Currently reading: UK car sales 2022: annual registrations lowest in 30 years
Registrations increased in final few months of 2022, but overall tally decimated by supply shortages

Five months of consecutive growth at the end of the year could not prevent UK new car sales falling to their lowest ebb in 30 years, according to figures for 2022 just released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The decline, blamed primarily on supply chain shortages, especially of semiconductors, left total sales at 1.61 million units, 2.0% lower than 2021’s Covid-affected levels and around 700,000 lower than the figure for 2019, the most recent “normal” year.

Despite the full year’s weakness, SMMT’s CEO Mike Hawes revealed an 18% improvement in December sales (which totalled 181,000 cars). This was the latest gain in a trend the SMMT believes will lead to a 15% improvement in 2023 sales to about 1.8 million vehicles. The extra 190,000 vehicles will be worth around £8.4 billion, it estimates. Despite the difficulties of 2022, the UK still reclaimed its traditional position as Europe’s second-biggest car market behind Germany, a position it had conceded to France.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes believes that despite recent warnings of weakening demand arriving in other consumer sectors, the car market’s slow improvement in component availability, and thus supplies of vehicles, combined with a continuing pent-up demand from impatient buyers, should allow the car market to buck a downward trend already being established for other consumer goods.

During 2022, component shortages led car makers to prioritise deliveries of (more expensive) zero-emission vehicles. Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) accounted for 16.6% of full-year sales which sent them above UK diesel volume for the first time. Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) accounted for only 6.3% of sales, a decline on the previous year, but more conventional hybrids (HEVs) also rose in popularity to capture an 11.6% market share. 

Tesla model y 2022 front quarter tracking

As a result, the UK’s average CO2 level for new cars fell 6.9% to 111.4g/km, the lowest figure ever.  

The market’s growing preference for BEVs was most strongly demonstrated in December, when the proportion of total sales rose to 32.9%, augmented by the arrival of a large delivery from Tesla. The Tesla Model Y and Tesla Model 3 took first and second positions in UK BEV sales rankings, the Model Y nailing down third position outright behind the Nissan Qashqai and Vauxhall Corsa.

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Mike Hawes again drew attention to the slow growth of the UK’s EV charging infrastructure, pointing out that for the government’s lower target of 300,000 public charging points to be reached by 2030 (initially it talked of a need for 300,000 to 700,000 charging points) at least 100 new points would need to be brought on stream daily until 2030. At present, the figure is 29 points.

He also pointed to a continuing need to convince private car buyers of the need to adopt electrification. While private buyers were responsible for around half of 2022’s new car purchases, business buyers and fleets were responsible for nearly 75% of the volume gain.

“Delivering the scale and speed of market transition required to meet climate change targets will require action to encourage more private buyers to go electric,” he said.

One year to go

The SMMT used today’s announcement to call on the government to expedite its long-promised Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate, which aims to flesh out many of the details, exceptions, penalties and compliance details that will apply to the sale and use of BEVs beyond 2024. No details of this key document have yet been revealed, and informed experts say they may not be available until mid-year.

“Manufacturers’ innovation and commitment have helped EVs become the UK’s second most popular car type,” says CEO Mike Hawes. “However, for a nation aiming for electric mobility leadership, this must be matched with policies and investment that remove consumer uncertainty over switching, not least over where drivers can charge their vehicles.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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artill 5 January 2023

I am disapointed to see no mention of the BIG increases in car prices, and the fact the market doesnt offer (to the UK market at least) all the cars that the public want. A large percentage of the public dont care about the CO2 numbers that drive what the makers offer us, so is it really a surprise if people choose to keep their old cars longer?

You cant keep putting the prices up whilst reducing the variety of cars on offer, and expect people to continue to put their hands in their pockets.