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Volvo XC40 T5 plug-in hybrid, courtesy of Volvo.


14% of European Vehicle Sales Were Plugin Vehicle Sales in January! (5.6% Were Full Electrics)

Plugin hybrids shine in this disrupted market.

The European passenger plugin vehicle market achieved 112,000 registrations in January (+50% YoY). Plugin hybrids (PHEVs) were up 85% and growing faster than full electrics (BEVs), which were up 18%, and that has led to PHEVs actually starting the year ahead of BEVs (42% BEVs versus 58% PHEVs in the overall PEV market).

Last month’s positive result, added to a crashing overall market (-26% YoY), allowed the continent’s 2021 plugin share to start at 14% (5.6% for BEVs alone), already above the final 2020 PEV share of 11% and doubling the result of January 2020 (6.6%).

With the plugin share already starting firmly above 10%, disruption is here to stay and the 20% mark for 2021 that I expected a month ago now not only looks reasonable, but one can even imagine it ending above that score!

In January, PHEVs were the stars of the plugin vehicle show, with one not only winning the monthly best seller trophy for the first time in years, thanks to the surprising Volvo XC40 PHEV, but also by placing two models in the top 5 for the first time since last August — the BMW 330e reached the 4th place last month.

And the surprises do not end there, as the Kia Niro EV won the last place on the podium, even though its 3,123 registrations weren’t enough to beat the #2 Renault Zoe, which lost the leadership race by a mere 23 units. The Volkswagen ID.3, said to be the favorite candidate to win the 2021 title, ended only in 5th.

In a month when the overall market saw the perennial leader, the VW Golf, drop to 4th(!), behind the #1 Toyota Yaris(!!), #2 Peugeot 208(!), and #3 Dacia Sandero(!!!), and usual runner-up Renault Clio started only in #7 — added to the fact that plugins are becoming increasingly mainstream — the European automotive market is definitely getting into little known waters. Although, for now, we shouldn’t read too much into these early results. I do believe that by March we should have a clearer view of what’s going on, and see if disruption is indeed hurting the previous status quo.

We should consider whether the weak sales of the VW Golf and Renault Clio are due to buyers flocking directly to their EV counterparts (ID.3 and Zoe).

Bring on the popcorn, because the next few months will surely be fun to watch!

#1 Volvo XC40 PHEV — With electrification high on Volvo’s priorities list, the Swedish brand is, along with Porsche, one of the most electrified legacy automakers in Europe. The PHEV version of the compact XC40 SUV hit 3,543 registrations last month, winning Volvo its first monthly trophy ever and highlighting the good growth prospects in 2021 for the brand, especially considering that its BEV sibling (1,027 units last month) is only just starting out and a number of markets still haven’t received any units. While the XC40 PHEV’s major market was Germany (573 units), there were several others helping in significant volumes, like the Netherlands (367), France (357), the UK (350), Belgium (434), and Italy (399).

#2 Renault Zoe — The 3,520 deliveries of January didn’t allow the Zoe to start in the lead, but with only 23 units separating if from the leadership position, that really doesn’t mean anything for future prospects. Regarding January, Germany (1,166 registrations) and France (1,013 registrations) did the usual heavy lifting, with Italy a distant 3rd (only 255 registrations).

#3 Kia Niro EV — The Korean crossover scored 3,123 registrations last month, a 137% surge compared to the same month last year. Although, this might not mean that the Niro EV will have an outstanding 2021, as it might be just the result of Kia’s allocation policy. To be continued…. Looking at January’s results, the two main markets were the UK (950 registrations) and France (748 registrations, a new record), while Germany came in a distant third (350 registrations).

