Fun Fact: The Tesla Model S Was The Best Selling EV Globally In 2015, Despite The Tesla Struggling Inside The World's Largest EV Market - China

Fun Fact: The Tesla Model S Was The Best Selling EV Globally In 2015, Despite The Tesla Struggling Inside The World's Largest EV Market - China

World’s Top 10 Plug-In Car Manufacturers – 2015 January-December (data source: EV Sales Blog)

World’s Top 10 Plug-In Car Manufacturers – 2015 January-December (data source: EV Sales Blog)

Better late than never… here’s my second annual personal, non-scientific, non-binding, annual “Top EV Countries” list. I’m not doing a “Top 10” yet, because IMHO there are not quite yet 10 really strong EV countries in the world. The 2014 list was intended to have 5 countries, but ended up with 6 (5th place was a tie).

While we in the US have not felt it so much, 2015 was a year of spectacular progress, with global passenger EV sales rising some 70% year-over-year and crossing the half-million mark (for 2015 alone, not cumulatively; in fact, nearly hitting 550k passenger EV sales for the year).  So as long as we are making definite progress, I will extend the list every year, until we hit 10 solid EV countries. This year it’s 7. Without further ado, here they come.

7. South Korea

First year on list; local sales 2,500-3,000. Claim to fame: world’s #3 in EV battery making and #2 in EV battery export; also exporting the Soul EV. (hereafter just “Korea”)

South Korea-Based Hyundai Introduced The Sonata PHEV In 2015

South Korea-Based Hyundai Introduced The Sonata PHEV In 2015

Korea is my reminder that it is not just local EV sales - the focus of most reporting and hype - that matter. EV sales in Korea are still very modest, only a couple thousand in 2015, definitely an increase but unimpressive for a relatively wealthy industrial powerhouse with 50 million citizens.

That’s ok though, because just like CPU/RAM technology has been the heart of the computer revolution, so is battery technology for the EV revolution. And Korea is member to the select club of 3 East Asian nations, whose companies are in charge of almost all the world’s EV battery packs. And yes, I’m counting overseas operations like LG Chem’s Michigan plant, in Korea’s favor.

Speaking of LG Chem: in 2015 it has remained the world’s #3 EV battery company (passing Nissan/AESC, and hopped over by BYD). Its strategy is very impressive and Intel-like, playing team with any willing automaker, including all the American Big Three, Renault and VW, and reportedly also slated to make the Gen 2 Leaf batteries pretty soon. LG Chem nearly doubled its total EV battery output in 2015. And there’s Samsung, not chump change either. In short, without the Korean battery makers, we wouldn’t see the rapid adoption of viable plug-in models across so many automakers worldwide. In particular, GM could not be readying an affordable mass-market 200-mile BEV without LG Chem at its side.

Renault Samsung Motors EV sales in South Korea – December 2015

Renault Samsung Motors EV sales in South Korea – December 2015

We also note the Korean-designed-and-made Kia Soul EV, not a big volume player, but still a much-appreciated affordable BEV (whose battery is made by yet a third Korean battery outfit). Interestingly, the Soul EV is not #1 in its own domestic market; this crown belongs to Samsung SM3 ZE, a non-swap revival of the defunct Renault Influenza. And as this site reported recently, in 2016 Hyundai (which is joined at the hip with Kia) will start splashing out with its new Ioniq BEV/PHEV sedan beginning in the second half of the year. I hope they can crank up the volume.

6. Japan

Down from #4; local sales 25,000. Claim to fame: despite local market stagnation and Toyota’s dirty games, Japan still makes the world’s cumulative #1 EV (Leaf), the world’s #1 PHEV (Outlander), and hosts the world’s #1 EV battery maker (Panasonic).

2016 Looks To Be A Big Bounce Back Year For The 107 Mile Nissan LEAF. 2015? Well, let's not talk about that.

2016 Looks To Be A Big Bounce Back Year For The 107 Mile Nissan LEAF. 2015? Well, let's not talk about that.

For Japan, like the US, it has been a “wait and see” year – in fact several years in a row like this - with the Leaf’s stopgap range bump kept under wraps for too long, then lingering on execution.

Yeah, yeah, we know all about that. OTOH, Mitsu’s Outlander PHEV has continued to make waves globally, taking the annual domestic crown from the Leaf (the two combined make up ~80% of 2015 EV sales in Japan), winning #1 in Europe for a second straight year, this time in a devastating manner with >31k continental sales (the runner-up Renault Zoe only sold <19k units). Globally it was #3 due to not yet selling in the US, but it was this close to overtaking the Leaf for #2. And Japan’s EV battery makers are still the world’s #1 (Panasonic), #4 (AESC/Nissan) and #5 (Mitsubishi).

