Welcome to my fifth annual Top Countries list! The disclaimer, same as in last 2 years:
- The score is multi-faceted rather than representing solely consumer sales, and
- 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 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 (LCV) sales to numerator and denominator, to make the comparison with North America equitable – and also due to additional context-driven tweaks.
2018 has been a true transition year. One could say, Year zero of EVs charging into the major leagues. For that we have to thank mostly China, Tesla, and Hyundai–Kia, in that order. Highlights:
- According to Jose, global EV sales surged 65% over 2017 (and 2017 was 58% over 2016!) – ending at just over 2 million new plug-in vehicles, and 2.1% global market share. It should be noted that the ICE auto market was slightly down in 2018, and is forecast to drop even further in 2019.
- For the first time ever, a single EV sold in six figures in a single year, a classic major-league sales milestone. And the Tesla Model 3 did it in style, with nearly 146k deliveries in its first full year on the market!
- The world’s leading EV market by volume, China, crossed another milestone with over a million EVs sold in one country in one year, the vast majority BEVs.
I keep the exact same scoring system as last year’s list, so the points are directly comparable to 2017. If in 2017, only the top 2 countries reached 50+ points and #3 had <45, in 2018 we have 4 with 50+ and 2 with 45+, while the leader gallops towards 80.
Ok, let’s go. Last year’s place is in parentheses.
Claim to fame: Germany’s EV consumers run ahead of its stagnating automakers; Ukraine continues to play role-model for low/med-income countries and to shame spoiled Western EV consumers, but suffers fluctuating denominators.
An interesting pair these two make, being Europe’s economic powerhouse and its anchor of stability, vs. one of the continent’s poorest with a wildly unstable economy.
German automakers’ EV production was flat in 2018, a bit over 200k. Their years-long bet on subpar PHEVs backfired spectacularly, with July’s EU-wide introduction of more stringent emissions standards. They were caught flatfooted and had to revamp all PHEVs. VW is talking big about near-future EV production, but talk is cheap. I would also really like to see Mercedes e-buses in large quantities, there is absolutely no excuse for the Western world’s largest bus-maker to continue foot-dragging on this. German consumers, meanwhile, nudged sales and market share up by about one-third to ~70k and ~2.0%, salvaging Germany from dropping out of the Top 10.
Just like in previous years, over half of EVs introduced to Ukraine’s roads last year were used imported Leafs. BEV sales roughly doubled to 5300, but global PHEVs probably dropped (I don’t have exact numbers). The overall auto market increased due to a sharp rise in used-imports. So it seems the effective EV market share stayed roughly flat at 3-3.2%.
Ukraine shows how a low-medium income country can play a meaningful role in the EV revolution. But I’ve realized there’s an even stronger lesson for us in the West, in particular the US.
Every year, thousands of Ukrainians – a country where the average monthly salary is $300 – line up to pay $15,000 for an 80-100 mile used American Leaf. In their harsh winter, range might be easily 40% shorter than that, and there are hardly any quick-charge stations – but there’s always demand for those used Leafs.
Meanwhile, Americans who make easily 10x more than Ukrainians, have access to brand-new Leafs with double the range for the cheapest prices to be found anywhere, and to brand-new Bolts with triple the range for not much more – but could not be bothered. In fact, to judge by comments on American EV sites and by some “analysis” stories, the offer to, say, lease a 150-mile Leaf for 3 years at a price of $7-10k total out-of-pocket, no worries about battery depletion or resale value (or to get e.g., a 125-mile eGolf for a similar price) – is a ridiculously bad deal, beneath contempt, almost a crime against Humanity.
So, my fellow EV fans: do you really like EVs? As much as the Ukrainians do? Please do maintain some perspective. Thank you.
9th Place: Japan (tie-5th), 43 points.
Claim to fame: stagnant domestic market and limited focus by automakers, combine for a continued slide.
Japan slid to its lowest place in the list’s history. Its EV market, dominated by 1-2 domestic models, was down somewhat to 52k sales and 1.0% market share, lower than any other country in the Top 20, let alone the Top 10. The 240-km Gen 2 Leaf whose best 2018 market was Japan, salvaged things from cratering completely. It should be noted that the Japanese don’t buy Korean EVs and vice-versa. I wonder whether this has to do with mutually destructive tariffs.
Just like Germany, Japan’s world-leading auto industry should do much more on EVs. One cannot deny that the world’s most common BEV and most common PHEV are still both Japan designed-and-made, and both had a good year (Leaf and Outlander). Also, Honda showed what it can do with the Clarity PHEV – which with the Volt’s retirement, is the world’s best passenger PHEV on offer (only available in the US, though?). So unlike the Germans’ wacky EV offerings thus far, the Japanese certainly have it in them when they want it. Most of them, unfortunately, still don’t want it. To add insult to injury, we now have the Ghosn scandal, losing Japan’s prominent EV front man.
The main thing preventing Japan from dropping out of the Top 10 like a depleted Leaf battery-pack, is its global leadership role in battery production (Panasonic-Tesla, and to a lesser extent also AESC-Nissan).
