While most British service stations now have all the petrol — gasoline — they need again, the country’s fuel crisis could have long-term impacts, the scare convincing many UK motorists it is time to switch to battery-electric vehicles.
For the first time ever, a BEV was the best-selling vehicle in Britain last month, and motorists registered nearly as many all-electric vehicles in September as they did in all of 2019, according to industry data. The Tesla Model 3 was the big winner, but other BEVs also gained momentum.
“The petrol crisis was temporary but the impact on consumer attitudes is not,” said Ian Plummer, commercial director for the British arm of Auto Trader. “The idea that you’ll always be able to fill your tank has gone out the window.”
Pumps run dry
At one point, as many as 90% of the pumps serving petrol ran dry last month. Long lines of motorists waiting at stations across the country proved reminiscent of the twin oil shocks that struck the U.S. back in the 1970s.
But this crisis wasn’t due to shortages of petroleum, but rather the inability to get refined fuel to service stations, experts noted. That was due to an ongoing lack of carrier truck drivers that has grown worse since Britain exited the European Union and enacted new restrictions on workers from the continent. (The U.S. currently faces a similar shortage of drivers resulting in spot shortage of fuel this year.)
As pumps — and fuel tanks — ran dry, British motorists began looking for alternatives. At one point, Google recorded a 1,600% increase in online searches related to electric vehicles, and automotive shopping website Carwow saw its own traffic nearly double.
Now, British auto industry data indicate this translated into actual sales.
UK’s EV sales explode
Demand for electrified vehicles was already rising before the fuel crisis. But sales of all plug-based models surged at a record pace in September. Pure battery-electric vehicles recorded the biggest gain, automakers reporting a 49.4% increase in BEV registrations for the month. That jump came despite the fact that overall passenger car sales in the UK actually dipped by 34.4% in September.
Of the 215,312 vehicles registered in Britain, BEVs totaled 32,721, or 15.2 percent. That was 5,000 short of the number of all-electric models sold in the UK during all of 2019.
Plug-in hybrids generated 13,884 sales, or 11.5%, and conventional hybrids accounted for 12% of September registrations, or 24,961. In other words, vehicles using some form of electric propulsion made up nearly four in 10 of the vehicles British drivers registered.
The Tesla Model 3 was the big winner, becoming the best-selling new vehicle in the country, British motorists purchasing 6,879.
The all-electric sedan was the only exclusive BEV model among Britain’s top 10 in September, but five others on that list are available with various battery-based propulsion systems. The Vauxhall Corsa was second on the September list, the BMW 3 Series the third, Toyota Yaris came in fourth, while the Kia Niro was ninth. Rounding out the top 10 was the Volkswagen Golf.
Not an anomaly
While sales of electrified vehicles have surged, demand for diesels has plummeted in the UK, registrations falling 55% last year and continuing to spiral downward in 2021.
While some analysts have questioned whether last month’s sales numbers were an anomaly, Brent Gruber, senior director of Global Automotive at J.D. Power, told TheDetroitBureau.com the shift is only likely to continue, if not accelerate.
The fuel shortages proved part of a “microcosm of all the different factors that are aligning to help drive EV adoption,” according to Gruber.
British consumers, like those in the U.S. and other markets, Gruber added, are getting a steadily widening range of BEVs to choose from, vehicles targeting a broader array of price and product segments, while offering improved range and more appealing features.