Welcome to my sixth annual Top Countries list! The disclaimer, same as in last 2 years:
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. Advantage goes to countries that contributes in multiple ways rather than only one way.
The lion’s share of credit for source data goes as usual, to Jose Pontes and his EV Sales Blog. The EU-sanctioned eafo.eu also helped a lot; guess who runs that site? (yup, the very same Jose). Some data arrives from insideevs.com, in particular its excellent US EV sales report card, and some from my own online sleuthing. Some numbers and percentages in Europe may look different from what you see elsewhere, because I’ve added light-commercial vehicle sales to numerator and denominator, to make the comparison with North America equitable – and also due to additional context-driven tweaks.
Overview: Calm before the Storms
Aside from a few notable exceptions, in 2019 the global EV scene was in somewhat of a holding pattern. Global sales were up ~10% to 2.2 million, while global EV share rose more strongly from 2.1% to 2.5%, thanks to falling ICE sales. Many Top 10 residents retained the same spot, and none moved more than 2-3 spots. Sales in the US and Japan actually dropped, but European sales saved the day increasing >40% in both volume and market share. Four European countries ended the year with double-digit EV share.
The Tesla Model 3, the first EV selling in six figures in one year (2018), fully doubled its annual sales in 2019 to just over 300k, reaching the general-market major leagues. And demand is still brisk. Meanwhile, China’s BAIC EU-Series midsize became the second EV to crash the six-figure club with 111k sales in 2019.
Looking ahead, the storms are several… Right now, 2020 seems bleak due to Covid-19. It’s already trashing EV sales in #1 China, and has severely disrupted supply chains to rising Korean EV maker Hyundai-Kia. Europe, the hotspot of 2019’s sales increase, is getting hit hard with the virus now, although the worst-hit country there as of early March (Italy) is also the worst EV country in Western Europe anyway. Of course, it’s too early to tell how the year will end. The overall EV industry and market seem far more robust now, and the crisis, aside from temporarily lowering economic activity and global emissions, might end up accelerating the EV transition in the long run. Silver lining, right?
The other storms are more positive: world’s largest automaker VW is slated to finally roll out midmarket BEVs under both VW and Skoda brands, and Peugeot is already selling its electric 208 like hotcakes in France since January; still a distant second to a new long-range Renault Zoe which started 2020 at #3 in the overall charts there. Other legacy automakers are expected to ramp up as well. And Tesla plans to start ramping the Model Y this year, armed with Model 3 experience and eating the popular SUV/crossover segment.
To business: I slightly tweaked the scoring system to make it a tad less generous and reduce some distortions. Will try to keep it the same in 2020. Like in recent years the biggest gaps are between #1, 2 and 3, with the latter heading a rather dense middle pack. So winning the bronze is like winning the lottery! And this year it is a new face there.
Ok let’s go. 2018’s place is in parentheses.
10th Place (tie-10th): Germany, 44 points. Claim to fame: solid sales rise and production numbers are offset by lower starting point, unimpressive product lineup, and no action on buses and batteries.
German EV production rose ~50% to 300k, but much of this are minimal PHEVs from BMW. While a 25km PHEV version of a gas-guzzler is better than the original, one should expect more from a brand known for innovation and daring. Germany has yet to launch any mass-market 200-mile EV, something that China, the US, Korea, Japan, France, and even the UK (produced in Austria) have been doing, some for quite a few years. German action on electric buses is still nonexistent (only 60 deployed, nearly none produced), and while battery-plant plans by German automakers are ongoing, nothing there yet.
On the plus side, the 125-mile eGolf had a record year on what is likely its last full year on the market, returning to the global top 20 after a long absence. And domestic consumers drove a 46% rise to a 2.9% market share, dragging Germany’s score up just enough keep it in the Top 10. It was the first time a European country saw 100k EV sales in a year.
9th Place: France (12th), 45 points. Claim to fame: a jump in electric buses with moderate rise everywhere else and a promising outlook; is this the start of a comeback run?
