Europe EV Sales: Renault Zoe Wins In December, Nissan LEAF Takes 2018 Title

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The European passenger plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market ended the year on a positive note, registering a near record 40,500 units in December (+23% year over year, or YoY), with the 2018 count ending at a record 386,000 deliveries, a 33% increase over 2017. The 2018 PEV market share ended at a record 2.5%, thanks to an impressive 3.9% performance in December.

The numbers may seem to point to 2018 as more a year of evolution, instead of revolution, but separating the fully electric versus plug-in hybrid (BEV/PHEV) powertrains, there are seismic changes. In 2018, the European market started to get off the PHEV drug, as we can see in the breakdown between both technologies, with all-electrics owning 66% of sales in December vs 51% in the whole year. In turn, it was the first time since 2014 that BEVs outsold PHEVs on a yearly basis.

What happened for this change to happen? The introduction of new, longer range BEVs (Jaguar I-PACE, Hyundai Kona EV…) and the production ramp up of popular models (Nissan LEAF, Renault Zoe, Hyundai Ioniq EV…) surely have helped, but the major reason for it was the fall from grace of plug-in hybrids, at the hands of the new and more demanding WLTP emissions standard that was put into practice in the second half of the year. That even led to the production stop of popular models, like the VW Passat GTE and its Golf GTE sibling.

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And the growth rates of both technologies translate the different realities, with BEVs prospering in 2018 (+48%), getting close to 200,000 units out the door, and more so in December (+70%), precluding even faster growth rates for 2019. BEVs hit their second record month in a row in the last month of the year, with 26,000 registrations. PHEVs, meanwhile, grew 20% in 2018, but all thanks to the pre-WLTP sales rush, as every month since then has seen shrinking sales. In December PHEV registrations saw a steep 20% drop, the largest since 2016.

Will PHEVs in Europe recover sometime in the future, or are they going to be swallowed by the upcoming BEV flood? One thing is certain, BEVs start 2019 with the upper hand.

But the PHEV debacle isn’t equal across all brands, as some (BMW, Mitsubishi, Volvo …) did their homework and continue to thrive under the new rules, leading to some brilliant performances — in particular, that of the #3 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

In December, the top spots had some changes, but they didn’t come as a surprise, as the Jaguar I-PACE and Tesla Model S benefitted from the sales peak in the Netherlands and Tesla is a regular here anyway, thanks to its usual last-month-of-quarter peaks.

The Renault Zoe ended the year with another monthly best seller trophy and yet another record score. (How high will it go?) The remaining podium places went to the evergreen Nissan LEAF and Outlander PHEV.

Rank Model December 2018 PEV Market Share
1 Nissan Leaf 3,604 40,609 11%
2 Renault Zoe 5,382 38,538 10%
3 BMW i3 2,536 24,432 6%
4 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 3,023 23,921 6%
5 VW e-Golf 2,075 21,252 6%
6 Tesla Model S 2,931 16,682 4%
7 Volvo XC60 T8 PHEV 1,327 13,426 3%
8 BMW 530e 2,022 13,383 3%
9 Tesla Model X 2,351 12,694 3%
10 BMW 225xe Active Tourer 1,485 12,665 3%
11 VW Passat GTE 152 11,373 3%
12 Mini Countryman PHEV 1,062 10,345 3%
13 Kia Niro PHEV 757 9,951 3%
14 Hyundai Ioniq Electric 835 9,605 2%
15 VW Golf GTE 122 9,010 2%
16 Smart Fortwo ED 925 8,688 2%
17 BMW 330e 74 7,327 2%
18 Mercedes GLC350e 52 7,125 2%
19 Volvo XC90 T8 PHEV 728 6,719 2%
20 Kia Soul EV 515 6,641 2%
21 Jaguar i-Pace 2,983 6,319 2%
+ Others 5,623 75,642 20%
ALL TOTAL 40,564 386,347 100%

Monthly Model Ranking

#1 Renault Zoe – The record 5,382 deliveries meant a 67% jump YoY for the French hatchback. This positive score is the result of LG providing more batteries to the French carmaker, thanks to the ramp up of its European factory in Wroclaw, Poland. Without the battery bottleneck, we should finally see the real demand for the Zoe. Regarding individual market performances, the domestic market accounted for the largest chunk of the model’s sales, registering 2,558 units (+55% YoY), with other significant numbers coming from Germany (944 units), Norway (327), and Sweden (340 units, a new record). The Zoe continues to excel due to its unbeatable price vs range ratio.   

#2 Nissan Leaf – Despite once again being surpassed by its French cousin, the Renault Zoe, the Nissan Leaf continues to expand its sales, scoring 3,604 registrations in December. Looking in more detail at last month’s performance, the main market was, as usual, Norway (719 deliveries). France accounted for 447 deliveries, and Sweden 343, while 204 registrations in Spain gave the Japanese hatchback its second record month in a row. Will this sales surge have some meaning in the future? #Brexit? #Barcelona?

#3 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV – Europe’s favorite family/towing/winter plug-in continues to profit from its specs update (and lack of direct competition). The Japanese SUV secured yet another Best-Selling PHEV of the Month award and a podium presence in December, thanks to 3,023 registrations, up 60%. The plug-in SUV will continue to offer its unique mix of usable electric range, “affordable” space, AWD, and utility — keeping it popular in markets like the UK, Norway, and Sweden.

