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Drivers ditch diesel as sales of hybrid electric vehicles soar 40%

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

There was a 14% decline in new diesel car sales in the year to February 2023 while hybrid electric vehicle sales soared 40% in the period, official figures reveal.

In February 2023, there were 3,348 new diesel car registrations, down from 3,922 a year earlier, according to the latest Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) data.

By comparison, hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) recorded 9,633 new car registrations in the month, up 40% from the 6,883 recorded a year earlier.

The SMMT said zero emission capable vehicles “continued their upward trend”, with plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) rising 1% and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) “posting another strong month”, up 18.2% to account for one in six new UK car registrations.

Combined, plug-ins accounted for almost a quarter (22.8%) of all deliveries in the month and the SMMT said further growth is anticipated. It said nearly half a million (488,000) PHEVs and BEVs are expected to join Britain’s roads in 2023, as manufacturers bring more than 40 new plug-in electric models to the market.

Petrol sales were also rose 35%, leaping from 23,952 to 32,311 in the year to February 2023.

Overall, UK new car registrations grew 26.2% in February as 74,441 new cars joined Britain’s roads.

The SMMT said that while February is typically “low volume” ahead of the March plate change, “this year it marked the seventh month of consecutive growth as easing supply chain shortages steered the market closer to pre-pandemic levels, down just -6.5% on the same month in 2020”.

The best sellers were Vauxhall Corsa, Vauxhall Mokka and Ford Puma.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “After seven months of growth, it is no surprise that the UK automotive sector is facing the future with growing confidence. It is vital, however, that Government takes every opportunity to back the market, which plays a significant role in Britain’s economy and net zero ambition. As we move into ‘new plate month’ in March, with more of the latest high-tech cars available, the upcoming Budget must deliver measures that drive this transition, increasing affordability and ease of charging for all.”

‘Good time to shop for used cars’

Mark Oakley, director of AA Cars, said: “With the first examples of cars sporting the brand new March registration plates now arriving in forecourts, dealers will be hoping to tempt more would-be buyers in the coming weeks.

“The big question is how the market will fare once the short-term boost offered by March’s new plates fades. Inflation is coming down, but only very slowly, and the rapidly rising cost of living is slicing into people’s disposable incomes – and thus their willingness to commit to big ticket purchases like a brand new car.”

Oakley added that the improved supply of new cars is also “reviving the fortunes of the used car market”, which saw surging demand but constrained supply in 2022.

“With the number of nearly new cars coming onto the used market picking up, AA Cars data shows that the average prices of Britain’s most popular used cars have now levelled off.

“With prices rising elsewhere, this is steadily making second-hand cars even better value, meaning this is a good time to shop for a used car. As a result, we’ve seen a stream of traffic on the AA Cars website from drivers who are in the market for a used, rather than a new car.”