Top 3 Countries in the Global EV Revolution in 2021 — Part 2

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This piece continues my annual rundown of the top 10 EV countries in the world! See part 1 if you missed it.

By Assaf Oron

The Hyundai Porter 2 was the Korean market’s best-selling EV in 2021. Image courtesy of Hyundai–Kia.

3rd Place, 62 Points: South Korea (8th In 2020)

Years ago, the Korean industry — both automakers and battery makers — saw the EV writing on the wall, and did what Koreans do: Work Hard and Be Practical. The results are now bearing fruit and South Korea gets its first medal. My all-important virtual medals aside, Koreans have attained a strategic global position in the EV scene.

Domestic sales are still not at European levels, but EV share did jump from <3% to >7% last year, and total EV sales pushed Korea into the >100,000 club. Unlike Europe where the crucial and (arguably) no-brainer light-commercial segment lags behind, in Korea the best selling EV in 2021 was in fact a light truck. And as the picture above shows, these aren’t your leisure drive-to-the-mall “trucks” of the American market, but genuine workhorses. The surge in e-truck sales is apparently driven by tough restrictions and fees imposed on fossil fuel trucks.

Most EVs made by the Hyundai–Kia conglomerate, >300,000 of them last year, get exported. But Korea’s biggest EV footprint is in batteries. 3 Korean firms are responsible for >30% of global battery capacity in EVs sold last year, making Korea second only to China. Looking ahead, take Europe: all the noise is about Tesla’s German gigafactory, but meanwhile the Korean companies got on the ground first and are already producing: Samsung and SK Innovations in Hungary, and LG in Poland, with combined output that will continue to dwarf Tesla’s. Even in the US, where Tesla dominates production right now, two Korean-company factories (combined) are slated to exceed it by 2024. Tesla itself depends on LG batteries for some of its China production.

Last but not least, Korea’s electric bus market is likely 2nd-largest in the world by volume, with 1,275 deployed in 2021 (up from ~1,000 in 2020) amid fierce competition between local and Chinese bus makers. That’s almost 40% of how many e-buses the entire continent of Europe deployed last year.

2nd Place, 65 Points: Norway (1st In 2020)

In this country-sized lab for the EV revolution, 2021’s market share stopped a hair short of 75% (up from 63% in 2020). It was actually 86% for cars, but light-commercial with only 17% pulled the overall average down. Light-commercial share was, however, double 2020’s 8.5% and year-to-date 2022 is at 27%, so this gap will close, hopefully soon. The EV share of Norway’s active fleet is already well over 20%, even more in the main metro areas. I’ve been told that many gas stations have already converted to gas-and-charging stations. Electric buses had a relatively slow year in Norway for whatever reason.

Norway managed to squeak past China to win #1 in 2020, but it’s unlikely to happen again soon unless some production-related action starts there, at the very least on batteries or battery recycling. Oh, and there you go! Indeed, it is happening.

1st Place, 87 Points(!): China (2nd In 2020)

In 2020, due to Covid and other stuff, China lost a beat and fell to a rare 2nd place (it was #1 2015–2019). How did China open up such a huge margin only a year later?

(Quick numbers run-up: ~3.4 million EV car + van sales, roughly half the global total, with a ~15% EV market share, up 140% over 2020.)

Say what you will about China’s dictatorship and the pain it perpetrates, China’s industry knows how to move fast in the right direction, like no other on the planet. While the self-indulgent West talks, and “tests, and pilots, and walks back and then forward again, and finds excuses to delay — China just goes and does. And again — say what you will on other stuff — this has been put into excellent use on cleantech time and again.

We saw it with solar and wind. We saw it with electric buses and with the evolution of a broad and robust EV industry. It’s the same pattern of the West talking a good talk and taking decades to walk the walk while China (and possibly also Korea sometimes) just goes and does. This pattern is repeating with lithium battery recycling.

So … what happened in 2021 on top of all that?

