The UK new car market grew by 15 percent in February, but sales remained well below pre-pandemic levels. That’s the conclusion drawn from new figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which records new car registrations every month.

The SMMT’s latest data reveals just under 59,000 new cars were registered in the UK last month, an increase of 15 percent compared with last February. However, last February, the nation was in the midst of lockdown and dealership doors remained closed, so growth was almost inevitable.

Perhaps a better comparison is February 2020, the last month not heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Two years ago, the SMMT reported 79,594 new car registrations in February, leaving last month’s result down 25.9 percent in comparison.

Evans Halshaw Vauxhall Leeds dealership car showroom

In part, the SMMT says the slow growth is down to the global microchip shortage, which has limited supply. Most of the growth in registrations (more than 80 percent) came from the private sector, suggesting manufacturers are prioritising private customers over businesses, among which sales grew by just two percent.

That said, electric vehicles are also fuelling the market, with fully electric cars accounting for 17.7 percent of the new car market last month. At the same time, plug-in hybrids made up 7.9 percent of the market, meaning more than a quarter (25.6 percent) of all new cars sold in the UK last month came with a plug. Add in hybrids, which made up 11.7 percent of sales, and alternatively fuelled vehicles accounted for more than a third of all sales.

Toyota Prius

Even so, the figures are not expected to make a massive difference to the annual sales volume. February is not only the shortest month, but the new ‘22’ registration plate came in on March 1, and that generally skews the figures. As a result, just 10,417 electric cars were sold last month, along with 4,677 plug-in hybrids.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said continued growth in the alternatively fuelled vehicle sector would depend on investment in infrastructure. He called on the government to continue its support for charging infrastructure and cut electric car charging costs during the energy price rises.

“Despite February’s traditional low registration numbers, consumers are switching to EVs in ever-increasing numbers,” said Hawes. “More than ever, infrastructure investment needs to accelerate to match this growth. The government must use its upcoming Spring Statement to enable this transition, continuing support for home and workplace charging, boosting public chargepoint rollout to tackle charging anxiety and, given the massive increase in energy prices, reducing VAT on public charging points. This will energise both consumer and business confidence and accelerate our switch to zero emission mobility.”