8th Place: Iceland (7th), 43.5 points.
Claim to fame: Iceland continues its role as the “mini-Norway”, although a bit more like Sweden.
Sparsely-populated Iceland saw EV sales increase to 3500 and 17.5% market share, #2 in the world, with December’s share around 30%. Sounds a lot like Norway a few years ago, except that the EV mix here is PHEV-heavy like in Sweden.
BMW i3 at InstaVolt fast charging station in UK
7th Place: The United Kingdom (tie-11th), 44 points.
Claim to fame: steady rise and production spurt finally land the UK solidly in the Top 10.
The UK was a perennial “almost”, never quite making it into the annual Top Countries list. Well, it landed with a bang and seems here to stay. Unless the ongoing Brexit fiasco craters its EV scene.
Sales increased ~40% to 61.4k and 2.3% share, but the big story was production. Nissan’s Sunderland plant feeds Europe’s Gen 2 Leaf demand, while Jaguar got tired of the Germans’ empty talk about their mythical “Tesla-killer”, and came out relatively quickly with the i-Pace, a veritable competition to the Model X selling a solid 7k units in its first few months.
Claim to fame: our biggest mover has successfully reinvented itself as a BEV haven, but how about a little more consistency from now on?
While the UK added an impressive 9 points, the Netherlands jumped by a full 12, advancing 10 spots. A few years ago the Netherlands sported the world’s #2 market share after Norway, but it was almost all PHEVs due to some tax loophole exploited by fleet managers. The loophole was closed, EV sales cratered, and the country dropped out of my Top 10. Now they are back with a vengeance, sales more than doubling to 28k and 5.2% market share, 9/10ths of them BEVs.
We’re not done with loopholes, however; luxury BEVs enjoyed favorable taxes, expiring at the end of 2018. So of course the 2018 best-selling EV list is dominated by luxury brands. Now, hopefully, Netherlands will experience an auto-tax system in line with environmental and economic sanity, and we’ll see what the country’s “normal” EV market really looks like.
Another thing in Netherland’s favor is its relative leadership role on electric buses. Granted, that’s a continued abysmal weakness of European automaking and bus purchasing; but against that weakness, Netherlands almost alone is punching above its weight. Eindhoven-based VDL makes only 1-2k buses a year, but >10% of them (and rising) are electric; they sold their 500th e-Bus last September, continuing to compete with Poland’s Solaris for the continent’s #1 e-bus making spot. By contrast, Mercedes (oops, have I already mentioned them?) makes ~30k buses/year around the world, practically none of them electric.
5th Place: Sweden (tie-3rd), 49 points.
Claim to fame: despite solid performance, Sweden drops 1.5 spots. Also, how about some BEVs for a change?
Similarly to 2017, Sweden again increased sales year-over-year by ~1.5x, to 29.k and 7.2%. Amazingly, that wasn’t enough to hang on to its tie for 3rd. One reason is only 27% BEV in the mix, and Volvo’s continued delay in introducing a BEV to the market (they do sell BEV buses now, I think, but not in large numbers yet). Not much else to add.
Claim to fame: Korean automakers continue to jump ahead in the EV game.
Korea finally broke its two-year tie with Japan, big time. While Japan slid way down, Korean automakers more than doubled their EV output, from 39k to 95k, and introduced the mid-market SUVs Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro, each available both as a PHEV and as a >200-mile BEV. Meanwhile, the Hyundai Ioniq BEV continued to sell well in Europe and Korea. Consumers didn’t lag behind, doubling EV purchases to 32k and 1.75% share. And battery maker LG Chem continues to compete with Panasonic-Tesla and BYD for the world’s #1 spot.
On the bus front, Koreans apparently believe in fuel-cells rather than electric. Oh well, see how that pans out for them; better than diesel in any case.
3rd place: the United States (tie-3rd), 53 points.
Claim to fame: welcome to Tesla Country.
EV sales increased dramatically to 361k and 2.1% (exactly China’s 2017 market share), a 75% increase, most of it due to domestic production. Tesla’s near-impossible Model 3 ramp plans finally started happening for real, and the company still managed to sell nearly 100k of the Model S and Model X worldwide. And thanks to the Gigafactory, the US is increasing its battery-production score as well. So things look pretty rosy.
Until you look outside of Tesla. Sales of non-Tesla BEVs were actually down 25%, despite Nissan introducing Gen 2 Leaf in March, and Chevy Bolts offered at deep discounts. Lesser EV models saw even sharper drops: eGolf was down 3x, Soul EV down 2x. Recall that the Model 3 was offered for ~$50k or more until near 2018’s end, so ostensibly this was not direct competition.
I think what’s going on is that American consumers have fallen into thinking that EVs are either Tesla or “a bunch of useless, overpriced golf carts”. It’s not a random thought; much of US media coverage, and what people write on American EV blogs and comment threads, suggests this strongly.