#4 BMW 330e — Now this was a surprise. The German midsizer joined the top 5 and became the leader in its category, with 3,058 registrations. BMW’s plugin hybrid profited from a fortuity of circumstances, like the fact that the Tesla Model 3 was in an off month and its Mercedes C-Class arch rival is close to a generational change (the new PHEV version has 100 km (62 miles) of electric range, and CCS!). With those bonuses, the BMW plugin hybrid managed to pull off this surprisingly good result. Although, one wonders for how long this BMW model will manage to keep this status. Looking at individual countries, the UK (1,100 units) and Germany (763) were its largest markets, followed by Belgium (263) and Sweden (244).

#5 Volkswagen ID.3 — The German model hit a meh 2,978 units last month, which is somewhat disappointing, but with production still ramping up, we should see a very strong March. The following months are the real test of Volkswagen’s EV demand and/or production priorities, and the German automaker might prioritize the more profitable ID.4 over the ID.3. Regarding January performances, the Volkswagen hatchback’s registrations were heavily concentrated in Germany (1,799), followed from afar by Austria (199) and France (142). Interesting that they focused January deliveries on markets close to the factory, isn’t it?

Looking at the rest of the ranking, BMW and Peugeot impressed. BMW placed 4 models in the top 20, while Peugeot had 3 — with one of them, the 3008 PHEV, even scoring a record result (2,680 registrations). While BMW’s top 20 models were all PHEVs and were SUV heavy (3 SUVs), Peugeot had two BEVs there. Looking at the broader Stellantis lineup, the new conglomerate also placed 4 models on the table. On top of the 3 Peugeots, the Opel Corsa-e also managed to find a spot on the table, at #20.

Regarding fresh faces, a mention goes out to the 12th spot, the Mercedes GLE350e/de barge SUV. After a looong production ramp up, which seems to be a tradition now at Mercedes, the long-range SUV is finally living up to its specs (31 kWh battery and CCS charging) and being delivered in large numbers. Coincidentally, its BMW arch rival, the X5 PHEV, is also back in the top 20, which underlines a recent trend — big SUVs are being electrified faster than the rest of the market.

Outside the top 20, two recent models deserve a mention — the Toyota RAV4 PHEV continues its delivery ramp up, clocking an already relevant 1,253 registrations last month, while the Citroen C4 EV is also ramping up, having registered 536 units in January.

In the manufacturer ranking, BMW profited from strong results from its (long) lineup and started the year in the lead, with 10% share, followed by a pack of competitors, led by Volkswagen, Peugeot, and Mercedes, with 7% share each. Renault and Volvo followed right behind, both with 6%.

BEV D-Segment / Midsize category

Tesla’s midsize sedan sales started at the low end, with 1,499 deliveries, only 11 fewer than a year ago. However, expect the sports sedan’s deliveries to jump significantly in March, distancing itself from the #2 Mercedes EQC (1,354 units) and Polestar 2 (1,297).

Tesla’s midsizer won’t have significant competition in the near future, at least until its Model Y sibling lands, as the Polestar 2 is still too expensive to reach higher volumes and the EQC … well, that one is just happy to keep silver while it can.

The upcoming Ford Mustang Mach-E’s production levels are still a question mark, and as for the BMW iX3, I believe the Bavarian automaker will be happy if it comes close to even the Mercedes EQC….

BEV E-Segment / Full size category

The e-tron domination continues to grow, with the Big Audi scoring 2,621 units last month. Its sales grew 16% YoY, and considering the already significant sales volumes of the Belgian-made Audi, one wonders for how long the growth rates will be sustained. When will the peak e-tron moment arrive? Maybe when the Q4 e-tron is presented?

With the #2 Porsche Taycan (1,094 units last month) accelerating its sales, the main interest is now the 3rd spot, where the luxury van with windows Mercedes EQV (168 units) has managed to beat both flagship Teslas.

2021 will see a lot of action in this category, not only with several models landing (Audi e-tron GT, Mercedes EQS, BMW iNext …), but also with the flagship Teslas’ redesign and the Porsche Taycan lineup expansion (RWD, Cross Turismo …). The Audi e-tron will have a harder time keeping the full size crown.

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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.


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