Sunday, March 11, 2018

Op-Ed: Top 10 Countries in the Global EV Revolution: 2017 Edition

This is the 2017 edition of Assaf Oron's report on the EV Revolution, thanks for inviting me to cooperate on it.

As footnote, the 2016 edition is the most seen article on EV Sales...Strangely, the runner-up is an article on Fuel Cells(!).

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Top 10 Countries in the Global EV Revolution: 2017 Edition

Yup, it’s that time of year again! Time for ranking, rating and listing, according to my semi-secret formula, a minor tweak of last year’s version.

Here’s the disclaimer, same as last year:

1. The score is multi-faceted rather than representing solely consumer sales, and

2. This is a global challenge, to which different countries can contribute in different ways, and the big picture must be in view.

The lion’s share of credit for data goes as usual, to Jose Pontes’ EV Sales Blog. Some data arrives from, in particular its excellent US sales report card, and some from my own online sleuthing. Speaking of sleuth, some numbers and percentages may look different from what you saw elsewhere, and this is because I’ve done extra work of adding light-commercial (LCV) sales to numerator and denominator, and other deeper-dive-into-numbers tweaks.

No lengthy preambles this time… perhaps only this: with global plug-in sales rising nearly 60% over 2016, easily crossing the thresholds of one million sales and 1% market share, individual countries must sprint ahead just in order to stay in the same place. As you shall see below, if you dare.

Ok let’s go. Last year’s place is in parentheses.

10th Place (tie-5th): France, 38 points. Claim to fame: EVs’ stable “Oak Tree” country doesn’t advance fast enough to keep up.

Not too much to say here. Despite production bottlenecks, the Renault ZOE, equipped since late 2016 with a 41-kWh battery, was far and away Europe’s best-selling plug-in last year. It also dominates France’s rather monochrome domestic EV market. Between the ZOE and Renault’s electric Kangoo LCV, you’ve gotten half of France’s 2017 sales (totaling ~43k for a 1.7% share, up from 1.4% in 2016), and nearly all of its domestic EV production (estimated ~46k, nearly 3% share), because the other large French automaker, Peugeot-Citroen, still refuses to enter the game for real. If the French EV scene doesn’t come up with a new trick, it may drop out of the Top 10 next year.

9th place (tie-5th): Ukraine, 38.5 points. Claim to fame: conveyor belt of used American Leafs continues; huge Outlander PHEV order.

Last year Ukraine provided the Top 10’s biggest surprise, as well as a recipe for poor nations how to hop-skip into the EV revolution. Ukraine is pretty much the only country officially considered poorer-than-average, that has any serious EV game going (#1 China is now middle or upper-middle in terms of residents’ domestic purchasing power). In 2017, roughly half of EVs introduced to Ukrainian roads were used Leafs, mostly from the US. Ukraine EV sales nearly doubled in 2017, from 2600 to an estimated ~4600, aided by a massive national police order of 635 new Outlander PHEVs. However, since Ukraine’s hot-and-cold overall auto sales also grew by 60-70% from 2016 to 2017, EV market share only increased from 2.9% to 3.1%. So Ukraine slipped 4 places down.

8th place (13th): Germany, 40 points. Claim to fame: Domestic sales roar to life; will BMW put a (teeny) plug in every car?

Various dirty tricks and EV buyer hesitancy had kept Germany off the List in 2015-6. 2017 was a different story, sales jumping from ~25k to >55k, and market share doubling to 1.5%. German automakers cranked out ~212k EVs, bypassing the US for the world’s #2 spot by volume. BMW alone delivered nearly 100k last year, which tend to be minimal-range PHEVs, hinting at a compliance play; won’t be the first trick by German automakers to make them look cleaner than they really are. A cleaner act was the launch and quick ramp of StreetScooter BEV vans, produced by Deutsche Post; ~4.5k of them were deployed in 2017. With the government now setting its sights on electric buses, Germany has a good shot at continuing to move up.

