What Are The World’s Top 5 (+) EV Countries: Inaugural 2014 Edition
A couple months ago, InsideEVs’ editors suggested running periodic ‘Top 10’ lists for various aspects of the EV world. One of these has come out so far: the Top 10 best-looking EVs. The idea got my mind rolling on another kind of list: what are the top EV countries? Initially I wanted to jot down 10, but sadly, given my intent (to be described below), as of late 2014 there are not quite 10 countries deserving to be on such a list.
Besides, the Top-10 post draft was way too long. So I narrowed it down to a Top 5, which ended up being 6 because I declared the 5th place a draw.
What is the intent? First, the list is personal, subjective, and non-scientific. I didn’t invent measures or tally up scores. Second, the question I tried to answer is:
How big and positive is the country’s role in the global EV story – i.e., in bringing about the technology transition from ICE to EV?
A country might contribute in many ways, but at least the following five:
- Sheer market volume, generating massive demand that triggers production;
- Domestic market share, thereby setting an example for other countries;
- Innovative domestic infrastructure, again setting an example;
- A hub of EV automaking power;
- Last but not least, I considered not just the private EV market but also eBuses and other public transit.
Interestingly, the Top 5+1 list is anything but stagnant. Had I done this list in 2013, it would have been very different, and I won’t be surprised if the 2015 list will be again different. This demonstrates how young and dynamic the global EV scene still is.
Two big hat-tips are due. One to this site who covers all the mainstream countries, and the other to Jose Pontes’ EV Sales Blog, a one-man operation that is simply the best online resource in English for EV sales in many countries (and by many we mean almost all of them).
Without further ado (with plug-in sales through November 2014):
5. Germany (tie) – 11,800 sales (2014)
Just a year ago, Germany was nowhere near the Top 5. Despite Germany’s leadership position in global-warming awareness and in particular renewable energy, the local EV market was relatively tiny. The German government’s approach to EV incentives – subsidize the automakers, not the purchase – did not yield meaningful EV quantities in 2013. But it has begun to bear fruit in 2014, big time.
Among major automaking countries (Japan, US, Korea, China, India, Germany, France, Brazil come to mind), as of late 2014 there is no equal to the German industry in its depth of commitment to producing plug-in vehicles.
BMW chose a Nissan-like approach: a flagship de novo model, the i3. VW is producing e-versions of its classic lineup; but unlike say the Ford Focus EV, the VW e-Golf is produced at high volumes, and without compromising on essentials. Mercedes, besides owning the zippy Smart, also pushed the B-class BEV out the door, and is now on track to roll out a new PHEV model every 4 months on average.
With the advent of domestic brands on offer, 2014 has seen a stellar rise: 11,683 EV sales through November, compared to 5,999 in Jan-Nov 2013. The market share is still unimpressive (just under 0.5%), but with domestic automakers continuing to crank out new models and larger quantities, and with serious talk about subsidies finally reaching buyers (so far, only institutional buyers, but these are huge in Germany) – 2015 promises to be another upside year for EVs in Germany and for German EVs worldwide.
5. France (tie) – 14,000 sales (2014)
For a country whose recent automotive history is so rich in EV lore, the state of EVs in France (and its place in my ranking) is a disappointment. Circa 2000 when American EV enthusiasts were excited then agonized over the E.V.1, France saw a slew of electric light-commercial vehicles – the predecessors of today’s Kangoo Z.E. – which reportedly sold in the thousands.
So arguably, at the turn of the 21st Century, France was the world’s #1 EV nation. More recently, in 2012 Renault produced and sold three completely different BEVs, each in the thousands, including the world’s only mass-produced swappable-battery EV (or so we thought at the time, before Musk unveiled his surprise…). A fourth model, the Zoe – Renault’s sassy and better-looking answer to its cousin the Leaf – was just coming out. There’s no question that in 2012 France was among the World Top 3.
Fast-forward 2 years, and France is still a hotbed of EV activity. The Zoe is doing great in France and a couple other key EV markets, and already announcing an upgrade that will bring its range to ~100 miles. Renault’s larger local-delivery trucks are faring well in pilot runs. There’s also Bollore and its Blue Car, which just crossed 1,000 sales for the year. But France’s other major automaker, Peugeot-Citroen, is sitting on its hands (except for re-badging the MiEV with catchy French names). And domestic sales are largely stagnant. Still larger than Germany’s – 13,952 through November, good for a market share of some 0.7-0.9% – but only a hair above 2013’s numbers (13,480). So for old times’ sake, France is still in the Top 5, but barring major breakthroughs this spot is on borrowed time given the rapid advances elsewhere.
4. Japan – 30,000 sales (2014)
As recently as March 2011, Japan was without question the #1 EV country. This is where the world’s first global mass-market consumer BEV line, the Mistubishi MiEV, was (and is still being) made.