However. However. Japan’s flagship automaker, Toyota, has decided to take the plug-in Prius (not an impressive EV to begin with) completely off the market, with a vague promise to return in the 2017 model. Why? Why???? Even freakin’ Fiat-Chrysler now has more EV presence, and will bring out its next plug-in model before Toyota. Fuel cells are no excuse.

Surely a 10-million-car-a-year automaker can walk and chew gum at the same time: play with its fuel-cell toys while still churning out some sort of respectable EV lineup, now that EV technology has become arguably plug-and-play? Japan’s government should hold Toyota’s feet to the fire, I’m sure they’ve gotten nice wads of Yens in support and subsidies for EV development in the past. And while they’re at it, light a little fire under Honda’s feet as well, even though the latter have at least been making the right kind of noises lately.

5. France

Last year tied for 5th. Local sales: 27,000. Claim to fame: #4 European market by volume and once again on the rise; still making most of its own EVs, including Europe’s #2 EV which is the #1 BEV (Zoe); is ahead of the European curve in swapping diesel for electric.

BEV Registrations in France – December 2015

BEV Registrations in France – December 2015

France has been the EV world’s oak tree: the same cocktail of home-brewed EVs, with gradually increasing sales numbers, year in year out. But 2015 has seen a substantial jump from 16k to 27k sales. The local flagship, the Renault Zoe, came out with a range bump in early 2015 (it’s likely >100 miles EPA, if they cared to ship it here), and exported nearly half of Zoe sales rather than remain confined to the French market, resulting in a 66% year-over-year increase.

Furthermore, France which used to be as enamoured of diesel as the rest of the continent, had started shaking the habit before most others: since last April the French government has been giving generous incentives for replacing diesel clunkers with new plug-ins. So they didn’t need to scramble for new solutions when Dieselgate broke out last fall.

4. Netherlands  

First year on list; local sales 43,000. Claim to fame: Europe’s sales volume leader (world’s #3), global #2 for EV market share (9.6%), PHEV heaven.

Meet the first “buyers only” country on our list, that is, a country distinguished solely by its domestic EV sales. A great product needs both great makers and loyal customers, right?

Netherlands Had A

Netherlands Had A "Peak-and-a-half" In December Of 2015, Before Falling Back In Exhaustion in January

Last year I hesitated to put Netherlands on the list; its feast-and-famine sales pattern (it was actually down in 2014 vs. 2013), and dominance of PHEVs over BEVs, suggested a market more beholden to various tax loopholes than to actual EV adoption. But this year I’m giving in; strange patterns aside, in December 2015 alone, nearly 16k EVs sold in Netherlands, more than anywhere else in a single month, ever, except for China. Yup, more than the current US record, which was set that same month at <14k.

PHEVs’ total dominance in Netherlands – 90% of plug-in sales there in 2015 were PHEVs – has raised my eyebrows so many times it’s achieved the effect of a reasonable-quality plastic surgery.

Almost 9,000 Outlander PHEVs Were Sold In 2015, some ~3,750 in December

Almost 9,000 Outlander PHEVs Were Sold In 2015, some ~3,750 in December

Small country, decent quick-charge infrastructure, why not BEVs? All signs pointed to the incentive structure, and recently I’ve cracked the code: unlike anywhere else, Netherland’s generous EV incentive – at least 5k Euro over gas cars, and >10k Euros over diesel – is almost the same for PHEVs and BEVs, a difference of only a few hundred Euro. Some decoding of the table: the incentive is in the form of discount from the hefty tax paid according to the vehicle’s tailpipe CO2 emissions rating. BEVs are almost exempt, and then you still pay a relative pittance for the first 79 g/km. All regular PHEVs are rated lower than that.

The December 2015 rush was driven by a scheduled hike of those rates. To boot, a good chunk of Dutch auto sales are to large employers who then provide them to workers as benefit, and fleet managers being relatively conservative, they probably prefer to not go the full Monty and acquire BEVs, just yet.

Dutch participants here also claimed that their compatriots love taking their cars to neighboring countries on the weekend, and a PHEV serves the purpose better than a BEV. I cannot dispute that, but it doesn’t seem a complete explanation to me. Regardless, congrats Dutchfolk for your #4! Well done!

3. USA

Down from #1; Local sales 116,000. Claim to fame: global #2 by volume for 2015, and #1 cumulative; Tesla Model S world’s #1 selling EV for 2015; Chevy Bolt announced.

While Europe doubled in sales, and China zillion-tupled, the US was down slightly. As a result, we are not the 800-pound gorilla we used to be, going down in a single year from nearly 40% of global sales to barely 20%, and losing the world’s #1 volume spot to China.

The US Ended 2015 With Two Record Months, And 2016 Should Be A Breakout Year For EV Sales In The US

The US Ended 2015 With Two Record Months, And 2016 Should Be A Breakout Year For EV Sales In The US

Still, at a broader look, 2015 demonstrates that the EV segment is resilient and on the up-swing in the US too.

