2020 may have been a bummer of a year by most measures, but it was a banner year for plug-in vehicles. Global sales of EVs and PHEVs reached 3.24 million (as reported by EV-Volumes), compared to 2.26 million in 2019. That’s an increase of some 43%, which is all the more impressive in light of the fact that overall global light vehicle sales fell by 14%.
The center of the action was Europe, which surpassed China as the motor of EV growth for the first time since 2015. Plug-in sales in Europe (EU countries plus the UK, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland) increased by 137% compared to 2019, while the overall vehicle market was down by 20%. Plug-in vehicles’ share of the overall auto market increased from 3.3% in 2019 to 10.2% in 2020.
The EU’s new, more stringent emissions requirement appeared to be the main driver of the boom, but incentive boosts in individual countries and a wave of new models also contributed to the voltage surge.
Most of the action was in the second half of the year, and the sales frenzy reached fever pitch in December—EV capital Norway set a new record for the month, when 87% of new cars sold were plug-ins, and 66% pure EVs.
In China, sales of “new energy vehicles” (NEVs) recovered from a dismal first half to post a 12% gain for the year. The market share of NEVs showed a modest increase from 5.1% in 2019 to 5.5% in 2020.
The US continues to lag behind—plug-in sales increased by a paltry 4%, a figure that looks pretty good relative to the overall auto market’s loss of 15%. Tesla consolidated its domination of the US market—the California carmaker accounted for 79% of all pure EV sales. The inauguration of a new, more EV-friendly administration, combined with the impending launch of several electric pickups, seem bound to deliver a bigger sales surge in 2021.
Smaller auto markets were mixed. Plug-in sales actually fell in Japan (-28%) and Canada (-7%), but soared in South Korea (+55%) and Taiwan (+308%).