In late 2010, the Nissan Leaf, designated for an even greater mass market, was launched. The two automaking giants, Toyota and Honda, were also toying with EVs. Quick-charging was developed and QC stations with the national ChaDeMo standard were built by the hundred.
And then the tsunami struck. The catastrophe unleashed a Japanese recession – meaning less local sales, and also soured attitudes towards nuclear energy, which provided a large chunk of the nation’s electricity. Japanese were starting to look for vehicle solutions that involve neither oil nor electricity. This partially explains the massive, government-backed push by Toyota and Honda away from EVs and towards fuel-cell vehicles.
Japan is still an EV powerhouse. Well, duh, as long as the globally dominant EV model is made in Japan, the country will likely stay in the Top 5. Add to this the only plug-in SUV one can get (well, we can’t get it here yet…), the wildly popular Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. In terms of domestic sales, in 2014 Japan lost the global #2 position in sales volume. Through October, 27,654 EVs were sold there (3/4 of them either Leafs or Outlanders), compared with 21172 in 2013’s first 10 months. The market share is nearly 1%. But as long as all other Japanese automakers refuse to take EVs seriously, Japan is unlikely to climb back up.
3. China ~37,000-45,000* (2014 – highway capable only)
If you think about passenger EVs only, or don’t follow recent sales news, putting China so high up might come as a surprise. Moreover, China’s EV industry and market has had more than its fair share of broken promises, false starts and flops. But I grant China the #3 spot in 2014 for one major reason: it is home to the only automaker currently producing BEV buses in large quantities.
How dominant is the Chinese BYD in the global EV bus scene? For a passenger-EV analogue, envision Renault, Nissan and Tesla joining forces. Sure, there are nice efforts by Swedish, German, English and American EV bus makers, but only BYD can – and does – deliver electric buses now in the many hundreds, possibly thousands this year. BYD is also setting up a Brazil factory, hopefully expanding eBuses into transit markets up and down the Americas soon. And they have also retooled their E6, a failed bid to woo Western passenger EV markets, into a domestically popular electric taxi that is produced by the thousand.
Meanwhile, the Chinese passenger EV market has woken up this year, big time. In recent months it has easily grabbed the global #2 spot in sales volume from Japan. Current sales are at a pace of ~5,000/month. In September there were reports China has even surpassed the US, but they turned out to be unfounded (numbers coming from China are not quite as reliable). In any case, Jose Pontes’ current estimate of 45k Chinese EV sales through November, compares with some 17,600 sales for all of 2013! That’s around 200% year-over-year, probably more if you look only at recent months. If the rate of increase keeps up, China might overtake the US in EV volume just like it has recently surpassed the US in overall auto sales.
Like in Germany, most of China’s sales surge is thanks to domestic autmakers stepping up and cranking out EVs. Most Chinese EVs are inexpensive 4-seat and 2-seat subcompacts. That’s great, because they will be affordable in other developing countries too. Things are looking great for EVs in China, both for the local market and for export, and come 2015 they might have a shot at the global #1 spot.
2. Norway – 18,500 sales (2014)
We arrive at a country that’s become synonymous with the present EV revolution, the only country where
EVs and in particular BEVs are already part of mainstream culture. A country that gave us Bjørn Nyland! It seems everything has already been said about Norway, where thanks to high gas taxes, super-generous BEV incentives and a pro-EV public mindset that enables them, the EV market share has been over 10% every month since sometime in 2013.
Through November, there were 18,472 EV sales this year in Norway, vs. only 7,035 last year, good for a 14% market share and for 4th place in the world, volume-wise (of course, Norway is 1st in the world in market share. Moreover, the vast majority of them are BEVs). Not too shabby for a nation of 5 million. They also import many used EVs, not included in this tally! I suspect that even our own family’s lease-returned 2012 Leaf, which I thought had ended up in New Jersey, was really only en route to be sold in Norway; a Seattle-area EV reseller told me he does these exports regularly and they ship through New Jersey.
What else to say? Maybe just this: Norway is living proof that how oil plays in one’s economy, does not determine the ability to think beyond oil. It is easy to forget that Norway is Europe’s top oil *exporter*. Norway is also living proof that even smaller countries (population-wise) without an automaking industry, can have a global impact on EVs’ trajectory.
Norway is where planners and futurists look to identify problems and solutions for industrialized societies in which EVs make up a substantial part of the fleet. Such a “pilot country” is a huge asset to have, so early in the global EV game. Cynics might say it will all go away in a couple of years, once subsidies expire. I feel (hope?) that Norway might have already crossed the point of no return.
The only remaining question is perhaps why, with such stellar credentials, Norway is not #1?
1. U.S.A. ! U.S.A. !! – 107,000 (2014)
So… two reasons. First, the automaker side. Just like Norway is a “pilot country” for overall market penetration, California-based Tesla is a “pilot company” that has found a winning business model for a BEV-only automaker, a business model that is now scaling up into the major leagues. In particular, 2014 has seen two landmark Tesla achievements:
- In January the Supercharger network completed the first viable US coast-to-coast path, which has since been both expanded and shortened, and will very soon branch out into several route options. Similar networks are rapidly expanding in Europe and East Asia.
