The number of new cars registered in the UK was up 1.7% year on year in November, ending four consecutive months of decline.
New figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that 115,706 new cars were registered last month, up from 113,781 in the same period last year.
The trade body noted, however, that this small uptick "must be viewed in the context of a weak 2020, when lockdowns impacted registrations". It also highlighted that, with the ongoing semiconductor shortage throttling new car output, the market remains 31.3% down on the pre-pandemic five-year average.
Petrol cars claimed the largest share of the market, at 43.3% of all models registered, while diesel cars claimed just a 5.1% share. More striking was a significant uptick in electrified vehicle registrations, with demand for plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) climbing 39.7% year-on-year and battery-electric cars (BEVs) by 110%.
PHEVs claimed a 9.3% market share overall, while BEVs accounted for 18.8% of registrations, equating to 21,726 units – more than double the proportion sold in November 2020.
So far this year, the SMMT reports that 1,538,585 new cars have been registered in the UK, and around one in six has some form of plug-in drivetrain. Add in full hybrids – which have a 9.0% market share – and some 26.5% of the new car market is electrified.
The SMMT has repeated its call for Britain's EV charging network to be rapidly upgraded and expanded to cope with the increasing popularity of electrified vehicles. It said there is "just one standard on-street public charger installed for every 52 new plug-in cars registered over the course of this year" and that Britain's charger-to-vehicle ratio is "one of the worst among the top 10 global electric vehicle markets at the end of 2020".
The SMMT has called on the government to impose binding targets for the improvement of the country's charging infrastructure to keep pace with growing EV demand and the phasing out of ICE vehicles over the coming years.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said a slight uptick in new car registrations doesn't mean the industry is well on the road to recovery: "What looks like a positive performance belies the underlying weakness of the market. Demand is there, with a slew of new, increasingly electrified, models launched, but the global shortage of semiconductors continues to bedevil production and therefore new car registrations.
"The industry is working flat out to overcome these issues and fulfil orders, but disruption is likely to last into next year, compounding the need for customers to place orders early."
Hawes' comments come as lead times for most mainstream new cars are significantly longer than usual, with many manufacturers severely constrained by a lack of necessary components.