Top 10 Countries in the Global EV Revolution: 2016 Edition
This is my third year publishing a “Top EV Countries” list. The 2015 list (see here) generated some excellent comments, above all “What are the criteria?” So this year, I tried to make these more objective, in the sense of using an actual score calculated from publicly available numbers. Of course a strong element of judgment remains regarding how to weight and scale the score. For that, I solicited some input from Insideevs’ team of contributors, as well as from Jose Pontes, editor of the EV sales blog, without which this list would have been impossible to put together. Their input has greatly influenced score composition, however the responsibility for the final scores and their calculation is solely mine.
I was surprised by some of the new names near the top; but all have earned their spots there. Also, while in 2014 I felt there are only 6 countries that merit getting on the list, and in 2015 – 7 countries, for 2016, I think there are certainly at least 10 countries that already play a substantially positive role in the electrification of global ground transport. A couple of important EV countries have even been left out; see if you can spot them!
This preamble being long enough, I don’t want to distract with score-composition details here; they appear near the end. But the score is out of 100, and “absolute” rather than relative.
For example, a score of 80-90 would be won by a country nearing 50% EV market share with rapid year-over-year increase, strong EV bus sales, solid infrastructure/policy support, and either having an auto industry well on the transition to EV-making, or at least carrying part of its EV-demand weight in terms of battery production (the maximum possible score with no auto industry and no EV battery production, is 80 points). The score does not include 2-wheelers.
Right now, no country is anywhere close to 80 points. In fact, only 2 countries cross 50 points. Keep in mind that only 39 countries, two-thirds of them in Europe, participate in the list. The rest lack numbers, and many of them probably see no EV action at all. I tried to add a couple of Asian countries via direct inquiries with no success, making me admire the EV sales blog even more.
Last note: please don’t quibble too much about the ordering of the countries in positions 4-10, as they are separated by no more than ~3 points top to bottom. Ok, without further ado!
10th place: Netherlands, 36 points.
Claim to fame: high but uneven market share in a PHEV-dominated market.
Netherlands boasts the world’s #3 EV market share, but it’s down from #2 and last year’s 6% share represents a precipitous drop from 2015 when it neared 10%. Moreover, >80% of sales are PHEVs (recipe secret: I do penalize 1 point for the PHEV:BEV ratio being worse than 2:1, and vice versa). Both are the result of rather funky and inconsistent EV policies. The Netherlands does have some e-bus activity; according to Zeeus, its electric bus fleet is among the largest 5 in the continent, which probably means 100-odd buses.
9th Place: France, 37-minus points.
Claim to fame: EVs’ stable “Oak Tree” country continues to forge ahead, but not fast enough to stay in the Top 5.
In 2016, France’s EV market share, still BEV-dominated, inched up to 1.7%. Curiously, France is the last country where “Pokemon EV” Mitsubishi I-Miev is still popular, selling in the thousands in 2016 under 3 different nameplates, 2 of them French (but shipped ready-made from Japan; thanks Jose!). I gave France a bonus point for Renault’s launching the 41-kWh Zoe and 33-kWh Kangoo, but it happened too late in the year to cause a sales surge. Maybe in 2017.
7th Place (two-way tie): Japan and South Korea, 37-plus points.
Claim to fame: leading EV-making country continues to stagnate, meets rising EV-making power with a bitter historical score to settle. Both make many GWh’s of EV batteries.
Japan still makes the world’s best selling EV for 2016 (Leaf). However, its domestic EV share continues to decrease, while South Korea’s jumped by ~2.5x last year, mostly thanks to the introduction of the Hyundai Ioniq late in the year. Meanwhile Korea is thinking outside the box about electric buses; in mid-2016 a bus line in Jeju Island switched to electric buses with swappable batteries, and the country also leads the development of buses that get wirelessly charged as they go. Both approaches can help reduce the size of the battery that needs to sit inside the bus itself.
Both countries ended 2016 around a rather underwhelming 0.4% market share. The reason they are in the Top 10 at all, is that they are two-thirds of the world’s 3-country oligopoly over EV lithium-ion battery production.
Japan and South Korea supply practically all of the batteries appearing in Western-made EVs. They demonstrate that high-income countries can be leading battery makers: no excuse for farming it out of sight to poorly-regulated plants in poor countries.
But if the Prius Prime doesn’t take off, or the Gen 2 Leaf gets delayed again or underwhelms the audience, Japan might drop out of the top 10 this year. What a fall for a country that was arguably the world’s #1 in 2011.
6th Place: The United States, 38 points.
Claim to fame: Home of the Tesla, Volt and Bolt renews its growth, but is bumped down the list by a couple of upstarts.
