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Global electric vehicle sales to rise on back of growth in 2020

While the global auto industry suffered a punishing 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the electric vehicle market bucked the trend with a growth of more than 40%.

Not only that, but the International Energy Agency reckons the EV industry is on track for a decade of strong expansion, according to their new Global the Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021.

The Global Electric Vehicle Outlook finds that despite the pandemic setting off a cascade of economic recessions, a record 3 million new electric cars were registered in 2020. This is a 41% increase on 2019 figures. In comparison, the global automobile market contracted by 16% in 2020.

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The electric vehicle market’s strong momentum has continued into this year, with sales in the first quarter of 2021 reaching almost two and half times their level in the same period a year earlier.

Last year’s increase brought the number of electric cars on the world’s roads to more than 10 million, plus another roughly 1 million electric vans, heavy trucks and buses. For the first time last year, Europe overtook China as the centre of the global electric car market. Electric car registrations in Europe more than doubled to 1.4million, while in China the number increased 9% to 1.2million. [Ed: read ESI Africa Issue 1 2021 for more on the African e-mobility market opportunities.]

Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, commented: “While they can’t do the job alone, electric vehicles have an indispensable role to play in reaching net-zero emissions worldwide. Current sales trends are very encouraging, but our shared climate and energy goals calls for even faster market uptake. Governments should now be doing the essential groundwork to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles by using economic recovery packages to invest in battery manufacturing and the development of widespread and reliable charging infrastructure.”

Implications for net zero if global electric vehicle fleet grows

The new report finds the global fleet of electric vehicles could reach 230million if governments accelerated efforts to reach international climate and energy goals, as outlined in the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario.

If governments pull together to pursue the even more ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions globally by 2050, the global electric vehicle fleet would grow even bigger. More details on implications of this pathway for electric vehicles and the broader transport sector will appear in the IEA’s special report, Net Zero in 2050: A roadmap for the global energy system, which will release on 18 May.

Consumer spend on electric cars increased another 50% last year to reach $120billion. At the same time, government support measures stood at $14billion. This makes five years in a row that government spend on support measures for electric vehicles has fallen as a share of their total spend. Even if government spend remains an important spur for the uptake of electric vehicles, these figures do suggest that sales are increasingly being driven by consumer choice.

It’s not just cars growing the market, but bikes and trucks too

Automakers offered 370 electric car models during 2020, a 40% year-on-year increase. Eighteen of the 20 largest automakers have announced their intentions to further increase the number of available models and boost production of electric light-duty vehicles. These automakers account for 90% of all global auto sales.

The Global Electric Vehicles Outlook 2021 notes that governments helped to buffer the electric cars from 2020 downturn by extending existing policy and fiscal support and augmenting them with stimulus measures in response to the COVID-19 crises. Leading countries also promoted the competitive position of electric vehicles by strengthening fuel economy and emissions standards. They also redoubled their support for developing battery technology and deploying charging station infrastructure.

The report emphasises that the shift of the road transport sector towards electric vehicles extends well beyond cars. The most electrified road transport mode today is two- and three-wheeled vehicles such as motorcycles and mopeds. More than 25 million units have been sold, the bulk of them in Asia.

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Urban buses have also electrified rapidly. And, heavy trucks are a segment where electric models and sales have only recently begun to grow strongly, as battery performance have improved and driving ranges have lengthened.

Electric vehicles on the whole have a key role to play in tackling emissions. On a well-to-wheel” basis, their net contribution to reducing emissions, already evident, will grow in tandem with the pace at which electricity generation decarbonises.

This highlights the need for policy makers to think about global clean energy transitions holistically across sectors to ensure that progress in one area is not being undermined by shortcomings in another.

The Global Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021 is available online

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a Content Specialist for ESI Africa.