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Tesla’s Model 3 was the UK’s second most popular new car in 2021

A Tesla Model 3 is photographed in London, England, on May 16, 2019.

John Cable | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON – 190,727 new battery electric cars were registered in the UK last year, according to figures released Thursday, with Tesla’s Model 3 the best-selling battery electric model.

The car was the second most popular new car overall, according to the Automobile Manufacturers and Dealers Association, behind the Vauxhall Corsa.

The Model 3 is an all-electric sedan. In the UK, Tesla lists its cash price starting at £44,490 (about $60,202). The petrol five-door version of the Corsa starts at £17,380, according to Vauxhall.

In a statement released Thursday, SMMT called 2021 “the most successful year in history for uptake of electric vehicles.” It said more new battery electric vehicles were registered in 2021 than in the previous five years combined.

The past 12 months have also seen 114,554 new plug-in hybrid electric cars on British roads, while 147,246 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have also been registered. Plug-in hybrid vehicles can be gas-filled in the normal way and also delivered for charging. Hybrid electric cars do not have an additional charging option.

While electric vehicle numbers look promising, the market as a whole is challenging.

SMMT said new car registrations came in at just under 1.65 million in 2021, which is just a 1% annual increase. “The numbers underscore the continuing impact of Covid and the shortage of semiconductors on the industry,” she said.

Commenting on the numbers, SMMT CEO Mike Howes said it had been “another hopelessly disappointing year for the auto industry,” adding that Covid continued to “overshadow any recovery.”

“Manufacturers continue to fight myriad challenges, with tighter trade arrangements, accelerating technological transitions and, above all, the global shortage of semiconductors killing supply,” he said.

Howes said the increase in electric vehicle consumption was the “undeniable bright spot,” before going on to stress the importance of infrastructure and cost.

He said, “Recent cuts to incentives and home fee grants must be reversed, and we need to promote the dissemination of public street fees with mandated goals, and provide every driver, wherever they live, with guarantees that they can collect where they want and when they want.”

Read more about electric cars from CNBC Pro

The UK wants to stop selling new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2030. From 2035 it will require all new zero-emission cars and trucks.

The task is huge and the sector is still dominated by fossil fuel vehicles. The market share of gasoline-powered cars of new registrations was 46.3% in 2021, while the share of diesel cars was 8.2%.

Intensifying charging infrastructure in the coming years will be crucial when it comes to allaying concerns about range anxiety — or the fear that electric vehicles are unable to make long trips without losing power and being stranded.

Although infrastructure is important, the range of electric vehicles is beginning to increase as well. Tesla says its Model S Plaid has an estimated range of 396 miles, while Lucid says the Air Dream Edition R has 520 miles of range.

On Monday, Daimler released details of the electric concept car that it said has a range of more than 1,000 kilometers (about 621 miles) on a single charge. The German car giant said the range numbers were “preliminary and based on a numerical simulation in real-world traffic conditions”.

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