Many of us have been puzzled about the fact that plug-in sales are taking off more slowly in Europe than in the US, given the continent’s compact cities, high fuel prices and tradition of greenery. However, looking at 2012’s auto sales figures may provide a simple explanation.
While the US auto industry had a spectacular year (sales are up 13% over 2011), its European counterpart had a horrendous one. Sales dropped around 8% overall, to the lowest level in 17 years. For the first time ever, more cars sold in China (13.2 million) than in Europe (12.5 million), according to Germany’s VDA automobile industry association.
Greece took the booby prize, with a 40% decline, but the pain is broad and deep. Sales are down 20% in Italy and 14% in France, where Peugeot-Citroën is fighting for its life, and counting on a $9 billion bailout from the government. Back in August, President Francois Hollande implied that EVs could be the salvation of the French auto industry, and boosted incentives for plug-in purchases and for installing infrastructure. 5,663 voitures électriques sold in France in 2012, according to Automobile Propre.
Things are sunnier across the channel – in the UK, sales grew 5.4% in 2012. EV sales almost doubled, though they still make up a wee bit of the total – in the neighborhood of 2,000 units.
Another bright spot is Switzerland, where auto sales were up almost 3% over last year, according to auto-suisse. Pure EV sales were about the same in 2012 as in 2011, with a little over 400 units sold in the small Alpine country – the Citroën C-Zéro (aka the Mitsubishi i-MiEV) was the best seller. Sales of the sisters PHEV are growing – Volt and Ampera sold 350 between them.
Europe’s EV capital remains Norway, where over 10,000 EVs sold in 2012, a whopping 3% of total auto sales. It’s plain that the main reason is the country’s generous package of tax incentives and other perks – in neighboring Sweden, EV sales have been minimal. Norway has Europe’s largest number of Tesla reservation holders, though deliveries won’t begin until late this year.
Things should get interesting towards the end of 2013, as electric versions of the Continent’s best seller (the VW Golf) and the UK’s best seller (the Ford Focus) begin to go on sale.