Top 10 Countries in the Global EV Revolution in 2021 — Part 1

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Welcome to the 8th Annual Top 10 EV Countries List!

By Assaf Oron

Sigh. Nowadays there’s always chance for breaking bad news to overshadow any substantive in-depth story. The story below is mostly good news, so I hope it is well received right now. This is a long post, but hopefully engaging and encouraging. Feel free to bookmark for later and read by parts.

A mandatory Scandinavian EV image. BMW iX on Scandinavian road trip. (Photo courtesy of WysokieNapię

This is the latest into the new year that I’ve posted the top 10. It’s been a very crazy January–April for me. I’ve also done more research than ever to put this together. Here’s a link to the 2020 list (from there you can get to older ones).

What a wall-buster year it’s been for EVs!

  • 6.75 million new electric cars and vans on the road, 8.3% of total global auto sales, doubling 2020’s EV market share. Since cars last 12–20 years on average, and since auto sales are generally down right now, crossing 8% means that the active global ICE (internal combustion engine) fleet may already be shrinking quite a bit, and will only shrink further from here — great news for the planet.
  • 2021 marks the first year when EVs surged around the globe, and across all automotive segments, rather than move forward in some regions and segments and stagnate or retreat in others.
  • Europe, which together with China and the US accounts for >2/3 of global auto sales, completed two back-to-back years of meteoric rise, on the wings of tough EU automaker emission penalties and (mostly) smart green pandemic-recovery subsidies. In 2021, 8 European countries saw >20% EV market share — including for the 1st time Germany, the continent’s biggest market. 6 additional countries — as well as the continent as a whole — cleared 15%. And yet, a couple of countries elsewhere managed to overshadow Europe’s growth. Which countries? Read to the end to learn!
  • Not only has an EV model crossed half a million sales in a single year for the first time ever — two others exceeded 400,000 sales right behind it! And all three are BEVs (“pure electric”), pounding the final nail into the conventional wisdom (still encountered sometimes in silly articles) that to get meaningful EV adoption, PHEVs (plug-in hybrids) must be front and center, with BEVs relegated to a “niche.” Turns out that “wisdom” is precisely backwards.
  • There’s other major good news which I’m saving here as a surprise, to be revealed when the relevant top 10 country comes up.

We should have gotten to this point in global EV progress earlier, and saving the climate needs us to move even faster. But at least we’re finally moving at something resembling the required pace.

Disclaimers and Credits

  1. Like most reasonable sources, I count both BEVs+PHEVs in the EV total (although, there’s some bonus points for getting more BEVs).
  2. The score is multi-faceted rather than representing solely consumer sales. This is a global challenge, to which different countries can contribute in different ways, and the big picture must be in view. Advantage goes to countries that contribute in multiple ways. There’s also lots of bonus for rate-of-improvement over 2020. I tweak the point system a bit every year to keep up with the rapidly changing EV scene, so points are not quite comparable year-to-year. They are comparable between countries in a given year, of course.
  3.  The lion’s share of credit for source data goes, as usual, to Jose Pontes, who in 2021 decided to hop from his EV Sales Blog to posting similar summaries on CleanTechnica, which has become the go-to place for EVs and other environmental-tech topics. For data geeks, Jose et al.’s Europe output is more conveniently available at the official EU-sanctioned If you want to drown in EV numbers and analyses from around the globe, do subscribe to Jose’s new commercial endeavor EV Volumes (and no, I’m not getting a cut).
  4. Some numbers in Europe may look different from what you see elsewhere, because I’ve added light-commercial vehicle sales to numerator and denominator, to make the comparison with other regions equitable (in terms of prevalence and usage, European light vans are roughly equivalent to US pickup trucks — but unlike the latter, too often they are counted separately).

Okay, go on if you dare…

8th–10th Place, 52 Points: 3-Way Tie! Finland (1st Appearance), Netherlands (5th in 2020), Denmark (1st Appearance)

This year’s Top 10 include all 5 Scandinavian nations, which also happen to be 2021’s top 5 countries for EV sales market share. The Norwegian Spirit has now diffused to the entire region! Finland and Denmark both nearly doubled their EV share last year, reaching 29.5% and 27% EV sales share respectively. They both also dramatically increased new electric bus deployment to ~200 each, representing 50% and 34% shares of that segment. Even though they haven’t contributed to EV or battery production yet, in current terms this is Top-10 worthy performance. Finland grabbed some headlines and internet-troll traffic in late 2021, with a proposal to balance EV’s lopsided gender composition by offering women incentives to buy them. Not sure where that idea went from there.

Netherlands, OTOH, is a Top 10 veteran and also one of the most volatile. Its government keeps wildly experimenting with incentive policies, jolting the market hither and thither. In 2021 a subsidy drop made Netherlands the slowest-rising Western European market, improving only 16% (from 22% to 25.4%). However, Netherlands has a solid EV culture with one of the most advanced quick-charging networks. It continues to lead the continent in EV bus share (55% last year) and also has one of Europe’s leading electric bus makers, VDL, which despite a flat year still contributed its bit.

Tesla carried the US back into the top 10, with a (very) little help from (not) friends. (hint: note anyone missing from the table above?)