*- The US plug-in market has been hit by a convergence of perfect storms in 2015: ridiculously cheap gas sending people back to SUVs and pickup trucks (and still, updating the Federal gas tax is not even on the political table!)? Check.

*- The Plug-In Prius, accounting for >12k US sales every year in 2012-2014, disappears mid-year? Check.

*- Outlander PHEV arrival delayed another year? Check.

*- Leaf blues waiting on a decent sized upgrade? Check.

*- Volt 2 and Model X delays? Check and check.

*- A leading EV state kills its incentives? Check.

You name it, we got hit with it last year. And yet, we’re down only 5%.

Moreover, the all-American Tesla Model S took both the global and the domestic sales crowns for the year. And GM gave lots reasons for EV hope, with the launch of Gen 2 Volt (this time backed by more competent marketing) and the announcement of the Bolt.

That said, it will be a steep challenge for the US to climb back up from #3, because….

2. Norway

same as last year; local sales 37,000-40,000. Claim to fame: far and away the world’s largest EV market share (23%!); EV models at top of overall sales list, and most of them BEVs.

New plug-in passenger car registrations in Norway – December 2015

New plug-in passenger car registrations in Norway – December 2015

Every year, people say “next year Norway’s EV boom will bust”, and every year it booms even higher. Norway EV market share has gone from 3% in 2012, to 6% in 2013, to 14% in 2014, to 23% last year, leaving all other countries somewhere far far below.  And in sharp contrast with runner-up Netherlands, three-quarters of Norway’s 2015 sales were BEVs.

Yes, there are generous incentives in Norway, but it’s also a culture that has made EVs part of its mainstream. Not only that, but Norwegian EV buyers are snapping up sales formally registered in other countries; if you go to the EV sales blog annual Norway summary, you’ll see “only” 34,300 sales. The true number is at least a few thousand cars higher, meaning the true EV market share is ~25%. More in a bit.

Other than that, not much to add about Norway that hasn’t been said already. I really wanted to give it the gold for 2015, but it became impossible - because look out, here comes...

1. China

up from #3; local sales 207,000, plus a lot more buses and commercial trucks. Claim to fame: easily overtook USA this year for the global volume title; increased 300% over 2014; most sales locally made by a diverse domestic industry; makes and deploys the vast majority of the world’s EV Buses.

China sales of New Energy Vehicles (Including passenger EVs, commercial vehicles, buses, trucks, etc) – December 2015

China sales of New Energy Vehicles (Including passenger EVs, commercial vehicles, buses, trucks, etc) – December 2015

China has once again proven that despite its huge size, it can turn its economy and industry on a dime. They’ve been doing this every few years now, in a manner rivaling what the USSR and USA accomplished during World War II.

As always, when you crank out an omelette this big, eggs will break. Indeed, the sooty fallout of last decade’s massive industrial push is one big reason why China is in such a hurry now to clean up its energy grid, and its car and bus fleet. Hopefully they are learning some lessons, and not just causing problems just as big downstream.

This concern is important. For example, in January Amnesty International published a meticulous report, showing that China’s Huyaou Cobalt company buys cobalt mined off of Congolese child and slave labor. It then sells the cobalt directly or indirectly to Li-ion battery makers, including BYD and interestingly, Korean LG Chem and Samsung. This must stop.

That said.

It is simply mind-boggling, that in 2012 China had all of 3,000 EV sales. The US was already at 52,000 at the time. Three years later, they have apparently crossed 200,000 sales for the year, with 35,000 EV sold in December 2015 alone.

BYD Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles Qin and Tang Sold More Than 50,000 Copies Combined In 2015, The Tang Which Was Introduced In The 2nd Half Of The Year Sold<strong> 5,503 in December Alone</strong>

BYD Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles Qin and Tang Sold More Than 50,000 Copies Combined In 2015, The Tang Which Was Introduced In The 2nd Half Of The Year Sold 5,503 in December Alone

And the buses. Why can’t anyone else make good-range EV buses in meaningful quantities? By now the Chinese EV bus industry has acquired perhaps a half-decade’s head start over everyone else.

EV buses are mostly BYD, reporting some 6,000 buses delivered last year, and opening assembly operations in Thailand, Brazil and the US. But there are other major Chinese EV bus makers such as Foton buses with Microvast batteries and ultrafast chargers, which seem to dominate Beijing’s electric bus fleet. Speaking of batteries, BYD is the world’s #2, and I’m not sure the EV Sales Blog’s numbers include bus batteries. Positions 7-10 in the global top 10 are also Chinese companies.

