Editor's letter: EV sales must increase by 50% in 2024 – how?

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From 2024, 22% of a car maker’s sales must be BEVs – or it faces a £15,000 fine for every car that does not conform

Electric vehicle sales are dropping less than a month before the ZEV mandate begins

Battery-electric vehicle registrations in the UK continue to go backwards and the timing couldn’t be worse.

The 24,359 BEVs registered in the UK in November was a 17.1% drop on those registered a year earlier and the market share fell back from 20.6% to 15.6% in the same period, according to the latest SMMT figures. 

The average market share for the year is 16.3%, and while that is up marginally on the 15.1% in 2022, the prevailing trend last year was always upwards whereas in 2023 the opposite has occurred as sales have continued to slip backwards.

Now we are less than a month away from 2024 and the introduction of the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which dictates that car manufacturers must have 22% of car sales as BEVs or face fines of £15,000 for every car that does not conform.

At the current rate, the market share of electric vehicles must increase by almost 50% if the 22% target is to be reached against the current run rate. While sales of BEVs continue to perform to fleets and to company car buyers, where the benefit-in-kind advantage is massive, there are no tangible signs to suggest the much-needed growth from private buyers to allow the 22% target to be reached is going to be achieved.

Even so, the SMMT is still optimistically forecasting a 22.3% market share for BEVs in 2024 in a market that it expects to grow by 4.4% from 2023. If that’s to be realised, then all sorts of chaotic tactics are going to take place.

For car manufacturers to comply with the 22% target, they can hit that figure organically, buy credits from other car manufacturers that over-achieve (unpalatable given you’ll be helping a competitor), or defer to 2025. Or, of course, they can pay the fines. We’ll see a combination of all options.

To achieve the target organically, the only way to stimulate that private growth will be through discounting. What Car? Target Price data from our sibling brand has shown that EV discounts are up from an average of £1395 per car in January to £4226 in November and that makes EV discounts comfortably higher than those for every other fuel type. 

Greater discounts will inevitably follow. They have to, because there are no whispers of the return of incentives from the government to help private buyers. The current discounts seemingly aren’t enough to finally kick-start private demand for BEVs. 

Assuming those discounts still don’t give the near-50% growth needed in BEV sales, we’ll see plenty of other tricks being undertaken. 

Some car manufacturers will pre-register lots of ICE vehicles before the end of 2023 to ensure they don’t impact the 2024 sales, where every BEV sale will be so crucial. We’ll see lead times for ICE models increase and BEV models reduce to try and tempt buyers into a manufacturer’s favoured choice sooner. And we’ll see BEVs pre-registered en masse towards the end of the year to further boost a manufacturer’s ‘registrations’ for BEVs. 

A trend has recently emerged of car makers now highlighting monthly payments of EVs being the same of those for equivalent ICE cars in their range, but buyer beware: this is often the result of ICE prices having crept up in recent months to artificially bridge the gap to BEVs and make the BEVs suddenly seem not so expensive. 

All this is not how the government would have imagined it when targets were set, but then this is the same government that trashed consumer confidence in BEVs by pushing back the ban on the sale of non-BEVs by five years to 2035. What did they expect?

It was always going to be a challenge without this intervention as BEVs moved out of the early adopter phase. It’s one thing convincing someone from a Tesla forum to buy a BEV, quite another for an average car buyer who simply can’t overlook the higher purchase price, inadequate charging network, rising insurance costs and continued uncertainty around residual values. 

Let the fun and games begin

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