The number of cars sold in the UK increased by 26% year on year in February, the seventh successive month of growth as the industry recovers from the depths of the global computer chips shortage.
UK new car registrations rose by 26.2% in February to 74,400, according to data published on Monday by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), a lobby group.
The market was down by only 6.5% compared with February 2020, the last month before the UK started coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.
The car industry in the UK and around the world has been dragged back by supply chain issues, with computer chips a particular problem after the disruption caused by the pandemic. That has prevented carmakers from meeting the resilient demand for new vehicles.
Chip shortages may also have slowed the transition to electric vehicles with no exhaust emissions, amid signs of continued strong demand after a record year. Battery electric vehicles accounted for 16.5% of registrations in February, with 12,300 sold, although only one, the Tesla Model Y crossover, made the top 10 bestsellers in the month. The bestseller overall was the Vauxhall Corsa.
February is generally a quiet month for car sales in the UK, as in March the government issues new number plates that can help cars keep secondhand value for longer. However, the SMMT said it was hopeful the strong year-on-year sales growth would continue, even as many economists expect a recession or a very small expansion in the UK economy.
Mike Hawes, the 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.”
The SMMT is hoping for increased government support for the rollout of electric car charging, which is seen as one of the main barriers to a faster transition from polluting petrol and diesel to battery electric cars.
Ben Nelmes, the chief executive of the New AutoMotive thinktank, said: “The fact that there continue to be long waiting times for new electric cars underscores how consumers and businesses are embracing electric cars.”
However, he said the government should push manufacturers to offer more electric vehicles in the UK, including by finalising details of the zero emissions vehicle mandate, which will require carmakers to sell an increasing proportion of battery cars.
Diesel was the only fuel type for which car sales fell in February compared with 2022, with only 3,300 sold during the month.