Slowing EV sales growth in Europe highlights need for strong consumer message

September 08, 2016

Alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) registrations in Europe stagnated in Q2 just as the European Commission revealed radical plans to decarbonise road transport within years.

AFV registrations in the EU flat-lined at 147,784 units in Q2, a year-on-year rise of just 0.6%, although year-to-date sales are up 3.5% to 302,819 units. A key drain on sales growth is a shift away from gas-powered vehicles and other non-electric alternatives, with sales down more than a fifth, including substantial falls in Italy. Only a small proportion of the lost sales have been replaced by electric and hybrid vehicles, with drivers instead opting for traditional fuels as the Italian economy drives a recovery in vehicle demand, particularly for diesel-powered SUVs.

Different economic, legislative and political climates have led to erratic demand across Europe, with AFV sales rising in some countries and falling in others. The Netherlands, one of Europe’s biggest low-emission vehicle markets, has seen recent falls for pure EVs and hybrids following the end of Government incentives last year, which caused a spike in demand before the schemes were closed. There are also sales declines for some low-emission vehicle types in key markets such as Germany and France.

Overall there has been healthy growth for electric vehicles and hybrids, but they still accounted for just 6% of the 670,000 additional vehicles registered by manufacturers in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period last year, with fossil fuels accounting for nearly all the growth.

The figures will make troubling reading for European governments just weeks after the European Commission revealed its strategy for a ‘rapid transition’ to zero or low emission vehicles by 2030. The plan is designed to generate greater demand for zero- and low-emission vehicles that emit less than 50g/km of CO2 and ensure they gain ‘significant’ market share. In response, manufacturers are rolling out a wide range of electric models to meet expected demand, with some of the latest developments being shown at the Paris Motor Show next month.

The figures suggest that government incentives will play a critical role in generating sustainable demand for low-emission vehicles. In addition, manufacturers will need to review their approach to marketing low-emission vehicles to enhance their attractiveness to consumers, who currently prioritise the practicality and looks of vehicles such as SUVs over the environmental benefits of a low-emission car.

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