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A Nissan Leaf on the forecourt of a dealership in Lincoln, U.K.
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Car production in the U.K. slumped by 6.7% to just 859,575 units in 2021, new figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show.

In a statement Thursday, the SMMT said the output represented the “worst total since 1956” and was 34% lower than 2019, the year before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

While the headline figures for 2021 are disappointing — the SMMT pinpointed the semiconductor shortage as being the “principal cause of the decline” — the low and zero-emission segment of the sector provided some light amid the gloom.

The SMMT said that British factories manufactured a record amount of battery electric, hybrid electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2021, with a total of 224,011 being made. This represents a 26.1% share of all cars produced last year.

“More positively, the shift to electrified vehicle manufacture continued apace as BEV production surged 72.0%,” the SMMT said, “while hybrids rose 16.4%, as the UK industry — like the market — transforms into a low and, ultimately, zero-carbon industry.”

The U.K. wants to stop the sale of new diesel and gasoline cars and vans by 2030. It will require, from 2035, all new cars and vans to have zero tailpipe emissions. The task is huge and the sector is still dominated by vehicles running on fossil fuels.

Although the market has been significantly affected by the pandemic, customers’ habits could nevertheless be on the verge of a significant change.

A record 190,727 new battery electric cars were registered in the U.K. last year, according to the SMMT, with Tesla’s Model 3 the best-selling battery electric model. Indeed, the Model 3 was the second most popular new car overall behind the Vauxhall Corsa, the industry body says.

In a release earlier this month, the SMMT described 2021 as the “most successful year in history for electric vehicle uptake.” It said that more new battery electric vehicles had been registered in 2021 than over the five previous years combined.

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