The first quarter of 2021 has offered an upbeat snapshot of EV sales throughout Europe, with a continued strong rise across all markets. Italy’s sales started off the year with softer growth than other countries, but a strong rebound at the end of Q1 means this year’s electric cars stats already impress.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on opportunity:energy.

The Italian EV market posted new historic highs in March, with record numbers of registrations for pure electric cars as well as plug-in hybrids, as most automakers rushed to deliver to customers by quarter-end. This is a fairly typical feature across many markets and allows to use aggregate sales within a quarter as a good projection of the year’s trends.

The first three months of 2021 saw 13,319 registrations of fully electric cars, marking great progress over the same period last year, when 5,402 BEVs were registered in the same timeframe (see Unrae data). This 146% increase year-over-year (YoY) was in part influenced by Covid – the pandemic started affecting all markets in March 2020 – but is mostly a sign of the increasing strength of electrified sales in the Bel Paese. The overall market rebounded in fact “only” by 29%, with around 450,000 units compared to 350,000 units in the first quarter of 2020. BEV market share rose to 3% for the quarter, up from 1.5% a year ago.


An even better performance was that of plug-in hybrids, which at 16,408 units actually performed better than BEVs in the first three months of 2021, an unusual exploit in the Italian car market. This performance by PHEVs marks an eye-watering +455% growth YoY, from just 2,957 units a year ago, moving the segment’s market share to 3.6% from a measly 0.8% in Q1 2020. Whether the relative strength of plug-in hybrids versus full electrics is a new trend is yet to be confirmed, but it certainly helped build up the overall weight of plug-ins, which grew to 6.6% in the first three months of 2021, from 2.4% last year.

With these dramatic changes in the perception – and sales – of electric vehicles in such a short timeframe, it’s interesting to single out which models contributed most in reaffirming the exponential growth trends of the nascent Italian EV market. Can anyone guess?


The Top 10 chart confirms the preferences of a car market known for its reliance on compact models. Fiat 500e sits firmly in first place with 2,058 units, a broadly anticipated position for the first beautiful BEV effort by Fiat in the A-segment. The even smaller Smart ForTwo follows in second place at 1,723 registrations, benefitting from its perfect fit for the tight Italian urban environments.

A surprisingly close third is Tesla Model 3, with 1,684 registrations mostly due to its record March deliveries. This luxury D-segment outlier is proof of Tesla’s ability to conquer market share even in a country so averse to larger size and price as Italy. What will happen when the American automaker will land its C-segment new model in less than a couple of years?

Out of the podium, French models seize most positions. A distant fourth, Renault Zoe achieves 1,271 units, a 50% improvement on its own numbers from a year prior, but not enough to compete with even stronger growth by the top 3. Is Zoe’s reign over Europe already a thing of the past?

The Renault Twingo Z.E. follows in the fifth position with 1,254 registrations, another strong candidate for the podium in this market. Peugeot e-208 and crossover sibling Peugeot e-2008 follow at a distance in sixth and seventh position respectively, trailed by their platform-sharing Opel Corsa-e, in the eighth position. Hyundai Kona EV and VW ID.3 close the chart, showing how successful BEVs can still fall victim to lower regional availability or showrooms’ unwillingness to sell.

Italy’s EV market is so far confirming its predilection for smaller and cheaper cars, a tough arena that is gradually getting more crowded. As A- and B-segment full-electric models keep playing a leading role in Europe’s fourth-largest market, we could nonetheless soon start to see a growing interest in more family-sized models, as tantalizing new entries (VW ID.4, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6…) make their debut in Tesla territory and a broader choice of EVs is progressively met by increased awareness. A crucial year for EV adoption is unfolding and no market – not even Italy – will be left untouched.

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