Car ownership has dipped but total vehicle numbers has risen, new data shows

For the first time in a century, car ownership in the UK has fallen two years running, with the downturn being blamed on the COVID pandemic and “highly challenging” economic conditions.

Data released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows that the number of cars owned in Great Britain and Northern Ireland dropped by 0.2% to 35,023,652 last year. According to the industry body, the last recorded successive decline was between 1915 and 1918.

Due to the uncertainties created during the last 24 months, motorists have decided to hold on to their cars for longer, pushing the average age of models operating daily on our roads up to 8.7 years.

This means around 8.4 million of today’s cars – just under a quarter of those on the road – are more than 13-years-old, having been in service since 2008. On the flipside, the SMMT said this demonstrates just how reliable the many different makes and models of cars remain with time.

Despite car ownership dipping slightly, the actual number of cars on UK roads increased last year by 0.4% to 40,506,971, helped along considerably by strong demand for light commercial vehicles.

Interest in electrified vehicles was up, too. Nearly three quarters of a million vehicles on the road can be plugged in, including 720,053 cars, 26,990 vans, 993 buses and 313 trucks, the SMMT said.

Electric cars – hybrid, plug-in and battery – also account for around one in five new registrations. In contrast, there are some 20.5 million petrol-powered cars and 13 million diesels still in service.

Electric car uptake also varies depending by UK region. A third (33.1%) of all plug-in cars are registered in London and the South East, representing 3% and 2.6% of all cars in each area. Only 1.5% of cars in the West Midlands are plug-ins, 1.9% in Yorkshire and Humberside, and 0.9% in the North East.

Differences can also be seen across the four British nations, with plug-ins making up 2.2% of cars in England, 1.6% in Scotland, and just 0.8% in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mike Hawes – the Chief Executive of the SMMT – said: “Britain’s switch to electric vehicles continues to gather pace, with a record one in five new car registrations now plug-ins. However, they still represent around one in 50 cars on the road, so there is significant ground to cover if we are to fully decarbonise road transport at pace.

“The first consecutive annual fall in vehicle numbers in more than a century shows how significantly the pandemic has impacted the industry, leading Britons to hold onto their cars for longer,” he added.

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