BYD Motors Electric Buses

BYD Motors Electric Buses

Back to Chinese-made EV passenger cars: conventional wisdom dismisses them as golf-cart-like “neighborhood EVs”. This is not true anymore. The only EV among China’s 2015 top 10 arguably fitting the definition is the Kandi Panda EV – yes, the one that can be rented off of a vending machine. Kandi started selling them directly to the public in 2015, and they’re going like hotcakes, landing the Panda EV at the annual #2 spot (as well as its smaller/earlier sibling the K10 at the #8 spot), with 20k sales (28k together with the K10). The Panda EV has a 50MPH top speed and 50-mile range, so in American terms it is not quite a full-fledged vehicle. But in China they are allowed on the highway, and frankly, for a congested Chinese metropolis it is a perfectly suitable, low-cost, low-footprint car.

The Chinese Top 10 also includes a smattering of 4-seaters roughly equivalent to the MiEV, but just as common are decent-sized 5-seater sedans. In fact, the #1 seller for 2015 is the BYD Qin PHEV. Other non-tiny chinese EVs in the Top 10 are the SAIC Roewe PHEV, and the BYD e6 and BAIC BEVs (BAIC is the company making the Foton buses). Last but not least, the hottest items in the Chinese EV market is BYD’s Tang SUV, which came out mid-year, but is selling like crazy and already at the #3 spot for the entire year.

One can only wonder what the Chinese EV industry has in store for us in 2016. Whatever the speculation, there’s a good chance they’ll exceed expectations. But I do hope that global pressure will make Huayou Cobalt and anyone else who deals in child/slave labor products, clean up their act.

Honorable Mention: the UK (local sales 28,000)

Plug-in Electric Car Registrations in UK – December 2015

Plug-in Electric Car Registrations in UK – December 2015

I’m giving the UK this mention for the second year in a row. They would certainly be my #8 had I expanded the list to 8 this year. Maybe I should… but then who would fill the honorable-mention spot?

UK's 2015 plug-in sales doubled 2014, which itself was a 3.5-fold increase over 2013. This is China-like growth, good enough for 1% market share and for the continent’s Bronze podium stand by volume. It is the only major market where Leaf sales increased year-over-year. Probably not a coincidence, given that Europe’s Leaf factory is in Sunderland. The Leaf still runs a very distant second to the Outlander PHEV among Brits. The UK, in particular England, also has an excellent quick-charge network on its highways; although lately, Brits have preferred EVs that still have a gas engine in them.

Dishonorable Mention: Germany (local sales 20,000-22,000)

Ach, Germany. In 2015, it suddenly slid into its historical stereotype as global villain, with its government bullying Greece and its automakers caught soot-handed cheating on emissions tests to prop up the fiction of “Clean Diesel”. Dieselgate alone (aside: I wonder whether in the year 3000, people will still attach -Gate to every scandal name without remembering why anymore?), Dieselgate alone disqualifies Germany from entering the Top 7 for 2015, despite VW ironically making great electrification strides.

Plug-in electric car registrations in Germany - Growing Incredibly Fast Until The Emission Year Ended

Plug-in electric car registrations in Germany - Growing Incredibly Fast Until The Emission Year Ended

Kia Soul EV registrations dominate sales in Germany during the last quarter - December 2015

Kia Soul EV registrations dominate sales in Germany during the last quarter - December 2015

Unfortunately, the cheating doesn’t end with diesel. On paper, 24k EVs were sold in Germany last year. But the identity of the supposed #1 selling model is less than believable: the lowly Kia Soul EV almost reached 4k sales for the year, nearly double its closest competitors. German consumers would buy that over their beloved BMWs and Golfs? Hmm. by sheer coincidence, over 2k Soul EVs were “imported” last year from Germany to Norway… what’s going on?

Germany is part of EU, and Norway isn’t. By registering the EVs in Germany then shipping them to Norway, Kia/Hyundai is able to lower its average EU fleet emissions, which are now heavily regulated and fined. In short, in 2015 Germany was implicated in not one but two separate auto-emissions laundering schemes. And the smuggled Soul EVs might be only part of the story. To add insult to injury, Germany’s government and automakers just wasted another year without agreeing on a consumer EV incentive.

To end on a high note:

What a year! Global sales outside the US have doubled, and next year seems even more exciting. From a global perspective, I wonder when the first mass numbers of affordable EVs will hit emerging markets other than China. Anyone knows about such plans? And will the Indian EV industry and market ever wake up? What about Latin America?

I’m also looking forward to see more automakers getting into EV buses in substantial volumes, now that battery costs have come down so much. Come on, this is a cookie-cutter segment: unlimited room at the bottom of the bus to stick the battery in, fewer and less finicky customers, more dependable incentives, just to name a few advantages. And post-Dieselgate, things should accelerate in the EV bus segment, where the ICE default is indeed diesel. There have been encouraging signs; I want to see big volumes.

So, until next year’s Top 8 or 9 or even 10… adieu!