrid and electric vehicles hit 27.5 percent.

Toyota Prius

That said, petrol-powered cars, including those with mild-hybrid technology, remain the most popular models on the market. In total, petrol cars accounted for 58.3 percent of UK new car sales, with diesels accounting for just 14.2 percent. BEVs made up 11.6 percent of all new registrations.

However, the most popular vehicle on the market in the UK was still powered predominantly by diesel. Although the Vauxhall Corsa was the most popular car on sale, and the all-electric Tesla Model 3 came second it was still outsold by the Ford Transit Custom van. In total, just under 41,000 examples of the Corsa were registered in the whole of 2021, but the Transit Custom had eclipsed that total by the end of October.

Ford Transit Custom Trail

“It’s been another desperately disappointing year for the car industry as Covid continues to cast a pall over any recovery,” said Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive. “Manufacturers continue to battle myriad challenges, with tougher trading arrangements, accelerating technology shifts and, above all, the global semiconductor shortage which is decimating supply.

“Despite the challenges, the undeniable bright spot is the growth in electric car uptake. A record-breaking year for the cleanest, greenest vehicles is testament to the investment made by the industry over the past decade and the inherent attractiveness of the technology. The models are there, with two of every five new car models now able to be plugged in, drivers have the widest choice ever and industry is working hard to overcome Covid-related supply constraints.”