7th Place: Iceland (4th), 43 points. Claim to fame: Iceland becomes 2nd country in world with double-digit EV share, jumping from 5.7% in 2016 to 13% in 2017.

Cynics might argue that Iceland’s population is smaller than some suburbs, and 13% translates to only 3k EV deliveries. Well, compare Iceland’s EV market to, say, Denmark where <1k were sold last year; or Italy where <5k out of 2.4 million cars sold were EVs; or Israel, with 20x the population and with conditions far friendlier for EV adoption (one could say, “a Better Place”, har har) than frigid far-flung Iceland – Israel where the EV market finally “woke up again” in 2017, with a jaw-dropping 1.6k deliveries. So at this stage, yes Iceland is a serious player and EV pioneer, with a clean grid and strong, consistent public support.

5th Place two-way tie: Japan (tie-7th) and South Korea (tie-7th),  44 points. Claim to fame: with their domestic markets showing life, both East Asian automotive and battery powerhouses are on the rise.

Last year, Japan dropping down met South Korea moving up, to tie for 7th. This year was better for both, but the tie has held. South Korea completed a five-fold sales rise in 2 years, to 14.2k and 0.9% market share in 2017, and its automakers cranked out >40k plug-ins, double last year. South Korea gets extra credit for the Hyundai Ioniq, a new attractive sedan lineup available only in BEV/PHEV/hybrid versions, a concept now mimicked by Honda with its Clarity. And the Koreans are not done: early in 2018 Kia Niro became the second affordable plug-in SUV available in the West, the Bolt-like (but more SUV-looking) Hyundai Kona BEV will hit the markets later this year, and a long-range Soul EV may come out around the same time.

Meanwhile, Japan nearly tripled its sales last year, to 162k and a 1.1% market share. Japan’s domestic EV market is even more boring than France’s: Prius Prime and the Leaf accounted for nearly 80%, and nearly half the rest was Outlander PHEVs. The EV world can’t wait for Japanese automakers to start diversifying and expanding. The successful Prime launch, and the promising domestic launch of Leaf II are good, and it’s also good to see Honda finally getting off their asses. But an industry feeding 25-30% of the global auto demand can and should do more, faster. In 2017 Japanese automakers sold about 132k EVs, roughly 0.5% of their total output – a smaller EV share than Korean and American automakers, and far below the Chinese, German, French and Swedes.

Back on the plus side, Japan and Korea together with China and Japan, still run the global battery-pack production market, which counts for a lot in my books. Since the vast majority of big battery plants coming up in other countries are still run or advised by Japanese or Korean companies, these two countries will continue to receive credit for that.

3rd place, tie: Sweden (3rd) and the United States (tie-5th), 44 1/2 points. Claim to fame: Sweden continues well-rounded performance but no breakout year; despite some setbacks, US EV makers show their strength in 2017 and the Tesla Semi already generates a bang years before delivery.

An Olympic year is a great time to share medals! The bronzes go to a pair who beat the competition by a hair. The US could have gotten it outright, had the Model 3 ramp gone closer to plans. Still, credit is due to US automakers for helping lead the move to EVs’ second generation. Exhibit A is actually not the Model 3, but the Bolt and its successful nationwide ramp-up in 2017 (although this car’s main natural markets are overseas; will the geniuses at GM marketing realize this in time? Or will the Volt story repeat itself?). And Chrysler of all people, overcame early quality woes and produced relatively solid quantities of its new Pacifica PHEV minivan, the first mid-price EV available in the US at a large size class, and with a decent 33-mile range. Ford hasn’t done well, but at least they used 2017 to get rid of their anti-EV CEO. Not to get too excited, we note that the US Big 3 automakers also lobbied the new US government to water down efficiency rules, which – if it happens – will have a chilling effect on EVs.

Domestic sales increased relatively modestly from 160k to just under 200k, but since the overall US auto market shrunk in 2017, market share increase was more impressive (from 0.9% to 1.2%), in the process crossing 1% for the first time, after 3 years of hovering not far below it.