France started the decade as a leading power in a very narrow global EV scene. Then it logged steady yet very gradual improvements, and was hop-skipped by the faster rise of many other countries. Eventually, in 2018 France dropped off the Top 10. Last year it clawed its way back: electric bus deployments jumped from almost nothing to nearly 200, 3rd in Europe by volume. France is also the longtime leader in light-commercial EV deployment (~8k in 2019), with its domestic Kangoo ZE beating the Barcelona-produced Nissan eNV-200 for the sub-segment’s #1 spot with a record 10k global sales.
French EV sales saw a typical 24% rise from 2.1% to 2.6% market share, dominated as always by the ever-improving Zoe. But if January 2020 is indicative, we may be in for a shock surprise this year, because France just logged an 11% EV market share in January with Zoe launching a 200-mile version and Peugeot-Citroen finally gearing into action. Things are looking up again for France… as long as Covid-19 doesn’t destroy everything.
7th Place - tie: The United Kingdom and Iceland (7th and 8th), 46 points. Claim to fame: Iceland crosses 20% market share, while UK inches toward 3% despite Brexit.
Sparsely-populated Iceland retained its world-second-best EV share position, rising from 17% to 22%. The EV mix has become less PHEV-heavy than before (42% BEV). The EV score is a combination of volume and share of sales and production, plus other aspects, so a teeny-population country like Iceland needs to score really high on market share to be in the Top 10. Well, Iceland meets the challenge year after year, reminding North Americans in places like Minnesota and Manitoba that EVs can do just fine in cold, sparsely populated regions, and also that it is possible to build a renewable grid in such conditions. So don’t turn your nose up at Iceland.
The UK landed its first Top 10 spot in 2018, and clung to it last year, market share rising from 2.3% to 2.9% and becoming less PHEV-heavy (are you sensing a pattern here? It’s all about European emissions regulation). Production numbers suffered a bit from lower Leaf sales, and bus action was relatively flat (#4 in Europe by volume). But LEVC sold 2500 electric taxis! Good show! Looking ahead, while Brexit may be yet another storm on the EV horizon, overall the Johnson government appears committed to climate action in general and to EVs in particular. Hope they walk the walk, and don’t trip up their entire economy over bungled trade talks.
6th Place: South Korea (4th), 49 points. Claim to fame: a somewhat disappointing plain-vanilla year.
Korean automakers increased their EV output, from 95k to 130k, a respectable increase but not as dramatic as 2018. Consumers inched forward from 1.75% to 1.9% share. If the Korean economy survives Covid-19 (the poor residents of Daegu!), or at least EVs are not disproportionately hurt, then we might see a greater increase in 2020 thanks to stronger incentives. Korea also continues to be a dominant EV battery supplier to Western automakers, and might even get some Tesla action as the latter seeks to diversify its sources.
5th place: the United States (3rd), 52 points. Claim to fame: Tesla and Bust.
In 2018 the Model 3’s ramp buoyed US EV sales to near-doubling, masking a drop across all other models. In 2019 the Model 3 doubled its own deliveries, but half of that went overseas, mostly to Europe. Meanwhile GM killed its Volt in March and seemingly reduced Bolt production as well, Honda and Toyota throttled their US-bound PHEV shipments, and overall EV sales actually dropped from 361k to just under 330k, falling back below 2% market share, lower than the global average.
Just like in 2018, if you split the US into Trump’s favorite punching bag California, and all other 49 states combined, then “CA Country” would become the world’s #2 EV nation with 7.7% EV sales share and relatively massive 100% EV production, while all the rest would drop way below the Top 10, barely over 1% sales and 0.5% production. The tussle between CARB and the current “Zombie EPA”, with the latter claiming that better fuel efficiency is dangerous for you and willing to go to court against the former’s attempt to clean up its fleet, and with 2 of the US Big 3 siding with the Zombies – does not instill confidence that EV culture in the US exists beyond a few greenie enclaves and a Tesla love/hate fetish.
