The US and European auto markets differ in several significant ways, so it’s not surprising that the sales figures for the various plug-in models available look quite different across the water.
One of the biggest differences is size. We Americans love our pickups and SUVs, while Europeans love cute little cars that would be laughed at here in the States. Automakers know this very well, which is why models such as the whimsical Renault Twizy and the new VW e-Up!, a smaller cousin to the Golf, will not be offered in the US. The smart ED is a second-tier seller in the US, but one of the top plug-ins in some European markets.
The mix of makes is also quite different over there. On the Continent, German automakers absolutely dominate – VW, BMW and Daimler shared 36% of the market in 2013, while GM and Ford had only 15% between them, and the Asian makers’ share was in the single digits. One of the main reasons that plug-ins got off to a slower start in Europe was that the Germans weren’t building any. That is no longer the case – BMW’s i3 has gotten off to a splendid start in Europe, VW’s e-Golf and e-Up! are hitting the roads, and Mercedes has added the all-electric B-Class and the plug-in S 500 to its lineup.
The Chevy Volt may rule in the US, but its Continental cousin, the Opel Ampera, has been a comparative flop – it sold only 5,300 units in 2012, and 3,184 in 2013. GM recently confirmed that, when the next-generation Volt arrives for model year 2016, the Ampera will be discontinued. “After the eventual run-out of the current generation Ampera, we’ll introduce a successor product in the electric vehicle segment,” said GM Europe President Karl-Thomas Neumann. The Volt itself is also sold in Europe, and presumably will continue to be.
It actually makes little sense to speak of a “European auto market,” as the car scene varies enormously from one country to the next. When it comes to plug-ins, this has much to do with government support. EV hotspots Norway and the Netherlands offer generous incentives, while other nations, notably Switzerland, offer none at all.
Norway is the world’s undisputed EV capital – 1,897 plug-ins were sold there in August, the second-best monthly total in history (behind 3,128 in March). Plug-ins accounted for 14.51% of new autos sold in the Nordic nation. In the #1 spot was the VW e-Golf, with 467 sales, followed by the LEAF (400 sales), the VW e-Up! (297), BMW i3 (202) and Tesla Model S (183). Two newcomers, the BMW i8 and the Kia Soul EV, also notched a few sales.
Germany also recorded second-best-ever monthly sales in August, with 1,163 units. Of course, that represents a smaller share (0.40%) of this much larger market. The Audi A3 e-Tron grabbed the lead in its first month of sales, moving 227 units in August. Another new model, the VW Golf GTE plug-in hybrid, had a respectable debut, with 76 units sold. On a year-to-date basis, the leaders in Germany are the BMW i3 (1,738), Volkswagen e-Up! (1,054) smart ED (837) Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (753) and Renault Zoe (663). Interestingly, of all the cars on this list, only the BMW and the smart are sold in the US.
The leaderboard looked quite different in France, where the top monthly sellers were the Renault Kangoo ZE (a small commercial van that sold 232 units), Renault Zoe (167) LEAF (59), BMW i3 (52), and the e-Golf, which moved 51 units in its first month on the market. Year-to-date rankings are similar, with the addition of the Bolloré Blue Car, which has sold 752 so far this year.
Yet another variety of vehicles is selling in the Netherlands, where the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV took the top spot, with 494 sold in August. In second was the Volvo V60 diesel PHEV (156 units). Alas, neither of these intriguing vehicles is destined for US shores any time soon. The Model S, LEAF and i3 rounded out the top 5 in Holland.
Smaller markets are also seeing respectable EV sales. Switzerland added 123 plug-ins in August (1,154 YTD), with the i3 in the top spot and the Model S in second. In Denmark, 138 units sold in August (828 YTD). Danes like the LEAF, followed by the Model S and i3. The LEAF rules in Estonia, selling 146 year-to-date out of a total of 195. Model S has sold 18 in the Baltic nation, which boasts a nationwide fast-charging network.