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SMMT data shows average age of car rises to 8.4 years in the UK

According to Motorparc data released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), vehicle numbers on UK roads fell to 40,350,714 in 2020, the first time the total number has fallen since the global financial crisis of 2009. 


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As the pandemic stifled new vehicle uptake, the average age of cars on UK roads is now the highest on record at 8.4 years. Van uptake, however, has grown to the highest level in history, accounting for 11.4% of all vehicles on the road.

The latest parc data illustrates that, for the second consecutive year, there were more than 35 million cars registered on UK roads (35,082,800), although that figure represents a modest -0.2% dip as Covid impacted new volumes entering the market.

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Light commercial vehicles (LCVs) – the only vehicle type to see an increase – saw 1.7% growth over the past year, up to a new record high of 4,604,861 vehicles. Many of these have been instrumental in supporting the nation during the pandemic, providing support to the NHS, and delivering food and goods across Britain.

Meanwhile, the number of heavy goods vehicles on our roads declined by -3.1% to 589,445 units. Bus and coach numbers saw the most significant fall at -10.7% to 73,608, as the pandemic dramatically reduced already-declining passenger numbers causing fleet operators to pause new fleet purchases and take unused vehicles off the road.

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With showrooms closed for large periods of 2020 due to lockdowns, fewer new cars were registered, resulting in the oldest average car fleet since records began. The average car on UK roads was built in 2011, while almost 10 million cars have been in service since 2008 or earlier. While this is testament to the durability and quality of modern vehicles, an ageing fleet risks stalling the UK’s attempts to reduce emissions. A new car from 2020 emits, on average, 112.8g/km of CO2, which is 18.3% better than a model registered in 2011. Fleet renewal is essential if the UK is to reach its net-zero target, with both conventional and alternatively fuelled vehicles having a significant role to play in the transition.

As part of the journey towards zero-emission motoring, the number of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) on UK roads increased by 114.3% to a record high of 199,085, while plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) also saw their numbers increase by 35.2% to 239,510. However, combined, they represented just 1.3% of all cars on our roads – emphasising the importance of replacing older vehicles with newer, cleaner ones. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) saw their numbers grow by a fifth to 621,622 cars. Petrol car volumes remained stable, down -0.2%, with diesel falling -2.3%. Combined, internal combustion engine (ICE) models accounted for 97.1% of the total parc – or 34,018,599 units.

Britain’s favourite car types are still the supermini and lower medium segments which account for six in 10 cars in service, at 11,620,733 and 9,256,839 units respectively. Dual-purpose vehicles remain a distant third, with 4,619,061 in use but now account for 13.2% of cars on the road, as consumer tastes and demand shift.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said:

“With the pandemic putting the brakes on new vehicle uptake in 2020, the average car on our roads is now the oldest since records began some 20 years ago, as drivers held on to their existing vehicles for longer. The technology is changing, however, albeit slowly. Despite massive growth last year, just one in 80 vehicles is a plug-in electric car – while nearly 10 million petrol and diesel cars dating back to before 2008 remain on our roads. Encouraging drivers to upgrade to the newest, cleanest lowest emission cars, regardless of fuel source, is essential for the UK to meet its ambitious climate change targets.”

  • The number of female registered keepers continues to increase to record numbers with 35.1% of cars registered to women in 2020, the equivalent of 12.3 million units. A further 51.5% of cars were registered to males. The remainder is either registered to companies or the keeper’s gender was not specified.
  • There are 4.9 million more vehicles registered for use on British roads than there were in 2010, an increase of 13.7% from 35,478,652 to 40,350,714.
  • In 2010, black was the third most popular coloured car with 5,047,874 units. A decade later, it is now the most popular paint, with 7,109,558 cars in the colour.
  • Multi-coloured, pink and maroon coloured cars are the least common, equating to a combined total of only 0.2% of the parc.
  • In 2019, white was the most popular colour for plug-in cars, however, this has now been replaced by black. White and grey complete a monochrome podium.
  • The top three most common cars in use in 2020 were the Ford Fiesta (1.6m), Ford Focus (1.2m) and Vauxhall Corsa (1.1m), exactly the same models as a decade earlier in 2010.
  • Manual cars continue to dominate the parc, with seven in 10 UK cars using these gearboxes.
  • Automatic model use has grown by over half a million units to 10,454,067 cars since 2019.
  • Specialist sports cars saw a 2.6% rise in ownership last year, whilst upper mediums declined by -4.7%.
  • Outside of central London (WC and EC postcodes), residents of Worcester are the most likely to ‘drive British’, with UK-built cars accounting for 19% of all registrations.
  • Excluding central London, the Shetland Islands have the fewest cars registered, with 12,768 on the road.

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Owain Griffiths

Owain Griffiths

Head of Circular Economy at Volvo Cars

Owain joined Volvo Cars in June 2021 to lead Circular Economy in the Global Sustainability Team. The company has committed to being a circular business by 2040 and has financial, recycled content and CO2 based targets for 2025, all of which Owain is working across the company to make happen. Owain previously worked for circular economy consultancy Oakdene Hollins where he advised businesses on evidence led circular economy implementation. 

Turning into a circular business and the importance of vehicle reuse and recycling.

The presentation will cover the work Volvo Cars is doing to achieve 2025 but mainly focus on the transformational work towards 2040 and the business and value chain changes being considered. Attention will be paid to the way vehicles are being dealt with at the end of life and the complexities of closing material and component loops. Opportunities and challenges which Volvo Cars is facing will be presented including engagement with 3rd parties and increasing pressure from stakeholders.