The excuse that this is just a few rogue officials appointed by Trump falls flat. The automakers could have sided with CARB. The press and public could have shamed the Administration and its political party to change their EV stance, as did happen on other topics. But generally, EVs and a cleaner US fleet are not on many Americans’ priority list right now. Culture-wise, the strongest new ray of light was the decision by Virginia’s publicly-owned school bus fleet to go electric. That will take time though.
4th Place: Sweden (4th), 53 points. Claim to fame: market share finally into double-digits!
Similarly to France, Sweden is a fairly steady performer with few surprises, although with substantially higher market share, going from 7.2% to 10.2% and becoming less PHEV-dominated. We’re still waiting on Volvo to produce some BEVs and not only PHEVs, though. This is likely to happen in 2020 in both the car and bus segments. Volvo did deliver a few e-buses in 2019. By the way, Sweden started 2020 with EV share all the way up to 30% territory.
3rd Place: The Netherlands (5th), 54 points. Claim to fame: our wildest swinger continues its BEV makeover and joins the double-digit club, while leading the Euro bus scene.
In 2015 the Netherlands sported the world’s #2 EV market share nearing 10%, on an almost pure PHEV “diet” due to warped incentive structure. Once de-warped, market share dropped to barely 2% in 2016. Since then the country’s EV culture has reinvented itself, and in 2019 market share touched 13%, nearly all BEVs. There were still some tax shenanigans at play: December alone saw 23k EV sales (54% market share), 12k of them Model 3 which was an all-time record for any car. This was driven at least in part by tax increases kicking in January 1 2020; although January EV sales were not as bad as feared.
Meanwhile, electric bus action more than doubled to a continent-leading 375 new deployments, over 1.5 times more than #2 Norway. Recall that the Netherlands only has Europe’s 11th largest population (6th largest in Western Europe). This bus action is anchored by domestic maker VDL, responsible for nearly 500 out of the country’s cumulative 800 e-buses, which in turn account for 15% of the country’s transit bus fleet. I strongly value the electrification of heavier work vehicles in general and of buses in particular, so this performance provides just enough juice to win the Netherlands its first, well-deserved medal. I hope I don’t eat my own words next year.
2nd place: Norway (2nd), 63 points. Claim to fame: perennial silver medalist crosses 50% on passenger cars, but still just shy overall. Nice bus action though.
Norway’s passenger EV sales gobbled up 56% of the market total, but with light-commercial included it drops to 45%. Quite likely to finally cross 50% in 2020, since Norwegians’ EV love is a feature not a temporary bug. Tesla Model 3 landed here too with a bang, logging nearly 16k sales which might be an all-time annual record for any car.
Meanwhile, action on other EV fronts finally materialized, with new e-bus deployments jumping from 40 to 230, which if my google skills are correct might be >20% market share for the year. Hopefully that’s an irreversible trend, and with Norway there are good reasons for hope.
1st place: China (1st), 73 points. Claim to fame: another year, another gold – but incentive-change madness and Covid-19 pain expose how precarious all this still is.
2019 was a tale of two half-years. In the first half, EV sales were cruising along at the breakneck growth rate we’ve come to expect from China (630k sales and 6.3% market share, vs. 370k and 3% share in the first half of 2018). But then, just like in 2017 and 2018, new incentive reductions kicked in, after automakers had already scrambled and upped their games following the first two rounds.
Starting late June, EVs with range below 250km NEDC (~160km/100mi EPA) lost incentives completely, and the rest saw their incentives halved. Previous incentives cuts jittered the market for a couple months before a new surge. This time, the effect lasted through the end of the year: less than 490k EV sold in July-December vs. nearly 740k in July-December 2018. For the entire year China managed to edge 6% ahead of 2018 by volume, faring relatively better on market share (5.5% vs. 4.2% in 2018) thanks to a sharp drop in the ICE market. But the momentum has evaporated.
