The UK is still dependent on second cars – but are we changing?

7 minutes

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The UK is a nation of multi-car homes, but the way we think about our second cars could be changing...

  • Cars have become a necessity of modern life
  • Many families in the UK are dependent on more than one motor
  • Are electric vehicles a viable option for your second car?

For most UK homes, it’s hard to imagine life without a car. Whether we’re commuting to the office, playing taxi to our kids, or travelling to visit relatives, cars fuel our lifestyle. But owning your own vehicle hasn’t always been such an essential part of life.

Driving a car used to be reserved for the wealthy and even a statement of your success. Today, your car is usually a practical addition to your household and many Brits decide that one just isn’t enough.

In the last two decades, more and more people have bought second cars. By the mid-1990s, there were more multi-car households than those without a car.

But as environmental concerns rise, electric cars are becoming increasingly accessible and fewer people are choosing to learn to drive, preferring rideshares and public transport instead. So, could we soon see the balance shift back to single car households?

Early car ownership: A love ignited

Our love of cars goes way back. Ever since the UK's maiden voyage aboard a 'petroleum motor carriage' in 1895 by Evelyn Ellis, we’ve been a nation obsessed with the motorcar. Cars were the toys of the rich – everyday people used to look on in awe from the confines of the pavement as the magnificent mystery machines rolled by.

These cars were nothing like the selection of new cars available today. They may have been fashionable, but they were smelly and loud. Then, Henry Ford came along and revolutionised car production forever – for the first time, everyone could have their own taste of luxury.

Before Ford, cars were mostly run from steam or electric and few could afford them. Battery-charging limitations meant these plans stalled and manufacturers shifted their focus to gasoline-powered cars.

Fast forward to the mid-1930s and more than two million motorised vehicles were on Britain's roads. This was the start of Britain’s motor revolution, with car ownership growing from 19 million in 1971 to over 31 million in 2007.

1950s-70s: Cars become part of the family

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, you’d find a car perched proudly on the driveway of most UK homes. In the 1970s, 75% of road users in the UK travelled in privately owned vehicles. The family car was a common sight, but most families had just one car between them. Even as recently as the 1980s, only 15% of households had more than one car.

Various new models were introduced leading up to the 1970s, including the Ford Escort in 1968. It was a sensation – the go-to car for families, business trips and even emergency services. A record-breaking 4,105,961 were sold, making it the most popular car in Britain, before the Ford Fiesta broke the record in 2014.

Modern day: The second car craze

Fast forward to modern day, where car ownership has become massively widespread. The one-car household had been the norm since the early 1960s, but the number of multi-car families has sky-rocketed since. According to our research, 8 out of 10 UK drivers have at least two cars.

As the number of households with more than one car increases, products like multi-car insurance have also risen in popularity as people look for the easiest way to manage multiple vehicles.

The government changed the way it approached new car tax in March 2018 to cope with the number of new vehicles using the roads, imposing a blanket cost of £140 per year, unless the vehicle produced zero emissions.

How many vehicles are registered on UK roads?

At the end of June 2021, 39.2 million vehicles were recorded in the UK - a 2.2% increase from last year. The big players from the 20th century are still active today, with Ford boasting the two most licenced cars at the end of 2020 – the Fiesta and Focus.

Cars have become more reliable, durable, and long lasting – it’s no wonder that second car sales are increasing. Second cars are popular amongst families. Our research shows that 50% of respondents bought their first car for more reliable travel, whereas the main influence to buy a second car was to support a growing family.

How is car ownership going to change in the future?

Could we one day see the sort of car-free future that World Car Free Day attempts to visualise on September 22nd every year?

With climate change reaching crisis levels, and the government pledging to ban all new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, the UK is considering greener ways to get around. Electric cars, rideshares, and eco-friendly legislation are all paving the way to a more sustainable future – massively impacting car ownership.

Manufacturers are already investing more time and money into developing more accessible electric and hybrid cars, with new and exciting developments from the likes of Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla in the pipeline. 

Electric cars are looking to play a major role in the future of transportation, which could lead to vast differences in car design all together.

“Electrification is really interesting,” says Richard De Cani, UKMEA Planning Leader at Arup (@ArupGroup). “As long as the investment in infrastructure continues, we could start to see buses going electric, and potentially using inductive charging as they travel the roads.”

Society has started to shift away from its reliance on cars. Major cities are experiencing an increase in public transport use – central London alone has seen a 30% decrease in traffic over the last decade. Rideshare schemes, such as ZipCar and DriveNow, are already popular in UK cities, while Audi is planning to offer an app-based car rental service next year.

What’s more, for young people, driving appears to be losing its appeal. In 2020 only 28% of men and women aged 17-20 years held a full driving licence.

“Improvements in technology, the ease of on-demand taxi services like Uber and the cost of motoring for young people, including driving lesson fees, car tax and car insurance, have likely contributed to the decline,” says Jack Evans (@jackrober) features editor at Blackball Media.

It’s safe to say that the next 100 years of car ownership will look dramatically different. New technology, such as self-driving vehicles, could see an explosion in Uber-style taxi services that can travel further for less. Super high-speed rail, like Elon Musk's Hyperloop technology, could do away with the need for a car altogether!

Although the drive towards car ownership is changing, it looks as though cars will be a stalwart of British households for years to come. Look after yours with car insurance or even a multi-car policy.