But arguably, the biggest American EV news came in November, about a vehicle still in development: the Tesla Semi. I generally don’t credit country scores for announcements and pre-deliveries. But the Semi announcement is an exception. Prior to the it, hardly anyone outside of Tesla thought that heavy long-haul BEV trucks can be viable anytime soon. The announcement, the real-life test drives, and the quick wave of paid pre-orders by big companies, have thrown the world of trucks and truck makers into turmoil, in a good way.

Truck emissions are huge: trucks consume one-third of global transport energy demand (pdf link), and roughly half of that is heavy-duty trucks, the fastest-growing segment of oil consumption. In Tesla’s favor works the fact that truck fleet buyers are less subject to, ahem, the capriciousness of the individual consumer market: if a BEV truck does the work, drives down operating cost, and helps meet emissions targets (which often means tax deductions) – they will buy it.

With the Semi news, with some Chinese-made full-size delivery vans showing up stealthily on American shores in late 2017 via a company called Chanje, and with Proterra continuing to increase bus production (still in the hundreds, though) and BYD producing buses and even some trucks in California, the US is the only country besides China to have a meaningful, well-rounded presence in the field of large work-related EVs, a critical front in the battle against the oil economy. So yeah, I credited the US one point for the Tesla Semi announcement, and also expanded the bus component of the score to all heavy work vehicles, and increased its weight from 15% to 20%.

Far less drama took place in Sweden, with EV share rising from 3.2% to 4.7%, still dominated by PHEVs, and Volvo still delivering only PHEVs. They have started making BEV buses and even fielded a 62-bus order from Trondheim Norway, but a few dozen buses for future delivery is not breaking news anymore. A Swedish company has been working on EV-converting two ferries, slated to become the largest “EVs” in the world at present (there is one somewhat smaller e-ferry in service in Norway since 2015) – but that project seems to have hit delays.

2nd place: Norway (2nd), 54 points. Claim to fame: EV share continues to rise, now waiting for the buses (and trucks? And more ferries?) to come. And a retroactive gold medal!

Norway’s EV share (after adding LCVs and falsely-labeled “imports”) rose from 27% to 34%, 66k EVs delivered, a staggering amount for this nation of 5 million. Norway is still 3rd in the world in EV sales by quantity, after China and the US. For countless EVs from around the world (eGolf, ZOE, Ioniq, Soul EV, even the Bolt), Norway is their top export market.  But still, the EV revolution has many fronts, and to stay ahead of the competition Norway needs to diversify its game. Indeed, as mentioned above some Norwegian cities have finally started ordering electric buses in large quantities in 2017.

They say the silver medal is the saddest one, and Norway has received it every year since the List’s inception. There are always comments from readers who feel Norway deserves better. So on this Olympic year I am making a happy announcement: hereby, Norway is retroactively granted a tie with the US for the 2014 gold medal. What, if they are still re-divvying the medals from Sochi why can’t I do it too? No, seriously, had I used any point-based system in 2014, Norway would have easily beaten the US, so a share of the gold is only fair. And this is likely the only way for Norway to touch the global #1 spot on this list, because it would take an EV-ecology of a completely different scale and breadth to try and catch up to China, as it keeps running away from the field..,

1st place: China (1st), 70 points. Claim to fame: all this, and more.

China started 2017 with 1-2 months of EV slowdown as the government required EV makers to re-certify, in order to close loopholes in the incentive system. But just like the previous 3 years, 2017 ended with a bang, market share rising from 1.45% to 2.1% and deliveries crossing 600k, nearly half of the global amount. Easily more than half if you add electric buses, where China is still orders of magnitudes beyond everyone else combined, despite a relatively down year (<100k new ones).