  • Everyone talks about EV affordability, but most Western automakers prefer to try and compete with Tesla (and lose) in the lucrative upscale market. Meanwhile, Chinese product designers and engineers figured out how to make true EVs for the masses. I wrote about it here shortly after it appeared: The Wuling Hong Guang Mini EV (which besides other records, might have also broken the name-length-to-size record). With 4 seats and prices starting ~$4,000, the WHG Mini EV has led China’s monthly EV sales almost continuously since appearing. 2021 was its first full year on the market and it clocked in at 424,000 sales, leaving the Model 3 (169,000 in China) and Model Y (151,000) far behind. With these kind of numbers, it also managed to win #2 in the overall Chinese auto market behind only the Nissan Sylphy. Now everyone’s waiting to see how and where it will start invading other countries! A weird rebadged version appeared in Lithuania of all places, but hasn’t gotten traction. More likely, the automaker itself will make an organized export or co-production push somewhere soon. By the way, a new affordable hit in the European EV market is the Dacia Spring. The brand is Romanian, the HQ in France (Renault) — but guess who actually makes it?
  • More generally, Chinese automakers and automotive production workers upped their EV game massively in 2021.  The top 10 *global* best-selling EVs were all produced in China (either solely or as a major production site). China’s auto market has long been dominated by Japanese and Western Big Auto co-producing locally. But now this is changing because most of the former have been snoozing on EVs. The market’s electrification is led by local companies, whose share of overall auto sales rose from 40% to 49% last year. With this kind of ramp-up, Chinese EVs are also starting to show up overseas: China exported a half-million EVs last year. This included all the Teslas reaching Europe, but also Chinese-owned brands designed for export such as Polestar, Lynk & Co, and MG. China produced nearly 60% of the world’s EVs last year, and the normalized EV production share of its total car-production output was ~20%, among the world’s highest. China continues to be the only auto market where one can find an EV for pretty much every segment, budget, and taste.
  • And that’s nothing compared to batteries, the one ingredient absolutely essential for going electric. Once again, Tesla-branded gigafactories suck all the air out of the media attention room, but meanwhile, 79% of the world’s installed battery-production capacity is in China, most of it under Chinese brands like CATL, the world’s #1. In 2021, China added ~200 GWh of production capacity — that’s more than what the entire world put together had installed by 2021, including *all* prior years.
  • Last and certainly not least, the final EV frontier: heavy trucks. There was not much to score on electric trucks until now (except for Tesla as usual wowing the media back in 2017, promising to deliver its first Semis in 2020; not quite on the horizon yet). According to CALSTART’s meticulous recent report, in the entire US at the end of 2021, there were 47 heavy-duty electric trucks and 19 electric garbage trucks. That’s <0.001% of our active fleet. The European scene is somewhat better, seeing 300–400 new heavy trucks deployed in 2021 (although, this might include medium-duty as well). Enter China, center stage: in 2021, China’s new heavy-duty EV truck deployment jumped 4× — from 2600 to >10,400. It’s the electric bus story all over again. And, indeed, among the main players in this new e-truck scene is Yutong, China’s lesser-internationally-known #1 e-bus maker. Lei Xing, the author of the truck summary, predicts a doubling in 2022.

Big Oil’s fallback strategy now that the consumer auto market is getting overrun by EVs and governments are tightening the screws on ICE phaseout has been trucks and plastics. Supposedly, they try to delude investors and the world that the oil consumption for these will rise and rise so that Big Oil will continue to thrive till we all die. Trucks in particular occupy a huge CO2 footprint. Now that China is showing that e-trucks are already viable at scale, hopefully others will follow and more quickly than they’ve done on buses.

Epilogue: Also-Rans And Tidbits

  • Two new faces in the top 10 means 2 old faces out. This year the unlucky ones were France (11th) and the UK (12th). Both still had a decent 2021 in absolute terms, their EV shares rising 59% and 76% to 15% and 16%, respectively. But France’s Renault didn’t keep up with the rapid progress, and England’s main auto plant is Nissan’s, whose Leaf also lost ground while seeking 2nd life as a downmarket alternative. Both countries might stage a comeback, though.
  • Every story needs a villain, and ours is doubtlessly Japan. Its vaunted automakers control the worldwide annual production of ~25 million cars and light trucks, far more than any other country’s auto industry. In 2021, how many of these were EVs? Maybe 200,000, possibly fewer. That’s not even weak; it’s criminal negligence. If you add on the laggard US Big 3, that’s roughly half the world’s light-vehicle production with a combined <1% EV share, a literal dead weight that the other half has to drag up the steep rocky hill of climate mitigation. While Japan’s domestic market showed initial signs of life last year, this only meant a 1.4% EV share (doubling the previous year’s result, of course). A very long way to go.
  • Lastly, another automotive and population giant: India. India’s road to electrification has been slower, but also different: leading the charge are those pesky 3-wheel taxis. Officially >150,000 electric 3-wheelers were deployed in 2021; but last year an Indian EV researcher told me that there are so many more grassroots, improvised 3-wheel e-conversions happening all over the place and not captured by the stats. As to 4-wheelers, only now they’re starting for real, with ~15,000 registered in 2021. Electric buses had their de-facto Year 1 in India with just over 1000, after almost nothing in prior years.

Originally published by Daily Kos.

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