Is car ownership on the decline as rentals increase in popularity?
Passing your driving test and getting your first car has been viewed as a right of passage for generations and is often seen as one of the gateways to adulthood. However, with a changing work landscape and the ever-increasing cost of living, the idea of owning your own car might be starting to lose its appeal.
There are several reasons why car ownership could be going out of fashion, and the way we work in the digital age could be one of them, as remote working options have become far more common in recent years, especially since the pandemic. Additionally, with the cost of living greatly outpacing wage growth, many people are trying to find ways to cut costs where they can and owning a car is an expensive outgoing.
With the price of vehicles continuing to rise amid high inflation and slow wage growth, people’s finances are coming under threat and many are finding themselves with worse credit ratings as they struggle to cover their outgoings. This is becoming an increasing concern as a large proportion of vehicle sales are completed using finance, therefore if you have bad credit car finance this can affect your application to purchase a car.
However, while more and more people are choosing to live in cities, where car ownership is less important for getting from A to B, travelling outside of your home town can be difficult without access to a vehicle. Rail fares in the UK are some of the most expensive in the world and services are often cancelled at the last minute, due to driver shortages and bad weather, not to mention increasingly frequent strike action.
With all this in mind, Moneybarn wanted to take a closer look at the vehicle landscape in the UK. It compared various factors in the UK car market, including how public access to vehicles has changed over time and whether public interest in rental vehicles is rising or falling.
Buying vs renting in the UK automotive industry
Here we can see a comparison between the number of car-selling businesses and car rental businesses in the UK over the last 5 years.
The data shows that, as expected, there are far more UK businesses that sell cars than lease them, with a difference just short of 16,500. However, we can also see that car rental companies have been experiencing a surge in recent years, with their number increasing by 275 since 2017, a rise of 8.21%.
This rate of increase outpaces that of car retailers, as while there are 1,245 more car sellers in the same time period, this only amounts to an increase of 6.62%. This shows that car rentals are becoming a more mainstream option for UK drivers, though car ownership remains the dominant form of vehicle access for the time being.
Access to vehicles in the UK
We don’t always have to be the owner of a vehicle to have access to one, as multiple people can be insured to drive the same car. Many households share their vehicles between multiple family members, with much of their travel either being done together or at separate times.
In this section, we can see how access to vehicles changed in the 10 years from 2011 to 2021. The data reveals the average number of cars and vans owned per household, as well as the proportion of households that own one, multiple or no cars or vans for each year.
Here we can see that the number of cars/vans per household has increased over the 10 years shown from 1.15 in 2011 to 1.20 in 2021, a rise of 4.35%. While this shows that households have greater access to vehicles than they did a decade ago, more recent data suggests that this access has since plateaued, with the level of access in 2021 being equal to that in 2016.
In fact, access to vehicles per household fell in 2021, down from 1.24 the previous year. This decrease could be due to the effects of the Covid pandemic, during which the frequent lockdowns and travel restrictions reduced the benefits of owning your own vehicle.
Car ownership across the UK
Car ownership in the UK varies greatly from region to region, with factors such as population and urbanisation having a large role in determining the overall rate. In this section, we will reveal which UK regions have the most registered vehicles compared to their driving-age population, as well as looking at where car ownership levels are rising and falling the fastest.
Private car ownership by UK region
Here, we’ve found the total number of residents in each UK region aged 17 and over, meaning they are legally eligible to drive a car. This allows us to create a picture of where private car ownership is most and least common in the UK.
There are almost 54 million people in the UK aged 17 and over, the legal age requirement for driving a car, while there are just over 29.6 million private cars licensed in the country. This means that there are 548.93 licensed cars per 1,000 potential drivers, which is around 1.1 cars for every 2 people.
Northern Ireland is the constituent country with the highest rate of car ownership in the UK, with 612.96 licensed vehicles per 1,000 people, while Scotland has the lowest rate at 522.03.
However, when also looking at regions of England, the South East has the highest rate of car ownership at 623.36 private cars per 1,000 potential drivers. This is followed by the East of England with 620.81 cars per 1,000 people and the South West with a rate of 616.18.
London is the region with by far the lowest rate of car ownership with a rate of just 350.74 cars per 1,000 potential drivers. This is likely due to the incredibly high level of urbanisation in Greater London, as well as the excellent public transport provision in the capital.
An interesting observation is that, barring London, the rate of car ownership generally declines the farther Northwards through England you travel, though the East of England is a notable outlier. This could relate to a range of socio-economic factors such as disposable income, public transport provision, and urbanisation.
2022 annual change in private car volumes
In this segment, we look at how the number of privately-owned cars changed from 2021 to 2022 in each UK region. This will reveal the areas where car ownership is becoming more or less popular.
