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ill Nowell always felt a pang of guilt when climbing behind the wheel of her Saab 9-3. A keen runner with two children, she admits that the “dirty old diesel” was hardly the most environmentally friendly car on the road. It was, however, fully paid off and in decent working order, so why make a change?
It wasn’t until the reliable estate was written off by another vehicle that she was finally propelled into action. “I had wanted an electric car but I couldn’t justify it,” she said. “I was hyper-aware of the local impact I was having on air quality. I run most days and running behind a petrol or diesel car feels almost like smoking. It feels antisocial.
“It’s never great forking out unexpectedly when you have a shunt but the silver lining was I didn’t have any excuses — it catapulted me into owning an electric car.” Ms Nowell, 46, from Cheshire is among a growing wave of motorists ditching the internal combustion engine in favour of battery-powered vehicles.
The latest industry figures show that 75,946 new electric cars have been registered in the UK this year, almost three times the number last year. They now account for more than one in twenty cars — 5.5 per cent — sold since the start of the year, with the proportion jumping above a third when various forms of hybrid, which have both a combustion engine and a battery, are included. Europe-wide figures show that registrations of pure battery-powered cars have increased more quickly in the UK this year than in any other large EU economy, including France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
The rise has largely been driven by four-figure grants for the purchase of plug-in cars — part of a £2.5 billion government investment in the technology — combined with a slump in demand for diesels in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal of 2015. Sales are expected to soar further still in the coming years. Today, Boris Johnson announced that the government will phase out the sale of new petrol or diesel cars and vans from 2030, with hybrids following five years later.