The USA’s EV market gets so much press, and its EV industry has been such a trend-setter, that it’s easy to forget our annual domestic EV market share has yet to cross 1%, a feat that at least 12 other countries did manage to achieve in 2016. Add to that policy/infrastructure inconsistency at the state level, and duplicity at the industry level – e.g., Bolt hero Mary Barra joining the call to Trump to undo fuel-efficiency standards – and as of the end of 2016, the US pretty much deserves the spot it got.
In 2017, when Tesla’s Gigafactory starts making its own battery cells and putting them in new Model 3s (sorry Tesla/Volt fans, no credit for putting together battery packs from cells made elsewhere), expect the US to gain a few crucial points. Together with EV market share finally crossing 1% in a big way – Trump or No Trump – I won’t be surprised to see the US score for 2017 around 45 points, possibly climbing back into the Top 3 where one should expect it to be. This year, however, the US was upstaged by…
5th place: Ukraine! 39-minus points.
Claim to fame: local groups make up for economic challenges by importing thousands of used EVs; 4% market share with sales jumping ~5x year-over-year.
I can already see the comments asking: “USED sales?? WTH?!” Let me pre-empt them by asking back, what would you do living in a country with $4,000 per-capita GDP, which means that even at ~$150/kWh, new EVs are still priced out of your league? And no domestic auto industry either?
Well, some Ukrainians got together, established a conveyor belt of used EVs (half of them Leafs) coming in from the West, lobbied for government support, and in 2016 things really flourished with >2.5k sales, nearly all >2-year-old used, jumping five-fold over 2015 and landing the global #4 spot for market share. The motivation for this “Ukrainian EV miracle” is pretty clear: with its domineering enemy Russia being an oil power, the desire to punch Big Oil in the face (which I share, heartily) takes on a personal and immediate form in Ukraine.
Still not convinced about used sales? Besides doing it for its own domestic needs, Ukraine is also setting a global example for poor non-industrial countries to get into EVs, and a venue for leading EV volume markets to get some demand and resale value for short-range, degraded used BEVs. I also double-checked the Ukraine story with Jose, who has direct personal connections there, and he says it is both genuine and impressive. If the Ukrainians put together a second triple-digit increase year, they might be able to hang onto the top 5. But we’re not done with Cinderellas tonight…
4th place: Iceland! 39-plus points.
In this list’s first draft, Iceland hovered near the bottom of the Top 10. Then, prompted by Jose, I double-checked updated 2016 numbers from EAFO.eu (an official EU alt-energy-vehicle tracking site, apparently Jose plays a big role there too), and learned that quietly away from the limelight, Iceland managed to capture the world’s #2 market share spot, with 6.3%! (The initial EV sales blog report pegged it at <5%.)
This numbers boost, together with acknowledgment of Iceland’s strong pro-EV culture and infrastructure (perhaps second only to Norway), nicely paired with an almost purely renewable grid, catapulted the sparsely-populated Nordic island all the way to #4. And we’re staying Norse for a wee bit more, with…
3rd place: Sweden! 41 points.
Claim to fame: well-rounded performance and the highest EV-production-share among automaking countries.
Somehow, Sweden remained just outside my handmade 2014 and 2015 lists (it did get an honorable mention in 2014). But when all the numbers are put together, Sweden suddenly appears everywhere. In particular, after getting “denominator” automaking numbers (i.e., the total national auto production) from the world’s automaking association, Sweden suddenly jumped way up to the top with a national EV-making share of ~8.5%. The next on the list, Germany, makes just under 2.5% EVs. Admittedly, a high national rate is easier when you only have one major automaker (Volvo), but still Volvo boasts the #1 EV share among established “traditional” Western automakers, indicating a high degree of commitment, even if most of it is still on the PHEV front.
Volvo also makes some EV buses, and Sweden’s EV sales market share (3.6%) is #5 in the world, growing ~1.5x in 2016. So Sweden scores on multiple fronts, reflecting a robust and consistent pro-EV culture, doubtlessly inspired by its neighbor…
2nd place: Norway, 54 points.
Claim to fame: EV share continues to shatter records and expectations (>30% in 2016, including used imports). Leaders set commitment towards ending ICE sales next decade.
Not much to add about Norway, poster child of the EV world. Each year everyone expects they won’t be able to keep it up, and yet they do. It should be noted that Norway is another market besides the Ukraine where used-EV sales play a substantial role; they contribute ~10% to the numbers, pushing the overall number of EVs added to Norwegian roads in 2016 past 50,000. Norway’s “used import” EVs are much newer than the Ukrainian version, and in many cases – in particular, Soul EVs from Germany, as previously documented – they are actually brand-new EVs deceptively registered in the EU to gain points for the automaker before heading to Norway. Norway itself, though, should not be faulted for this trickery, surely not from an EV supporter’s perspective.