The United Kingdom saw an additional 189,858 licensed vehicles in 2022, an increase of 0.65% compared to 2021. The country within the UK that had the most significant relative increase was Wales, where 13,860 additional vehicles meant an increase of 0.93%.
The East Midlands saw the greatest relative increase in the number of private cars, with 23,251 additional vehicles meaning an increase of 1.01%. This was closely followed by the North West with an increase of 0.98%, while the South West had the third largest rise of 0.97%.
London was the only region where the number of private cars fell. In 2022, there were 30,909 fewer privately owned cars than in the previous year, equating to a change of -1.24%. Outside of London, the North East saw the lowest increase in privately owned cars at 0.58%, with an additional 6,458 being registered in the area.
2022 five-year change in car ownership
While annual changes give us a snapshot of the most recent data, a 5-year view can provide us with a more reliable picture of how car ownership is changing across the country.
Over the course of 5 years, the number of licensed private cars in the United Kingdom has risen by 4.06%, with 1.16 million more cars on the road. While the vast majority of these were registered in England, it was Northern Ireland that saw the most significant relative increase of 7.29%, accounting for an additional 62,172 cars.
Within England, the North West is tied with Yorkshire and the Humber with the joint-highest relative increase of 6.11%, accounting for 182,356 additional cars in the North West and 136,319 in Yorkshire.
Again, London is the only region where the number of vehicles has fallen, though this time it is by a much greater margin of -2.38% with 59,827 fewer private cars in the capital. Outside of London, the South East has seen the smallest 5-year increase of 3.37% with 151,508 new cars on the road.
Public demand for car sharing and rentals
With the cost of living increasing dramatically in 2022, many people have been trying to reduce their outgoings. This means that cost-saving measures such as sharing a car or only renting one when you need it could be on the rise.
To explore this in more detail, we’ve collected search data for several relevant search terms, which will reveal whether public interest in these alternative forms of car access is increasing or decreasing.
Public demand for car sharing
Searches for ‘car sharing’ in the UK increased considerably in 2022, with a 21.91% rise compared to the previous year. This indicates that an increasing number of people have been looking for car-sharing services and information since the beginning of the cost of living crisis.
Of all the constituent countries of the UK, Northern Ireland saw the largest annual increase of 25.65% while Wales saw the smallest increase of 19.10%, though this remains a relatively high figure.
We can also see how interest in London compares to the rest of the country, with an increase in searches for ‘car sharing’ well above the national average at 44.25%.
Public demand for car rentals
Here we can see how searches for ‘car rental’ have increased in recent years and how these figures vary across the country. In 2022, the United Kingdom saw an overall increase in searches of 56.13% for car rentals, averaging 247,083 searches per month.
While the number of searches appears to have dipped during the years most affected by the Covid pandemic, the 2022 figures are still 21.12% higher than those of pre-pandemic 2019.
Scotland saw the biggest annual increase in searches for car rentals in the UK in 2022, with a rise of 101.02%, while Northern Ireland saw the second-highest increase of 83.49%. The lowest increase in searches was seen in England, although this was still a considerable increase of 49.43%, showing that car rentals are surging in popularity across the country.
Public demand for car finance
It is also worth considering how searches for car finance have changed in recent years, as this is an excellent way of spreading the cost of your car, making it more affordable for more individuals to own their vehicle. When we look at the whole of the UK, we can see that searches for ‘car finance’ have increased by 5% in the past three years, suggesting that perhaps, due to growing concerns about the economy, car owners are searching for the best ways to cut costs down, when purchasing their vehicle.
However, we can also see that Northern Ireland has seen a small drop over the past three years of -4.62%, though it should be noted that the volume of searches has begun to creep back up again, achieving a 7.14% increase from 2021 to 2022.
Moneybarn wanted to explore the state of car ownership in the UK, as well as looking at alternative forms of vehicle access such as car sharing and rentals. To do this, it used a variety of data sources to build a comprehensive picture of emerging trends in the UK automotive landscape.
It first looked at ONS data for companies involved in either selling or leasing cars in the UK, comparing the numbers of each type of business in 2022 and noting the change in these numbers over 5 years.
Moneybarn then considered people’s access to vehicles in the UK, using data from the Department for Transport to reveal the average number of cars and vans per household per year.
UK government vehicle licensing statistics allowed Moneybarn to track the number of private cars registered in the UK across several years. It used this data to reveal how the number of licensed vehicles has changed over time, looking at both national and regional levels, and paired it with ONS population data to find out which UK regions had the most registered cars per potential driver.
Search data acquired using Google Keyword Planner was then used to track public interest in several search terms across from 2019 to 2022, revealing which parts of the country have seen the biggest surges in interest in car rentals, car sharing and car finance.