Why Europe Has Passed the US As Number One In Plug-in Electrified Vehicles

This summer after the first half year of plug-in electrified vehicle sales results were in, Europe had surpassed the U.S. for the first time, and since then it’s never looked back.

Although its total passenger vehicle market of 12.5-million units last year was smaller than the U.S.’ 16.5 million, Europe is up 86 percent year over year in plug-in electrified vehicle (PEV) sales, and its lead is widening.

Through October Europe had documented approximately 133,000 highway legal plug-in hybrids and battery electric passenger vehicle registrations. This compares to China’s 115,065 sales – itself also ahead of the U.S. for the first time and last year just California outsold China – and third place USA with 91,496 through October.

A year ago at through October, the U.S. had 97,501 PEV sales calendar year to date. What’s happening? In short the U.S. fell back six percent while Europe is bounding ahead. Several major factors and a raft of nuanced factors account for Europe’s growth, and this will look at some of the more-significant big-picture variables enabling PEVs to sell better in Europe.

Twice The Selection

The U.S. to date still holds the lead in cumulative sales with 382,176 PEVs since 2008, and it has held a global technological leadership position from the beginning, but today there are more vehicle choices in Europe.

As Europe’s car market rebounds – 2014 saw its first recorded growth since 2007 – its people have 45 PEVs to choose from compared to 20 in North America including the U.S. and Canada.

Golf GTE Plug-in hybrid.

Golf GTE plug-in hybrid.

Top sellers include vehicles that would be ideal for American tastes such as the off-road-worthy Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which is due in the States in mid 2016, and now ranks as the all-time best selling PEV in Europe with over 50,000 units sold.

If the Outlander PHEV had been sold in the U.S., its 22,061 sales during the first 10 months of 2015 would have made it the best seller in America, ahead of Tesla’s estimated 19,800 Model S sales in the U.S., or the 14,868 sales for the Nissan Leaf.

The second-best European seller calendar year to date through October, according to AVERE and ev-sales.blogspot.ca was the Leaf (13,801), followed by the Renault Zoe (13,561), and it’s another car not sold in the States. The Volkswagen Golf GTE (11,691) is fourth, another non-U.S. market car. A couple of models not available in the U.S. and among the top 10 in Europe are the Audi A3 e-tron (8,841) and the Volvo V60 PHEV (4,185). The Kia Soul EV, available in the U.S. in limited markets, is selling well too, and ranks 10th (3,869) in Europe.

Incidentally, and speaking of nuanced issues, Kia’s biggest market is Germany, where they do not offer consumer subsidies, and many of these Kia EVs are being bought and resold to PEV-absorbing Norway as like-new used cars.

These comprise 80.6-percent total PEV m,arket share. Sources: AVERE France, and EV-Sales.

Sales of the top 10-best selling plug-in cars comprise 80.6-percent of the 133,214 passenger PEVs sold between January and October 2015. Sources: AVERE France, and EV-Sales.

More relevant for the U.S./EU dichotomy question is Europe has not just models but whole brands the U.S. does not. The U.S. has a significant car or two the Euros don’t get in return, but the balance is in Europe’s favor.

What’s more, Europe does not see its manufacturers doing what EV advocates pejoratively call “compliance cars” just to get zero emission vehicle (ZEV) credits in California, and sold in limited markets.

Brands Europe has that the U.S. does not include Citreon, Peugeot, Renault, Bollare, and Goupil.

Subsidies

On both the supply and demand side, governments across Europe are sweetening the value proposition for PEVs over internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts.

This is true also in the U.S., but sales and model development are much higher in Europe with more determined efforts prevailing.

Incentives vary by country, but along with subsidized infrastructure rollout, government funds are being allocated for R&D of new PEVs. Other perks like mobility programs encouraging PEVs, are added to tax breaks, subsidies, special driving privileges, free parking, free ferry travel with the car, and more.

tesla-model-s-norway

Though Europe has seen a historical rise to about 50 percent market share for diesels, even before the Volkswagen diesel cheating scandal, they were in the decline, and plug-in hybrids were superseding regular hybrids as a green alternative of choice.

In April this year, according to JATO Dynamics, PHEVs were projected to outsell conventional hybrids by 2019 and within 10 years to reach sales of 1.2 million per year.

