Carmakers have sold more than 500,000 battery electric cars in Europe during 2020, a milestone in a move away from fossil fuels.
Sales of all plug-in cars, including hybrids, have surpassed 1m during the year in the UK and the largest 17 European markets, according to data collated by Schmidt Automotive Research.
Full electric car sales are rocketing as tightening emissions rules and increasing consumer demand have prompted manufacturers to spend billions of euros on developing new models capable of driving longer ranges.
In the UK, the sale of new cars that run solely on petrol or diesel will be banned in 2030 – although new hybrids will be legal until 2035. Other countries including France and Norway have also introduced plans to ban new internal combustion engines over varying timeframes.
However, the car industry still faces a steep uphill journey away from fossil fuels. Total UK and European new car sales in the year to October were 13.3m, the vast majority of which had petrol and diesel engines, which are expected to be more profitable than battery cars until about 2024.
Carmakers are keen to sell more battery electric cars because they face steep fines if they do not lower the average carbon dioxide emissions of the cars they sell.
Matthias Schmidt, the Berlin-based analyst who collated the data, said: “The main driver of the market has undoubtably been manufacturers’ race to reach new average CO2 fleet emission targets, phased in this year.
“The targets have been made easier to achieve by a depressed total market, meaning fewer plug-ins have to be registered in order to meet compliance levels, and secondly by governments’ willingness to increase purchase and fiscal incentives in light of the coronavirus pandemic.”
The threat of fines has prompted the mighty German automotive industry to step up production of electrics, and the market in Germany is now bigger than California, the home of the US electric car firm Tesla. Volkswagen, the world’s largest carmaker by volume, recently launched its ID.3 compact car, which in October became Europe’s most popular electric vehicle, according to the research company JATO Dynamics.
British consumers bought more than 75,000 electric cars in the year to October, well over double the sales in the previous year, plus another 50,000 plug-in hybrids, but the UK market share of battery electric cars was still only 5.5%. Data for November will be published on Friday.