Record numbers of commercial vehicles are now in use, with 625,873 HGVs and 5,012,632 vans in operation, up by 1.7% and 2.6% respectively, according to the latest data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Overall, the number of vehicles on UK roads reached a record high in 2023, rising by 1.7% to 41,404,589 vehicles - with plug-in vehicles driving the biggest growth in car ownership since 2016.

The research also found that one in 40 of all vehicles on Britain’s roads are now zero emission, including 960,896 cars, 61,161 vans, 2,383 HGVs and 1,922 buses.

Electric van volumes rising by 43.5% on 2022 to 61,161, meaning 1.2% of vans on UK roads are now zero emission.

Meanwhile, electric HGV numbers increased by 146.4% in 2023. However this represents just 0.4% of the fleet, prompting SMMT to call for urgent action on grants and infrastructure – especially given that new trucks under 26 tonnes have the same end of sale date as cars and vans. 

Total cars on the road rose by 1.6% or 546,800 units to 35,694,845, after almost half a million new battery electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles were registered during 2023.

The number of BEVs in use increased by almost half (47.3%) compared with 2022, meaning zero emission vehicles now account for 2.7% of all cars in use, up from just 1.9% in 2022.

SMMT pointed out that, while demand for EVs continues to rise, infrastructure provision is lagging behind, with just one standard public chargepoint for every 35 plug-ins on the road – a figure almost unchanged from last year - and the situation for electric CVs even worse.

Announcing the findings, SMMT said: ”While overall EV use continues to grow, with 1,602,334 plug-in cars, vans, trucks and buses in operation, public chargepoint rollout is still lagging.

”2023 was the best year for public chargepoint rollout, but there is still just one standard public charger available for every 35 plug-in cars on the road, only a slight improvement from one for every 36 last year.

”The situation is even more challenging for commercial vehicles, with no clear national plan for van-specific chargepoints, and just one dedicated public truck charging location for the entire country.

”With increasing numbers of electric cars and vans now being mandated for sale, the time to invest in infrastructure is now. That investment should be nationwide so that everyone – irrespective of vehicle type, location and accessibility – can access a reliable, convenient and affordable charging network. ”

 Despite a record number of motors on the road, average car CO2 dropped by 2.1% – while company car emissions plummeted by 11.5%, thanks to fiscal incentives encouraging fleets to invest in EVs and manufacturer investment in new lower and zero emission models. SMMT called for similar incentives to help private consumers to make the switch.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, commented: ”After two challenging years of constrained supply, more people and businesses across the UK are now getting back behind the wheel – and increasingly, opting for greener options.

”However, given the ageing fleet, we now need to encourage consumers and businesses who have deferred purchases of new cars, vans, trucks and buses to upgrade.

”A stronger and stable economy, coupled with reduced living costs, would boost consumer and business confidence, while compelling fiscal incentives would ensure that these purchases are emissions free.

”Not only would this accelerate the transition – fundamental to the UK’s net zero ambitions – but it would also stimulate the economy and enhance the wider environment in which we all live.”