Everyone expected the annual global single-model EV sales record, set by Nissan Leaf in 2014 at 60k, to be broken in 2017 or 2018 by the Model 3. Then out of nowhere came the BAIC EC-series, a city car introduced late 2016 that looks like the Bolt but is a bit smaller with about half the range, and finished 2017 with 78k deliveries, including a record-shattering 15.7k-sales month in November. Now it should be counted as a favorite to win 2018 as well, easily breaking into six digits.

Also in November Shenzhen, a mega-city that sprouted near Hong Kong and is known as “China’s Silicon Valley”, announced that it has electrified its entire fleet of 16,000 buses.

And of course, China already makes and deploys electric trucks in various sizes; not semis though AFAIK, and precise numbers are hard to come by.

Wrap-up and Tidbits

If anyone can give China a fight for #1 it is likely Japan or the US, maybe Korea, but it will take far more determination and concerted efforts. Won’t happen for at least couple of years, because China ain’t waiting for anyone to catch up.

The middle of the Top 10 is tight: only 1.5 points separate 3rd and 7th place. Right below the Top 10 there’s a bit of a gap, and then six European nations with EV market shares between 1.7% and 2.6% crowd into the space between 32.5 and 35 points: two recent dropouts (UK and Netherlands) and four up-and-coming (Switzerland, Finland, Austria, Portugal). Given the current pace of progress, countries will need to set trends rather than follow them in order to separate from these packs.

This list does not account for electric two- and three-wheelers. The former in the shape of electric bicycles, have really taken off in some countries, first and foremost the very same China, where over 30 million e-bikes are apparently made and sold every year, ~90% of the global amount. I will be very surprised if most e-bikes sold elsewhere are not from China too. Add another wheel, and suddenly India (whose automakers drag their feet on EV development) takes center stage. Experts at India’s premier environmental research institute, CSE India, informed me that countless local shops and DIYer have EV-converted over a million auto-rickshaws over the past couple of years. Hopefully the trend continues.

Well, with that tidbit I probably lost my last reader. Till next year!


  1. Well done! Thank you!

  2. Great summary and a fascinating race to watch over the coming years. Great job!

  3. Good list but since this is an op ed there should be no ties...
    Throw someone under the BEV BUS!!!
    Personally the US is way way too high as no other country has done less with more than us...
    If it weren't for Tesla the US wouldn't even deserve to be on the list and we no US companies even make batteries...
    Fords EVs effort is a joke...
    FCAs EVs effort is an even bigger joke...
    GMs was OK but is starting to look serious now...
    Considering the size of the US auto market and the gigantic size of the three big US legacy auto makers I say again no one has done less with more...
    I see the US as 8 - 10 range...

    FYI... this comment system doesn't seem to like firefox :(

    1. @Anonymous, you make valid points, but that's precisely why I moved to a point-based system in 2016.
      Even though how to divvy up the points is still a subjective decision, I solicited input for that from Jose, the editors, and others.

      I also allow for ties when two scores are within ~0.3 points of each other, in order to reduce the effect of these decisions.

      Bottom line,
      = the US does have battery action (the Gigafactory and LG Chem's plant), certainly more than any other country outside the East Asian trio;
      - it has the most e-bus production outside of China (except possibly for Poland, once you include "hopping trolleys", and Poland is not a contender otherwise);
      - US EV share is not great, but not terrible and improving;
      - and it placed a BEV semitrailer on the map this year, in a rather shocking manner.

      It was enough to bring it on par with Sweden, Japan, Korea, and Iceland. Note that all these 5 are separated by 1.5 points, so no big reason to get hung up on who among them placed ahead. They are all roughly equivalent, and for us as EV drivers and advocates, it is nice to see a group of countries each contributing per its strengths.

      Although one does wish more of them could catch up to China or even Norway, faster. It's better than previous years - the first 2014 list only had 6 countries considered worthy of mention.

  4. In countries like Norway it should be useful by now to start looking at the share of EVs as part of all cars on the road and the effect of that share rising on sales of gasoline and diesel.