- In September the Gigafactory deal in Nevada was signed, complete with the auctioning-off of state subsidies. Notably, Tesla’s demands were taken up by states as seriously as if it was a major company like Boeing or Intel.
Business achievements aside, Tesla gives EVs something beyond their classic “Eat Your Green Medicine and Save Gas” appeal: the swagger of simply being better and more advanced, the Next Big Thing. In 21st Century consumer economy, this is priceless.
The second reason for giving the US the top spot, is the sheer scale and resilience of our EV market. While several countries are on par or higher than the US on EV market share (which is hovering around 0.7%-0.8% right now), or are trending up faster (China anyone?), the US market is by far the largest, having already crossed 100k sales for the year, growing ~20% over the stellar 2013. Heck, California alone has more EVs, and quite possibly had more EVs sold in 2014, than any country outside the US. In many ways, California is a second “Norway pilot” for testing out what happens when EVs become mainstream, in a cultural and infrastructure setting rather different from Norway’s.
But overall, unlike 2013, in 2014 the US is not quite as lonely at the top. If American demand for PHEVs/EREVs continues to soften due to deep subsidies of gas prices (subsidized by politicians’ neglect to update gas taxes, by domestic drilling tax breaks, and most recently by oil-exporting countries’ overproduction), and if new models fail to attract the public while too many models remain confined to “Compliance States”, the US might lose its global EV top spot next year.
As said at the start, while these 6 countries have been great for EVs this year (relatively, at least), it is hard to cobble together 10 fully deserving the title. Still, keep an eye out for Norway’s neighbor Sweden, where Volvo makes the continentally popular V60 PHEV, as well as a PHEV bus, and domestic EV sales are getting close to 2% market share, more than double last year’s. And the UK, where after years of apparently-futile infrastructure, subsidy and advocacy efforts, sales are finally taking off, having probably blown past 10k EVs (vs less than 3k for all of 2013).
Netherlands, whose EV market share is #2 in the world, and likely holds the single-month sales record for a single model (~5k Outlander PHEVs delivered December 2013), is where one might be more cynical regarding subsidies. Sales are so illogical and unstable there depending upon subsidy type and timing, and they are predominantly of PHEVs despite the country’s small size and dense QC infrastructure, which might have led one to expect it to be a BEV hotspot. Dutch EV sales will likely be down in 2014 vs. 2013, the question is only by how much. That said, relatively speaking there is still a ton of EVs sold there, way more than Holland’s twin Belgium, and still more than even Germany (although not for long).
Too many countries still play the role of EV laggards and dead weights. I will leave aside poorer countries, where there are multiple challenges. But Italy, Europe’s 4th largest auto market with ~1.5M sales/year, only had 1,510 EVs sold through November, hardly increasing over 2013. Italy’s flagship automaker Fiat which owns Chrysler, plays the Village Idiot on EVs, its CEO endlessly spouting anti-EV nonsense. At least Toyota (Fiat’s buddy for anti-EV spins) cranks out Prii, works on fuel-cell cars and has played an important role in Tesla’s development. Fiat-Chrysler just makes lousy inefficient ICE cars on both sides of the ocean, and tries to get away with it by trash-talking.
On to my home country of Israel. In mid-2012 Israel could stake a valid claim to the EV Top 5, demonstrating that small countries can play a big role too, all thanks to the megalomaniac Better Place battery-swapping venture. But by fall 2012 things were going haywire, and in May 2013 Better Place went bust and with it, its infrastructure – not just swap stations but even public L2 chargers. This is old news in EV world, so why the dishonorable mention for 2014? Because a few months ago, InsideEVs informed us that hundreds of unsold Better Place Fluence ZEs were left to literally rot in a lot next to Israel’s Ashdod port, and had to be scrapped. Those could have been perfectly working commuting BEVs somewhere, had someone along the line been minimally responsible in his actions. Counting these losses, given its currently almost-nonexistent new EV sales, Israel is actually recording for 2014 a “minus” for overall EVs added.
Double Honorable-and-Dishonorable Mention:
Last but not least, South Korea deserves both honorable and dishonorable mention. Besides Dawoo (a.k.a. GM South Korea) making the Spark EV, a few months ago Kia launched the BEV version of its Soul – the first true “one-up” global challenge to the Leaf in terms of size/range/price tradeoff. The Soul EV is selling pretty well in Europe, however, Korea’s domestic EV market which could, and should, be doing great is apparently hampered by some person with poor judgement in the Transportation department, who ruled that BEVs should not be allowed on highways in Seoul! (or any road with a posted speed limit over 60 km/h ~ 37 mph) Hopefully someone finds him soon and knocks some sense into his head.
And with that – I wish you all happy holidays, and an even happier 2015 year, for you personally and for EVs everywhere. Adieu!