Norway scores 39 of 50 possible points in the sales category, far ahead of second-place Iceland (25). But until it also replaces its ICE bus fleet, or starts making some lithium-ion cells in large quantities, it is unlikely to claim the #1 spot (which, using the new system, Norway might have won in 2014, but not in 2015).
1st place: China, 61 points.
Claim to fame: by far the largest EV volume country (both sales and production), continuing breakneck growth. Makes and deploys nearly all of the world’s electric buses.
Among large vehicles, buses and in particular urban buses offer the best opportunity for early EV adoption. Travel distances are relatively short, the form enables sticking a huge battery-pack at the bottom with few design problems, and EVs do far better with the stop-and-go bus driving mode than ICE buses, both energy-wise and maintenance-wise. Also, diesel buses play a large role in urban particulate pollution; so switching to an EV bus fleet is an environmental two-for-one win. Last but not least, most bus customers are transit agencies, who might have strict requirements but are less spoiled and finicky than the private market, and (given the right political climate) more committed to environmental policies.
Unfortunately, in the wealthy world buses are much less the essential staple than they are in the less-wealthy world, and most Western governments haven’t promoted bus electrification too much. So in the West and in particular Europe, the story has been one “pilot study” after another, in which a couple of electric buses are used for a couple of years, everyone is amazed at their success, and then…. Crickets.
Barring a few exceptions (e.g., London), no massive orders follow these “pilots”. Across all of Europe, after years of successful “pilots” in numerous cities, at the end of 2016 there were only ~1,300 electric buses deployed, and this includes ~300 “hopping trolleys” that travel mostly using overhead rails, with a modest battery allowing 15km off-rail range. Worse, the continent has yet to develop a homegrown automaker dedicated to electric buses, such as the US’s Proterra. In fact, Europe’s largest bus maker and the world’s #3, Daimler, has been almost(?) completely AWOL from the EV bus scene.
Enter China, grand debunker of the “EVs are toys for the rich” canard. In 2015 electric bus deliveries in China suddenly jumped to >100,000, and in 2016 they further increased to ~135,000, most of them BEVs with decent range, no rails required. At least 98% of the world’s electric buses are in China. A good chunk of the remaining 2%, as well, was made by Chinese companies (e.g., the massive London order mentioned above). Now these staggering numbers, although coming from reputable sources, are not completely decipherable to us. “Buses” might include vehicles from 10 seats up. Still, there’s no question that electric buses now take up a good chunk of bus sales in China (Jose estimates 20% market share for 2016), and hopefully this spills over to other countries quickly (are you listening, India?). Without its bus dominance, China would narrowly lose the #1 spot on our list to Norway.
Besides that, in 2016 China made about half the world’s EV battery capacity, split about evenly between cars and buses. I penalized its battery industry one point for lack of transparency: investigative reports found out that the supply chain of some Chinese lithium-ion battery companies includes slavery cobalt from Congo (Korean companies might also be implicated, but to a lesser extent). As to China’s auto sales (>350k EVs, ~1.5% market share, 1.8x increase), the rapid increase which like elsewhere, was fueled by incentives, generated some cases of fraud, prompting the government to pause subsidies in early 2017 and send the EV market to a screeching halt. I think the pause has now been mostly released for companies found “clean”.
I wasn’t expecting too many surprises in 2016’s list, but ended up with an entire slew of underdogs.
If you’re curious about the score composition, 50% of it is sales (mostly market share, but volume and year-over-year change also mattered, and there was that BEV:PHEV bonus/penalty), 30% production (volume, share of country’s auto industry, and batteries; countries sans an auto industry got a 50% waiver for the former two, but not for batteries), 15% for buses and 5% for policy/infrastructure (that bit was the most arbitrary, so I ended up keeping it small). Just to demonstrate how strong the 2016 list is: hovering ~2.5 points below the Top 10 are the UK and Austria, two pretty good EV countries, and below them Germany, the world’s #3 EV producer by volume and #2 by percentage.
You might also be curious about the lowest scores: spots #38 and #39 are occupied by Turkey and Slovakia, with 11 and 8 points, respectively. Both have ridiculously low market share, and are penalized for having sizable auto industries with no documented EV activity (to be fair, Turkey did produce the Renault Fluence ZE a few years back, but that seems to have gone away). The lowest-ranking wealthy country is Italy at #30, with 19.5 points. But China and Ukraine are living proof, in two completely different ways, that this doesn’t have to be a wealthy-world game anymore. India, are you listening again?
I hope to see more countries cross 50 points, surely by 2018 and perhaps even next year. My guess is that the US or any European country that sets up large battery factories or deploys gobs of electric buses, will be the first to do so, although Korea could be a “dark horse” candidate as well – while the leaders forge ahead towards 70 points and beyond.