7th Place, 54 Points: U-S-A! (Off The Top 10 In 2020)

Last year, the Trump-induced flatlining of America’s EV action for anything not named Tesla tossed the US way off the top 10, for a shameful first time ever. What a difference a year makes! Signs of life shown by the Detroit 3, mostly the Mustang Mach-E thus far, and renewed consumer interest nearly doubled plug-in sales to just over 600,000 and a 4.1% market share, which is respectable … for 2019 maybe. The US has by far the lowest EV share in the top 10; you have to go all the way down to #20 Poland to find a lower share.

Tesla is the only reason the US is anywhere near the top 10. Shitty Elon Musk aside, Tesla had another year for the history books. Its massive footprint as the world’s #1 EV maker gives the US global 2nd place in production points earned. The Model 3 continued to rule the global sales chart for a record 4th straight year, and even crossed half-million sales in 2021, with much of that coming from the new Shanghai factory. And the Model Y, which only debuted in 2020, crossed 400,000 sales in 2021, grabbing a global EV gold–bronze duo for Tesla.

The US scene could have been even a bit better last year if not for those disheartening Bolt battery recalls. Stuff happens with a new technology, but the fact it took more than a half-year for GM to reopen the Bolt production lines suggests that they still see EVs as a very lower-tier priority. Could you imagine the Silverado line closed for anywhere near that duration over a recall? Overall, last year, EVs were maybe, maybe barely 1% of the Big 3’s production output.

No, until further notice, the US Big 3 will continue to have to be dragged into EVs kicking, screaming, whining, snoozing, and saying really stupid things all at once. And likewise for their dealers, for most of the US media, and for the ~30% of Americans who think EVs are some Librul Lizard People plot that their Supreme Court majority ought to strike down somehow.

Still, it’s good to be back in the running, and with a competent federal stewardship that’s pouring resources into EV infrastructure.

6th Place, 56 Points: Iceland (No Change)

My scores try to balance between absolute and relative scales of progress and avoid giving any country an “easy win” thanks to, say, super-small population — but, really, when the global average EV sales share is still single-digit and you’re improving from 47% to 65%, it’s hard to justify keeping you off the top 10.

Iceland’s 2021 wild card was light-commercial (think: delivery van) EV market share, which jumped from 8% to 21% — world’s highest unless I’m mistaken — and all of them BEVs.

This year the image theme is urban/industrial, not these somewhat creepy pics of cars invading an awesome natural scenery.

5th Place, 58 Points: Germany (Tie-3rd In 2020)

The fact Germany slid 1.5 places down despite having a very decent 2021 demonstrates what a dizzying EV year it was (and it continues into 2022, touch wood).

Domestic EV sales share — guess what? — right, kids, nearly doubled —  to 24%, keeping Germany for another year ahead of the US in EV sales total (690,000 to 608,000). Germany also managed to grab Europe’s light-commercial volume lead from France, with >16,000 deployments in that segment.

Volkswagen Group continued its increasingly earnest Make Amends for Dieselgate process, putting >750,000 EVs on global roads last year, good for world #2 and nearly doubling 2020. The ID.4 SUV pictured above became the first German EV to cross 100,000 sales in a year, breaking the Renault Zoe’s European EV sales record set in 2020. It also attained VW’s highest annual global sales position at #4. It’s produced in Germany, China, and soon also the US. As to this year, despite war- and Covid-related disruption to both factories, VW still scored a record 2022 opening quarter on BEVs, almost reaching 100,000 (Q1 is traditionally the weakest in the EV calendar).

Unfortunately, the other two German makers — BMW and Daimler-Mercedes-Benz — are holding Germany back now. While putting out decent numbers on paper, most of these are fairly minimal-range PHEVs, just enough to avoid being stung by EU policies. They also haven’t ramped up at the same pace as the leading packs. According to Jose’s EV Volumes (login-walled, you can sign up for free), the two had the slowest 2021 growth rate among the top 20 EV makers, except for the struggling Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

Germany may have also beat France for another segment’s continental volume title: new electric buses, reaching 550–600 in 2021, good for ~10% share of its domestic bus market. And Mercedes and MAN finally showed some production results in that segment — although, still not enough to reach even 500 combined. But, overall, Germany is getting into full EV gear and will hopefully keep up and even accelerate the pace in 2022.

Green trucks will pay less in tolls. Image courtesy Volvo Trucks.

4th Place, 59 Points: Sweden (Tie-3rd In 2020)

Perennial top 10 dweller and regional runner-up to Norway, Sweden did its part in 2021. EV share rose from 30% to 42% and continued the transition from PHEV-dominated to more balanced. Volvo Cars, as part of Chinese conglomerate owner Geely, continued rising, and while still PHEV-dominated, it is starting to mix it up with BEVs. Geely–Volvo even made the global top 5 in December.

Volvo Bus (the bus-truck division is separate and still Swedish-owned) had a flat EV year, but Volvo Trucks had a breakout 2021, deploying ~150 heavy-duty BEV trucks, firmly in the continent’s top spot for this climate-critical and still-behind segment.

But if last year’s bronze winner is already spoken for, who managed to hop-skip past Sweden?!

Part 2 of this two-part report is now published here.


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