Electric car sales in Western Europe are amazingly strong if you look at the percentages.
Statistics from Britain’s Automotive Industry Data (AID) show electric car’s market share in Western Europe bounded 38 per cent last year, while sales zoomed almost 60 per cent. Unfortunately the base numbers are still pitifully small. Actual sales in 2013 for battery and plug-in hybrids were a barely noticeable 38,617, up from 24,157, for a market share of 0.34 per cent compared with 0.21 per cent in 2012.
Electric cars now on sale include the battery-only Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, VW E-Up, Mercedes Benz Smart, and the Tesla Model S. Plug-in hybrids include the Opel-Vauxhall Ampera extended range electric vehicle, the Toyota Prius, Mitsubishi Outlander and a Volvo.
Electric cars and plug-in hybrid cars in Europe remain overpriced, often costing about twice as much as an equivalent gasoline or diesel car even after huge government subsidies of up to $8,000 in some countries. Battery-only ones carry the dreaded range-anxiety curse, and all are difficult to contemplate for regular buyers because battery life and reliability related questions decimate trade-in value expectations.
The only market to show some enthusiasm for electric cars were relatively obscure ones like Norway and Holland. But in these countries, tax subsidies and use-incentives make purchasing an electric car a rational decision. In Norway sky-high taxes on normal vehicles and a 23 per cent sales tax make it a wise choice to go tax-free electric. At least when you get stranded, you might still have some money left in your wallet. In Norway, electric car owners travel free on toll roads, get free city parking, and in the capital Oslo they have the freedom of the bus lanes. Norway’s electric car sales totalled 7,882 in 2013, according to AID, making it Europe’s second biggest behind France’s 8,779.
AID Editor Peter Schmidt said the market across Europe for electric cars and plug-in hybrids is almost completely dependent on government subsidies. For instance, Holland had tax breaks for electric cars in December which expired at the end of the month. This meant BMW was able to sell 225 little i3s in December, and only 15 in January, and Tesla Model S sales of 578 in December collapsed to just seven in January.
Because of the fragility of the market, manufacturers are keeping details close to their chests, but according to Schmidt the Nissan Leaf battery-only car was probably the biggest seller in Western Europe last year, with the Renault Zoe second. The Tesla Model S was probably third, with sales of 3,900 last year in Western Europe and 1,983 in Norway. Tesla though won’t be worried about announcing sales details of this very expensive car.
Germany, Europe’s biggest car market, has so far eschewed offering subsidies for electric or plug-in hybrids, and isn’t expected to change this any time soon, although some fringe perks might be offered.
“German will not introduce subsidies, although legislators might offer some incentives for parking or bus lane use. The only thing that’s definitive is that they have ruled out electric car subsidies,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said Western Europe’s battery and plug-in hybrid sales will rise to approaching a market share of 0.5 per cent in 2014, up from last year’s 0.34 per cent.