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Sweden: Legacy Vehicles Left In The Dust As Plugin EVs Overtake & Accelerate Ahead

September 2021 saw Sweden’s plugin electric vehicle market overtake that of plugless powertrains for the first time, gaining 53.9% share of new sales. Full electrics (BEVs) rapidly grew their share 2.6x year-on-year, resulting in a larger share than any other powertrain, at 32.9%, ahead of petrol’s 27.2%.  The country’s overall best selling vehicle in September was the newcomer Tesla Model Y.

September’s combined plugin share of 53.9% comprised a record showing of 32.9% for full battery electrics (BEVs), with plugin hybrids taking 21.0% share. This continues the policy-led shift in weighting towards BEVs that started in April this year. The 2021 cumulative plugin share has now passed 41.7%, from 27.6% by this point last year.

Overall auto sales in September stood at 22,634 units, some 15.4% down on 2019’s (pre-COVID) figure.

BEVs’ share (32.9%) put them ahead of petrol share (27.2%) for the first time, and will only grow in dominance from now on. Diesels also fell to a record low share of 11.3%. Meanwhile plugless hybrids, which have long since peaked, fell to 6.3% share.

In sum, all forms of plugless powertrain combined to a new low of 44.9%, and were therefore overtaken by plugin powertrains for the first time.

Favourite BEVs

Sweden’s overall best selling vehicle (of any powertrain) in September was the still-new-to-Europe Tesla Model Y, shipping over from the hugely productive Shanghai Gigafactory.

Tesla’s active vehicle manufacturing locations still number only 2 for now, and consequent long delivery distances, along with past short-seller attacks on any insinuation of quarterly performance weakness, mean that sales tend to peak at the end of each quarter.

We will therefore have to wait a while longer to see the monthly average delivery volumes, but there’s no doubt that the Model Y will be very popular in Europe, and even more so once the more affordable Standard Range variant is offered.

 

We can see that September’s other high selling BEVs included all the usual favourites; the Kia Niro, MG ZS, Tesla Model 3 and VW ID.4.

To underline the huge demand for BEV models, each of these top 5 BEVs sold more units that the #1 best selling petrol vehicle, the Ford Focus (483 units).

For a longer term view, let’s look at the year-to-date delivery volumes also:

If we add up Sweden’s combined VW Group sales over 2021 year-to-date (including those models appearing outside the top 20), we get to 11,956 units, which is a big enough lead over Tesla (5329 units YTD) to probably hold on to the top spot for 2021.

Checking the data for Q3 alone, things look closer. VW Group’s Sweden Q3 total is 4013 units, compared to Tesla’s 2234 units. However, the Model Y has really only just arrived in earnest in the past month and is still ramping fast. To know the current run-rates, we’ll need to see the head-to-head in Q4. Although VW’s combined European volumes are also ramping, the Model Y may be ramping faster. This may help Tesla get much closer to VW Group in Q4 volumes.

Taking a step back – whilst VW Group right now has the BEV sales volume lead in Europe (its production heartland), Tesla still has a strong volume lead globally, even with still just two working factories (in the US and China).

Given the unmet BEV demand globally, there’s still all to play for, and space for all-comers.

Tesla Model Y / Image: Tesla

Outlook

As we noted above, each one of September’s top 5 BEV models outsold the single most popular petrol vehicle. This is partly a function of many fewer BEV choices being available – and strongly suggests that the market is crying out for a wider variety of compelling BEV options, across more price points.

It’s great to see Sweden’s plugin share having smashed through the 50% mark so convincingly in September, especially with BEVs in the strong lead. Only 24 months ago, Sweden was still under 10% plugin share.

For context, it took Norway 5 years, from late 2013 to late 2018, to progress from sub-10% share to above 50% share.  Given that the same stage of the journey took Sweden just 24 months, the rate of growth is evidently much accelerated. Sweden is thus not simply “3 years behind” Norway (i.e. we can’t simply use “passing the 50% mark” as the point of measure).

As I noted last month, Norway has spent the past 12 months (since September 2020) consistently at or above 80% plugin share. Based on Sweden’s accelerated progress, I estimate that within 12 months from now, Sweden will likewise start to get to around-or-above 80% plugin share on a more-or-less permanent basis. If that pans out, it would put Sweden just 2 years behind Norway’s passing of that milestone (late 2020).

This would represent a remarkable acceleration of the BEV transition, given that Sweden was arguably “6 years behind” when crossing the 10% mark (2019 vs. 2013). Let’s see what happens.

In the nearer term, the coming months will see Sweden staying above the 50% mark and I’m confident in saying that December will comfortably see over 60% plugin share. In fact I think it will be closer to 70% share.

What is your estimate on Sweden’s transition timeline? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

 
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Max is an anthropologist, social theorist and international political economist, trying to ask questions and encourage critical thinking about social and environmental justice, sustainability and the human condition. He has lived and worked in Europe and Asia, and is currently based in Barcelona. Find Max's book on social theory, follow Max on twitter @Dr_Maximilian and at MaximilianHolland.com, or contact him via LinkedIn.

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