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Tesla Model 3 is the UK's best-selling car as overall sales drop to 1946 levels

We knew that new car registrations would tank during the coronavirus lockdown, but the level to which that has happened has caught many by surprise. Despite record low new numbers, electric vehicle registrations have once again proven to be the most resilient and in April, the Tesla Model 3 was the UKs best-selling car.

The figures make for stark reading though. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), just 4321 new cars were registered during April which is 156,743 less than the same month in 2019, representing a 97.3 per cent decline. This total collapse in the market is the worst in modern times, and that sub-5000 total figure is one that has not been seen since 1946 – a literal lifetime ago.

Delving into the figures shows that private buyers accounted for just 871 new cars – over 67,000 fewer than last year. The majority were cars heading for fleet use with 3090 (or 71.5 per cent) finding their way onto the road. Many of these will have been cars delivered to front line service providers, key workers and even Motability customers. For example, the Ford Toureno Custom and Peugeot Rifter were the fifth and sixth best-selling cars during April – each of which are used heavily by health service providers and are also common cars sold with adaptations on the Motability scheme.  

Tesla tops the charts

For the first time since the SMMT started tracking monthly registrations, an EV has topped the chart as the most registered car in the UK. Some 658 Tesla Model 3s were registered – or 15 per cent of the total for April – which is an unprecedented market share for an EV, even if the market itself is tiny compared to normal. That being said, the Model 3 has been in the top 10 best-selling cars already...

The main reason that Tesla has managed to pull off this coup is the fact that you can buy a car, and have it delivered to your door, without ever changing from your dressing gown and slippers. Tesla has been able to fulfil these orders during April – orders which will have been slightly elevated over previous months thanks to the introduction of the new benefit-in-kind tax rates.

A proper, fully-functioning online configuration and purchasing model is something that the UK automotive trade has been grappling with for a decade and to be frank, is still lagging behind on. Where Tesla has the advantage is that it doesn't have a clunky, unwieldy franchised dealer model; instead its locations are in-amongst other retail spaces in shopping malls and high-profile high street-style places.

As well as its physical locations it also owns all of its digital real estate. This enables the brand to deal with customers and their orders directly without having to integrate with any other systems, like a regular franchised dealer would have to.

Tesla has effectively been able to carry on doing business as usual whilst other brands have spent the past month scurrying around trying to work out how to keep the wheels of commerce moving.

Further success for EVs

Jaguar has also had a bumper month with its I-PACE, slotting in behind Tesla at number two in the charts with 367 cars registered. We can attribute much of this elevated number to none other than the service that has been most-affected by Covid-19.

Back in January Northumbria Healthcare's NHS Fleet signed a deal with Jaguar to take delivery of 700 I-PACE SUVs through a three-year lease plan with the first batch of cars being delivered in – you guessed it – April. At the time, the Foundation Trust said: “The transition to 0 per cent BIK (benefit-in-kind) in April has also led to an increased demand for public sector workers wanting to drive environmentally friendly vehicles – which they now have a tax incentive to do so.”

Looking at the fuel mix, pure EVs took 31.88 per cent of the market during April, with 1374 cars registered. Whilst this is a near 10 per cent decline compared to April 2019, given that in every single other fuel category the declines were well over 90 per cent, EVs have come off comparatively lightly.

This bodes well for full-year EV registration figures as despite the prediction by the SMMT that 2020 will be the worst year for new car registrations since 1992 (with a forecast 1.68 million registrations), the EV market is set to double. The SMMT reckons that by the end of the year some 77,300 EVs will have been registered.

Discover EV's take

The impact of coronavirus on the motor trade has been dire for the thousands of people who depend on it for a living and that is extremely unpleasant to see. Drawing good news from this sea of misery seems crass, but if there is any to be found, its in the fact that people's appetite for EVs is clearly not dwindling. We're hardly surprised that Tesla has been the manufacturer that has been able to capitalise on the situation and it demonstrates that from a retail perspective, it is way ahead of the curve. In months to come, we hope to see the entire market rebound with EVs continuing their ever-growing grab of market share away from internal combustion-powered cars.

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