#4 Jaguar I-PACE – We have a fresh face in the top 5, and a beautiful one, I might add, with the Jaguar I-PACE benefitting from the recent production ramp up and sales rush in the Netherlands. The I-PACE reached the #4 spot in Europe, thanks to 2,983 deliveries, a new record that should prove to be difficult to beat in the near future (or maybe not — please Jaguar, prove me wrong). Interestingly, the Netherlands didn’t take all of the I-PACE production, as some crumbs were left for markets like Norway (165 units) and the UK (105), which might already prelude the largest markets in 2019 for Jaguar’s innovative sports-crossover-hatchback-thingy — or, as it is now known among certain Jaguar dealerships, The Money-Making Machine.

#5 Tesla Model S – In a time when it’s all “bla, bla, bla, Tesla Model 3, bla, bla, bla,” the old geezer Model S still showed it had a few tricks up its sleeve, thanks to 2,931 units being delivered in December, its best result in 3 years. Sure, most of it (1,558 units, to be more precise), came from the sales rush in the Netherlands, but numbers were also significant in Norway (600 units) and the UK (230), so the question lies: Is this the swan song for the Model S in Europe, or is there still any life in it once the newer, cheaper Model 3 lands?

Nissan Leaf Wins, Barely

Looking at the 2018 ranking, there were a few last-minute changes in December. While the top positions remained stable, we started to see some movements at the #9 spot, with the Tesla Model X benefitting from its last-month-of-quarter peak to jump two positions. Both the Kia Niro PHEV and Hyundai Ioniq Electric climbed one position, to #13 and #14, respectively, highlighting one of the most recent trends in the rankings: the rise of Korean models.

BMW also had reasons to smile, with the i3 and the 530e hitting record performances. The hot hatch scored 2,536 deliveries, while the sedan had 2,022 registrations. The BMW i3 performance is particularly interesting, as it is a car that has been on the market since 2013, with no major changes apart from the battery size, which proves once again the formula: bigger battery = higher sales.

Looking at the 2018 podium, we can see that the Nissan LEAF managed to keep a lead over the Renault Zoe and win the best seller title, but I suspect that if the year had 13 months, the French hatchback would be able to steal the trophy back from the Nissan model. Nevertheless, congrats to the Japanese hatchback for winning its first European title since 2013.

The BMW i3 took the bronze medal, but its expanding sales (+17% YoY) almost weren’t enough to keep its place on the podium, as the currently faster-selling Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV ended just 500 units behind it. This could have been another case of: “If the year had 13 months …”

Looking at some sub-category winners, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV was once again the #1 best selling plugin-hybrid and the #1 SUV trophy. The two Teslas took the best selling large car and large SUV titles, but the BMW 530e wasn’t that far from the Model S, so the 2019 title might change hands. The Renault Zoe was the #1 small EV, and the BMW 225xe Active Tourer took the best selling MPV title — well, it helps that it doesn’t have any real competition, right? Where are the electric Renault Scenics? Or the Citroen C4 Picassos?

Usually, this is a top 20, but this time I included the #21 Jaguar I-PACE in the tally since the distance was so small between it and the #20. Also, it’s a significant new model, so I made an exception to allow you to see how Jaguar’s money maker wrapped up the year. It will surely have a presence in the 2019 top 20, with the question being, “How high? Top 10?”

Outside the top 21 ranking, a reference is owed to two long-range crossover BEVs that just landed. The Audi e-tron delivered close to 700 units in December, while the Kia Niro EV, or e-Niro, delivered over 300 units — no doubt still demonstration units. Both models should have top 20 presences and be candidates for top 10 spots in 2019.

The Hyundai Kona EV is (finally!) ramping up deliveries, crossing for the first time into four digits, with 1,022 deliveries, as it prepares to satisfy a 10,000+ waiting list.

Looking at the manufacturer ranking, BMW (15%) repeated its 2017 win in 2018, while runner-up Volkswagen (12%) resisted the advances of #3 Nissan (11%) and #4 Renault (10%). Tesla (7%) won the race for the 5th spot, against Volvo, also with 7% share.

In the LCV category, we had a positive year, with sales up 40% to some 22,000 units, leading to a record share of 1%. The 2018 winner was, without surprise, the Renault Kangoo ZE, with close to 8,500 registrations, double what it had last year (once again: larger 33 kWh battery = higher sales), with the German StreetScooter (4,800 units, +18% YoY) repeated its 2017 #2 ranking, relegating the Nissan e-NV200 once again to #3, with 3,300 units.

Looking into 2019, if the best seller title seems to be already reserved for the upcoming Tesla Model 3, with some 120,000 expected deliveries, the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe are running for silver at around 80,000 units each. The interesting thing will be finding out who will take the remaining 7 positions of the top 10, as there will be lots of new incumbents trying to displace the current holders. By alphabetical order, here are the contestants: Audi e-tron, Hyundai Kona BEV, Hyundai Ioniq Electric, Jaguar I-PACE, Kia Niro EV, and Mercedes EQC.

I also wouldn’t exclude the possibility of the VW ID Neo making a big splash in the last months of the year and reaching #10 in the last minutes of the game.

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José Pontes

Always interested in the auto industry, particularly in electric cars, Jose has been overviewed the sales evolution of plug-ins on the EV Sales blog, 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 also market analyst on EV-Volumes and works with the European Alternative Fuels Observatory on EV sales matters.

José Pontes has 467 posts and counting. See all posts by José Pontes