The Tesla-first patterns were even stronger on the automaker side. GM just killed its Volt, reneging on the promise to use its technology in larger vehicles. The party line is that “the time window for PHEVs has passed; we’re going straight to BEVs”. Forgive me for not buying it, because sales of Exhibit A for GM’s purported future, the Bolt, were completely flat from 2017 (~28k). Not only did they fail to exploit another full year in the US market with >$10k price advantage over the Model 3; under 10% of Bolt production went to Europe where it could have made a killing. So 2018’s only affordable 200-mile BEV in Western markets fell from the global #10 position in 2017, to below the top 20. This is a rather shocking failure of leadership. And Ford has essentially killed all its EV production, which was pretty lame to begin with. They are said to be working on an electric F150; but how long will that take, given that their only BEV experience is small volumes of the Focus? It is a sad year when Chrysler is the best-behaved Big Three member. Or put another way, in 2018 Tesla sold 4x as many EVs as all the Big Three put together.
We are lucky to have Tesla and to see it achieve such high-volume mid-market success. But judging by the US patterns, some of its success has been zero-sum vs. other EVs. It doesn’t matter whether it’s intentional or just US consumer silliness and Big Three corruption at play; the bottom line is dangerous. Tesla (or any other automaker), is never free of the risk of failure. It is problematic when in the world’s #2 auto market, all the EV eggs are in one basket, especially when this basket itself is dominated by a single person who’s had a rather shaky year at the top.
And then there’s the political and incentive environment. For a decade, the straightforward, relatively generous US Federal incentive has served as an anchor, in particular once automakers started bundling it into lease deals enabling people to enjoy it regardless of tax liability. But in 2018 we’ve finally hit against its weird sunset rules, and in a way that actually hurts the leading American EV producers (Tesla and GM) while sparing foreign automakers. But instead of fixing this, the White House and its Congress allies want to kill the incentive completely. Meanwhile, the EPA has been inhabited by oil-owned zombies, who claim we do not need to conserve oil anymore, and seem willing to undermine California’s ZEV mandates that drive that state’s unique EV scene.
But with all that said, the Model 3 juggernaut has enough kick-ass energy in it now, to lift the US even further in 2019. And fortunately, other markets don’t seem to be following US’s Tesla-or-bust, anti-incentives trend.
2nd place: Norway (2nd), 56 points.
Claim to fame: perennial silver medalist gets another one; some progress on larger vehicles.
Norway’s passenger EV sales approached 50% of market total, with the Leaf winning general-market #1 for the year. Light-commercial EV sales doubled, but are still under 5% so the weighted average EV share was 41%, up from 34% in 2017 and 27% in 2016. There’s some progress on buses, still lots to go.
Norway continues to function as the EV world’s lab on what happens further ahead in the market transition, but in its overall role in the EV revolution, it is no match to…
1st place: China (1st), 78 points.
Claim to fame: a crisp, cool million – actually 1.1 million – despite yet another regulatory revamp. The sky’s the limit.
No one can catch China now, at least not for a few years. As the intro said, sales easily crossed 1 million, while EV market share doubled from 2.1% to 4.2% thanks to an ICE-market volume drop. For the second straight year, the government intervened in the EV market to improve production quality, this time by raising the bar for subsidies in terms of minimum range/power. This put a dent in last year’s world-record breaker, the BAIC EC-Series. Its sales stopped for a few months to get it upgraded, causing it to miss joining the Model 3 in the six-figure club; it still managed to beat its 2017 performance (as well as narrowly edge the Leaf for global #2), with >90k sales.
Meanwhile, BAIC has come out with the larger, stronger-spec EU Series, as well as the EX Series SUV, and they are stealing the EC’s thunder. Despite a late start, both newbies managed to land in the global Top 20 for 2018. I wonder which of the three will reach an annual six figures first? Overall, China’s residents bought ~55% of the world’s EVs last year, spread across many automakers, with BYD rather than BAIC the overall volume leader. Look at China’s Top 20 list to see how broad and deep the transition has become.
And of course, China still totally determines the world’s EV bus scene. According to Jose, it was same-old same-old in 2018: another year, another ~100,000 new electric buses in China. Meanwhile, Europe added a mind-boggling 650 (six hundred and fifty) electric buses in 2018, with a good chunk actually coming from China. That’s not even a rounding error in Chinese terms.
Wrap-up and Tidbits
- For the first time, France is off the list with 39 points. As I have repeatedly warned the French, their gradual improvement rate is not enough in today’s EV world. They listened and tried, market share increasing by one-quarter to 2.1%, but still fell short. Only a major advancement, e.g., doubling of Renault ZOE production, or PSA finally putting some skin into the game, will bring them back.
- If one splits the US to California vs. all the rest, the “Not-California” part drops out of the Top 10, while California with 7.8% EV share and Tesla’s production numbers, shoots past Norway to 2nd place with 63 points.
As a final eye-candy, here’s a table showing each year’s ranking. Note that 2014 had only 6 countries, and 2015 seven. I didn’t think there were 10 countries that merited being in a “Top” list yet. How times have changed.
*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).