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Number of licensed vehicles rises despite declining registrations

The Department for Transport has published its annual vehicle licensing statistics, showing a slight rise in the number of licensed vehicles in Great Britain despite a fall in new vehicle registrations.

The proportion of total licensed cars that were diesel fell for the first time in over 20 years

The 2018 stats show there were 38.2 million licensed vehicles in Great Britain, a 1.2% increase compared to 2017. The total number of licensed vehicles has increased for nearly every year since the end of the Second World War. Over the last 20 years, the typical annual growth in licensed vehicles has averaged 630,000 per year, although the 2008/09 recession slowed this rate to an average of 230,000 between 2008 and 2013.

However, the stats also show overall new vehicle registrations fell 5% to 2.9 million units in 2018 – with the downturn attributed to declining diesel car registrations and the impact of WLTP on overall new car registrations.

In fact, the number of diesel cars registered for the first time in Great Britain during 2018 declined by 30% compared to 2017. In contrast, there was a 9% increase in the number of petrol cars over the same time period.

And the proportion of total licensed cars that were diesel also declined – marking the first fall in more than 20 years. Diesel cars accounted for 39% of all licensed cars at the end of 2018, slightly below the 2017 peak value of 40%. This proportion had been steadily rising from 12% since 1998.

Ultra-low emission vehicles continued to increase their share of new registrations in the UK in 2018, reaching a total of 2.1% – up from 1.7% one year previously and 1.2% two years previously.

However, the October 2018 changes to the plug-in car grant which saw plug-in hybrid EVs no longer qualify meant that only 41% of ULEVs were eligible for plug-in grants during 2018 Q4, compared to 89% during the first three quarters of 2018.

Commenting on the figures, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “A rise in the number of ultra-low emission vehicle registrations is welcome, but ultimately sales of these vehicles still only make up just over 2% of all new vehicles sold. We really need to see this accelerate more quickly if air quality is to be improved. With many manufacturers launching new models with better battery range, the outlook is much more positive.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.