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Published on March 3rd, 2018 | by Jose Pontes

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Europe Electric Car Sales In January — VW e-Golf Starts In The Lead

March 3rd, 2018 by  


The European passenger plug-in car market started the 2018 season with almost 26,000 registrations, growing 36% compared to the same period last year, a promising start that unfortunately is being made for the most part thanks to growth in plug-in hybrids (+44% year over year). In fact, plug-in hybrids now represent more than half (53%) of deliveries.

And yet, out of the five best selling PEVs, four are fully electric vehicles (BEVs), and the majority of the top 10 belongs to fully electric models.

Well, if BEVs are among the best sellers, then why are PHEVs outselling them?

First, there aren’t that many fully electric cars to choose from. In this top 20 list, there are 7 BEVs compared to 13 PHEVs, and with the exception of the Kia Soul EV, all of them are regular small/compact car models — no fully electric station wagon is available, no MPV, and especially, no crossovers and SUVs. These classes are sorely lacking in the BEV menu, which is not the case on the PHEV side, where there are 7 crossovers/SUVs to choose from! They come at a wide array of prices. There’s also one MPV and two station wagons. If you look at all the plug-in vehicles on the market today, you can see there are a high number of plug-in hybrids being offered, especially by European automakers. The large automakers seem to prefer adding relatively small batteries and electric motors to gasoline/diesel models rather than building new electric cars from the ground up.

Second, all seven all-electric nameplates have waiting lists. Some of them are over 6 months long. So, if there weren’t production constraints, BEVs would easily overcome plug-in hybrids. Long gone are the times when high-end executives complained no one wanted EVs…

Looking at PEV share, 2018 started with 2%, and once the much awaited new models arrive (LEAF 2, Kona EV, …), expect sales to pick up even further. I think the plug-in vehicle share could end the year at around 4% market share, and even 6% or so in December.

If the VW e-Golf dethroning the Renault Zoe was the headline in January, the surprise of the month was the Smart Fortwo ED reaching 5th place. It seems the tiny two-seater is experiencing an overwhelming boost in demand, with the Smart EV already having a 9 month waiting list and suffering from a recurring problem: “Not enough batteries.”


Top 5 Best Selling PEVs

#1 Volkswagen e-Golf — Remember the time when saying “e-Golf” was synonymous with “Norway”? Not anymore, despite Norway still being the nameplate largest market (514 deliveries), the German BEV had 506 deliveries in the Netherlands and 450 at home. So, the 1,985 units registered in January are spread out more than a year ago. The model is benefiting from a larger battery and more favorable context, which actually led to demand that Volkswagen wasn’t expecting and thus long lead times, something the automaker promised to cut significantly during this year with increased production.

#2 Renault Zoe — The 1,871 deliveries of January marked a 27% drop year over year (YoY), making it the nameplate’s worst performance since April. With no known production hiccups and the demand as strong as ever, this slowdown could be attributed to the fact that LG Chem does not have enough batteries to provide the French automaker. As for individual country performances, despite the dismal result at home (633 deliveries, its worst result in 14 months), there were decent numbers in Germany (299 deliveries), Norway (334 deliveries), and Spain (104 deliveries).

#3 BMW i3 — The German Stormtrooper hatchback saw flat sales in January, with 1,867 deliveries. With the all-electric version now representing 75% of deliveries, one can consider the i3 as part of the BEV team. Looking at individual countries, the i3 had strong results in Norway (614 BEV deliveries), Germany (359 deliveries), and France (172 deliveries). Looking into 2018, expect deliveries to pick up in the coming months — BMW will be going into full production in its Leipzig plant and presumably delivering as many i3 and i8 as the factory can deliver.

#4 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV — Solid as a rock, the Japanese SUV saw its sales slip slightly (-1% YoY) to 1,165 registrations. Despite this minor setback, the Mitsubishi model continues to profit from its unique mix of space, AWD, range, and affordability (€40,000) to make it popular in markets like the UK, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland (126 registrations in that last one). In the long run, with no direct competitors in sight and a promised update during the year, the Japanese SUV will probably stay among Europe’s top sellers, even making a run for the “Best-Selling PHEV” trophy.

#5 Smart Fortwo ED — The tiny two-seater seems destined for success this year, registering 1,143 units in January. If Germany (729 registrations) is the main driving force, other market performances are also impressive, with Italy (131 registrations) and France (98 registrations) being the most important. Despite the limited range coming from the small 17.6 kWh battery and the lack of fast charging, the new Smart Electric has met with enthusiastic demand, catching Daimler off-guard (surprise, surprise). That has led to 9 month lead times for the model, making the OEM quest to be an all-electric brand even more pressing. I mean, if there is a car that should have been electric from the beginning, it’s the Fortwo, right?


Looking elsewhere, the first month of the year has brought a couple of surprises, with the most important being the 7th place finish of the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, with a record 1,017 registrations. The Korean model is still production constrained after more than a year on the market — one wonders when Hyundai will deliver enough units to satisfy demand.

The Porsche Panamera PHEV joined the top 20, finishing in #16, thanks to 678 registrations, and it could be even higher … if it wasn’t suffering from a common disease (not enough batteries). No wonder, then, that the head honchos of the sports car maker are now deeply in love with the Mission E, as they smell the scent of fresh money coming in…

Other models also shined in January — the Kia Soul EV (779 registrations) had its best result in over two years, and apparently PSA got some extra units from GM and delivered 335 Opel Ampera-e electric cars (the European version of the Chevy Bolt), a new personal best for the badge-engineered EV.

One interesting note compared to the China electric car sales report is that only 10% of electric car sales were from models outside of the top 20, whereas that figure is 25% in Europe.

Europe January Market Share
1 VW e-Golf 1,985 7.69%
2 Renault Zoe 1,871 7.25%
3 BMW i3 1,867 7.23%
4 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 1,165 4.51%
5 Smart Fortwo ED 1,143 4.43%
6 VW Passat GTE 1,085 4.20%
7 Hyundai Ioniq Electric 1,017 3.94%
8 Volvo XC60 T8 962 3.73%
9 Mercedes GLC350e 885 3.43%
10 Kia Soul EV 779 3.02%
11 BMW 530e 773 3.00%
12 Mini Countryman PHEV 748 2.90%
13 BMW 330e 745 2.89%
14 BMW 225xe 735 2.85%
15 VW Golf GTE 705 2.73%
16 Porsche Panamera PHEV 678 2.63%
17 Volvo XC90 T8 585 2.27%
18 Kia Niro PHEV 561 2.17%
19 Nissan LEAF 548 2.12%
20 Mercedes C350e 487 1.89%
Others 6,484 25.12%
TOTAL 25,808 100%

Looking at the manufacturer ranking, last year’s winner, BMW, started the year in the lead with 17% market share. It was followed by Volkswagen (15%) in second place, with Renault ending in the last place of the podium at 9%. Interestingly, last year’s podium was exactly the same.

Outside the medal places, Volvo (8%) is coming strong, with Kia and Mercedes (both with 6% share) following close behind.

Also published on EV Obsession’s Electric Car Sales page.


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About the Author

Always interested in the auto industry, particularly in electric cars, Jose has been overviewing the sales evolution of plug-ins through the EV Sales blog since 2012, allowing him to gain an expert view on where EVs are right now and where they are headed in the future. The EV Sales blog has become a go-to source for people interested in electric car sales around the world. Extending that work and expertise, Jose is now a partner in EV-Volumes and works with the European Alternative Fuels Observatory on EV sales matters.



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