UK pure-electric car sales up 684% in 2011

Increase reflects growing choice of electric vehicles on sale

By Gavin Conway on January 6, 2012 2:22 PM

Nearly eight times more pure-electric cars were purchased in 2011 compared with 2010. Figures from the SMMT also indicate that the vast majority of those cars were eligible for the Plug-in Car Grant, which is some reassurance that the subsidy is working to attract more electric vehicle (EV) buyers.

That increase – albeit from a very low base of just 138 pure-electric sales in 2010 – is largely due to the availability last year of practical, useable EVs like the Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. And that’s very encouraging news for 2012, as we’ll have at least half a dozen new pure-electric cars on sale from mainstream manufacturers by the end of the year.

Revised sales predictions

That news comes as audit giant KPMG has released a survey reflecting cautious sales predictions for EVs among auto industry executives. Of the 200 heavy-hitters surveyed, nearly two-thirds don’t expect EVs to exceed 15% of global annual auto sales before 2025 (worth remembering that’s still millions of cars).

"We can expect OEMs to intensify investment, fully appreciating what is at stake in a very competitive industry."

"Electric vehicles are still in their infancy, and while we've seen some recent model introductions, consumer demand has so far been modest," said KPMG’s Gary Silberg. "While we can expect no more than modest demand in the foreseeable future, we can also expect OEMs to intensify investment, fully appreciating what is at stake in a very competitive industry."

Increased investment

But in spite of that relatively downbeat forecast, no less than 83% of these same executives say manufacturers will increase investment in ‘e-motor’ production. And 81% say investment in battery technology will rise.

So if the auto industry expects massive investment in EVs to continue, why aren’t they more optimistic about sales numbers? Well, a large part of the answer lies in affordability.

Official figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (

"Execs told us it would be more than five years before the industry is able to offer an electric vehicle that is as affordable as traditional fuel vehicles for mainstream buyers. It will be interesting to see how consumer adoption progresses as automakers discover ways to offer these electrified cars at better price points and the infrastructure for these vehicles becomes more robust and accommodating.”

The other key finding from the survey is that the industry is still unsure which EV tech will ultimately win the hearts and minds of consumers. So they’re hedging their bets, something we’ve been told by numerous industry insiders.

Silberg said: "The industry faces a tough decision about whether to place more trust and resources in fuel cell or battery vehicle concepts, and these results show that it's way too early to call right now. Clearly hybrids, whether plug-in or full, are more mature and have more market presence, but this battle for the dominant technology platform will continue for years to come."

But the overriding message from this survey is pretty clear: not if, but when.