Sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) soared in March 2020 to 11,694 despite a significant drop in sales of new cars overall.
In March, registrations of BEVs almost tripled, accounting for 4.6% of the market, according to new figures released by the SMMT. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sales also saw a boost, growing 38% in the month, however they fell short of the numbers BEVs achieved, with 6,818 registrations compared to 11,694.
However, the new car market saw an overall drop in sales of -44.4%, a harsher fall than during the last financial crisis and the worst March since the late nineties, the SMMT said.
203,370 fewer cars were registered than in March 2019, a fall larger attributed to the closure of showrooms in line with government advice to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The reason why BEVs saw a huge spike despite the overall decline is likely to be attributed to several reasons, according to Cornwall Insight’s EV specialist Katie Hickford, one of which is the changes to Benefit in Kind tax which came into effect on 1 April, providing a strong financial incentive for fleet EV purchases.
Another large contributing factor is also likely to be the Tesla Model 3, Hickford said, which is “likely the 9th best-selling car model during March 2020”.
Whilst Tesla is not a member of the SMMT and therefore doesn’t report its data directly, “it is assumed that Tesla, and the Model 3 in particular, comprise the notable majority of the ‘Other’ category".
“March data also reflects the larger volume of pre-order for the new March number plates. Taken together with the long lead time on many EV purchases, it is likely that April registration data may provide a clearer picture of the impact of COVID-19 on BEV sales," Hickford continued.
March's figures come on the back of a string of record-breaking months. January saw sales up 203.9% compared to 2019, with 4,054 BEVs registered during the month compared to 1,334 in the year previously.
The SMMT also announced it has downgraded its interim market outlook for the year to 1.73 million registrations – a -23% decline on the previous outlook made in January.
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said that the overall decline has come as “no surprise” due to the UK’s lockdown.
“We should not, however, draw long term conclusions from these figures other than this being a stark realisation of what happens when economies grind to a halt.”