New figures from the SMMT reveal that car ownership has increased for the first time since 2019, with a record 40.7million vehicles on the UK’s roads.
At first glance, this trend seems positive, and could be interpreted as a sign that consumer confidence is rising, supply chain issues are easing across the sector, and consumers are steadily returning to pre-pandemic travel routines.
We are concerned, however, that the figures mask a number of other important issues.
Car ownership may be increasing due to a lack of reliable options across the UK’s public transport network. No doubt the recent spate of train strikes has made people revert to the roads, but it also shows that despite the cost of living crisis, cars remain absolutely vital to people’s everyday lives and cannot easily be substituted.
This threatens the UK’s drive to attain net zero, and shows just how important an integrated, accessible and affordable public transport network is in trying to change people’s behaviours. Delays to the update and expansion of our rail networks, such as HS2 and some of the electrification projects, will also impact the country’s ability to take both people and freight off our roads.
But the SMMT data shows the total number of buses operating in the UK has fallen by 17,000 in the last decade. It also indicates that, if people are not prepared to swap the convenience of a car for alternative mass transportation systems, then it is vital the UK builds out an electric car charging network that makes ownership of an electric car simple and easy, and without concerns as to when and where people can recharge their vehicle. Without this, the public will not switch from their internal combustion engine cars to electric vehicles and the UK’s drive to net zero will quickly falter.
And it is not just about the movement of people that will be a challenge. There are nearly 4.9 million vans in the UK, one in eight of all vehicles which is a record level, as well as over 600,000 HGVs meaning our commercial fleets are at record levels too. Encouragingly, the number of electric vans has increased by 67% and buses and coaches by nearly 35%. The need for investment in infrastructure is vital if we are to update the movement of our goods and products in a way that removes internal combustion engines from our van and commercial vehicle fleets.