Governments have an important role to play in supporting the EV revolution. But when governments make vindictive and irrationally anti-scientific decisions on EVs (the current situation in the US), or when an authoritarian system allows governments to play with rules and time scales that are too harsh for the industry to adapt to (that would be China), they might cause substantial damage. On the merits, as well, I cannot understand what’s wrong with continuing to subsidize Chinese city EVs with ~80 miles of range. Chinese families are small (originally by government fiat, and now the government seems unable to reverse the trend). A city car fits the budget of more households, takes up less space and wastes less material resources. Here in the US, our household did just fine with a (larger) 80-mile EV as our only car from 2015 through mid-2017, needing to rent an ICE car only twice. So what’s the rush to tighten the purse strings and raise the bar every year? Does the Chinese government want more EVs or not?
China’s electric bus scene, too, wasn’t as bright as before, seeing the second straight annual drop, this time to ~70k domestic deliveries (14% market share), the lowest number since 2015. Here too an incentives cut precipitated the drop. Even with the drop, China is still light-years ahead of everyone else, and essentially defines this segment. A good chunk (possibly the majority) of the few thousand e-buses delivered around the rest of the world combined, were also made in China or by Chinese companies.
China’s dominance on e-buses and its membership in the East Asian battery triumvirate (with Korea and Japan) has guaranteed it another clear #1, despite a relatively lackluster 2019. However, right now when EV sales might have recovered, the perfect storm of Covid-19 has hit. January EV sales dropped 50%, and early reports on February talked about 90+% drops. To make matters worse, Wuhan is an automotive industry hub. We might see China dethroned in 2020 for very tragic reasons.
Wrap-up and Tidbits
- For the first time, Japan is off the list with 39 points. Unlike France, which saw a similar setback in 2018 but whose fundamentals have remained strong and is back on the upswing, Japan’s EV story has been an almost-continuous slide and disappointment. Two of its Big 3 are still hedging on EVs, at best (Honda did sign the CARB pact that is now in court vs. the EPA and other automakers, but still offers no substantial BEV on the market). And whether Carlos Ghosn did or didn’t steal money, his November 2018 arrest and ouster from Nissan brought in successors who don’t seem to give a hoot about EVs. With Ghosn in 2018, the new 150-mile Leaf broke the Leaf sales record. In 2019 with the long-awaited 215-mile Leaf, and the 150-mile version also available, Leaf sales were actually down ~20% despite its main market (Europe) showing strong EV demand. It isn’t the car’s specs – see above how well the 125-mile eGolf and the 170-mile Zoe have done! - it’s lack of leadership at Nissan. Meanwhile consumers in Japan’s strongly sheltered auto market have few choices and little appetite, and the EV share fell below 1%. Only battery production keeps Japan anywhere near the Top 10.
- Another Top 10 dropout, having graced the list for 3 years, is Ukraine, most of whose EVs arrive as used imports. Overall EV import volume (new+used) increased moderately, but in a wildly fluctuating auto market the “denominator” of overall used-import car sales tripled from 2018. Meanwhile I found the numbers for another market dominated by used imports: New Zealand, a country where such statistics are nicely and readily found on a government website. The EV share there was 2.3%, not nearly enough to make the Top 10 on sales alone.
- Austria narrowly missed the Top 10 with 43 points. Austria (3.1% share, almost all BEVs) sets itself apart from a cluster of European countries with healthy increases and 3%-7% EV share (Portugal, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Finland), by being the country where the Jaguar i-Pace is made. The Graz factory is not a Jaguar assembly plant, but rather an independent “foundry”.
Here’s a table showing each year’s ranking. Note that 2014 had only 6 countries, and 2015 seven. Back then I didn’t think there were 10 countries that merited being in a “Top” list yet.
*Norway received a tie for the 2014 gold only retroactively (around the same time that Sochi 2014 medals were being moved retroactively hither and thither).