SEE ALSO: Norway Celebrates 50,000th Plug-in Car Sold; Will EV Incentives Continue?
As new models come along, battery prices fall faster than some have expected, and the word gets out, we shall see how accurate forecasts a decade in advance are, but the handwriting is otherwise scribbled on the European wall.

Regulatory Pressure

Beyond the carrot and stick means of incentivizing consumers and manufacturers, the European Union is imposing a carrot and stick of another kind.

If we take “carrot” to mean regulators demanding automakers make more PEVs to stay emissions complaint across their model range, we can take “stick” to mean the big financial bludgeon regulators are prepared to beat automakers with if they fail to measure up.

An article by The Detroit News over the weekend said VW and BMW are most at risk of being penalized $1 billion if they fail to comply with tightening emission laws.

Citing a report by PA Consulting which says 60 percent of EU automakers won’t hit their CO2 emissions targets for 2021, several automakers are vulnerable with rules lapping at their heels like chasing dogs.

Renault Zoe EV.

Renault Zoe EV.

And have you seen news this year of German carmakers moving away from diesel and announcing many more plug-in hybrids for the next few years? These automakers ask for congratulations for their green vision, to be sure, but the move to develop new models that may sell for now in limited numbers is not due only to altruistic intent, and the betterment of the world as we know it.

Rather, as is the case in other markets, including China and under the U.S. federal government and more-significantly California’s Air Resources Board rules, cars are being developed to stay ahead of penalties aimed at automakers who do not improve their fleet.

European automakers have already largely met a 130g CO2 per kilometer standard under present EU law, but they are otherwise playing catch-up to meet rules that will choke down to 95g by 2020 and 2021. This is roughly equivalent to 57.4 U.S. miles per gallon, and the U.S. requires “54.4” mpg by 2025, says the report.

Actually, U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules for 2025 will see low 40s on the window sticker, and there is a variance in how mpg is calculated by the EPA, but the comparison is otherwise noteworthy.

Fuel Prices, Emissions Outlook

Europeans spend much more for gasoline and diesel than Americans, who are at this writing enjoying a national average price for regular gas of $2.04 per gallon.

Gas prices in the EU have also dropped, but they generally pay more with prices ranging from $4.54 per gallon in Austria, to $5.15 in France, to $5.49 in Sweden, to $6.02 in Italy, to a high of $6.40 per gallon in the Netherlands. The only European countries paying similarly the U.S. are Russia ($2.11) and Belarus ($2.53).

Volvo S 60 PHEV.

Volvo V60 PHEV.

A soft factor also driving sales is a generally documented difference in common attitudes toward the topic of climate change. The U.S. has had hold-outs who question the science and validity of this global issue pushing regulations, and the degree of concern Americans may feel can vary from ambivalence – i.e., they don’t show that they care much by their actions – to denying.

In Europe, more people are on board with the message, and so there is that much less resistance toward plug-in cars which are presented as a solution to wean away from petroleum.

Looking Ahead

The top-7 European markets accounting for 90-percent of PEV sales according to sales tracker Mario R. Duran are Norway, UK, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and Switzerland.

Certainly there are more variables than discussed, and sub-issues may present themselves ongoing. For example, the Netherlands is due to see company car incentives dry up next year, and this has prompted a spike in sales this year as various brands are being sold with reduced Value Added Tax, and savings for highest tax brackets of $6,600-$7,700 per year.

2016 Chevy Volt - not sold in Europe.

2016 Chevy Volt – not sold in Europe.

Mysteries unsolved have included Tesla’s buying 2,500 Danish license plates, and a subsequent accusation later retracted that it might have been trying to register cars to bilk Dutch taxpayers out of significant funds to claim the credit while it still could.

Meanwhile in the U.S., some of those nifty new European-made – as well as Korean and American – PEVs are being offered or due to be offered for sale too which could help the U.S. outlook next year.

What’s more, some U.S. PEVs now and pending are superior to what is available in Europe. The second-generation Chevy Volt is one example, and the pending 200-mile range 2017 Chevy Bolt EV is another, though GM may furnish its tech into Opel/Vauxhall cars as well.

In all, it’s still a shakeout, and anything could happen, but the bottom line is Europe this year became the number one PEV market by a large margin. Estimates are the year might finish with 160,000 European PEV sales while the U.S. is on track for maybe 115,000 or so.