UK new car sales 29% below pre-pandemic level in 2021 - SMMT

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LONDON, Jan 6 (Reuters) - New car registrations in Britain last year grew slightly from 2020 but were still far below pre-pandemic levels, reflecting a shortage of semiconductors as well as the direct impact of the pandemic, the industry said on Thursday.

Some 1.65 million new cars were registered in Britain in 2021, 1.0% more than in 2020 but 28.7% fewer than in 2019, according to preliminary figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Sales in December alone were 18.2% below those of December 2020, with 108,596 new cars registered.

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"It's been another desperately disappointing year for the car industry as COVID continues to cast a pall over any recovery. Manufacturers continue to battle myriad challenges ... above all, the global semiconductor shortage which is decimating supply," SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said.

The trade body forecast in October that new car sales in Britain, Europe's third-largest new car market, would reach 1.96 million in 2022, still well below the 2.3 million sold in 2019.

Globally the car industry has been one of the hardest hit by supply-chain difficulties, and Germany - Europe's biggest market for new cars - reported a 10.1% fall in sales for last year.

The SMMT said the main bright spot was rapid growth in sales of electric vehicles. Some 190,000 battery electric vehicles were registered last year, more than in the previous five years combined. Alongside 115,000 plug-in hybrid vehicles, these accounted for 18.5% of new car registrations in 2021.

Britain's government has said it will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, although some hybrid vehicles will be on sale until 2035.

Electric car manufacturer Tesla's (TSLA.O) Model 3 was Britain's second best-selling new car last year, with 34,783 units sold. It was beaten only by the Corsa supermini from Vauxhall, now owned by Stellantis (STLA.MI). BMW's Mini was the third most popular new car in Britain in 2021.

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Reporting by David Milliken. Editing by Andrew MacAskill and Andy Bruce

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