European EV sales are on the rise, but the internal combustion hegemony remains for now at least, unassailable.
The electric age is just around the corner, just as it has been for some time now. Despite the fact that it patently is the legislative-default future direction of travel, and that regardless of whether we are early, late, enthusiastic or reluctant adopters (or should that be adaptors?) of the automotive EV, we’re getting them anyway. But not quite yet.
Over the first six months of 2019, sales of dedicated electric cars have been on the rise, as one might expect, illustrating (it is said), greater acceptance from customers than the plug-in hybrid model currently favoured by most of the auto industry, at least until they can place their electrified ducks in a row. (A clumsy and frankly dangerous metaphor, for which I apologise).
But is not my intent today to examine the rights, wrongs, if, buts or maybes surrounding the forthcoming EV revolution, there are simply too many variables and unknowns for that to amount to anything illuminating or informative. Opinions (like so much else nowadays) differ and tend to be strongly held – on either side of the argument.
But tracking the European sales figures for the mainstream EV offerings did offer a few nuggets of insight, which may be of interest on this late August Friday.
What can be said without doubt is that for now at least, the internal combustion engine remains the overwhelmingly favoured choice of the European consumer. Because viewing the data, compiled by carsalesbase.com, one must dip well into the sales charts before any electrified offering appears.
Leading the charge, to the mainstream industry’s chagrin no doubt is Tesla’s much anticipated Model 3 saloon, now on sale across Europe. Entering the charts at number 78, it has posted a very strong sales performance for the year so far with 37,161 registrations to June 30. Now while its clear that there has been a good deal of pent up demand for this car, it does suggest that a decent-sized market is there if the product is deemed right.
Further down at number 119, is the once-best selling Euro EV, Renault’s Zoe. In the year to June, 23,736 left Filns to find new owners, a boost of 40.3% over the same period last year. This is a particularly impressive performance for a model which has been replaced by a new version with a stronger 52 Kwh battery and a putative WLTP range of 242 miles (It’s all about the range, darlings), but has yet to be put on sale. (Relatively) affordable, compact and to these eyes attractive, the Zoe shows it can be done without scaring the horses.
Since Hyundai’s Ioniq is available with three different modes of propulsion (series hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full EV), it’s questionable as to how relevant it is in this assessment. Nevertheless it comes in at 141th place, with sales of 17,284 to June, a modest 8.6% rise over 2018. As a vehicle which appears to telegraph its worthy credentials in a sub-Prius manner, the Hyundai’s appeal is likely to be about as limited, to those outside the private hire trade at least.
BMW’s i3 seems to be enjoying something of a second wind following its minor facelift and the adoption of a more powerful (42.2 Kwh) battery pack, which has clearly made the Vierzylinder’s carbon fibre groundbreaker a more compelling proposition. In 147th place, 15,876 i3’s were delivered to customers over the first six months of the year, a leap of 40.2%. Steins must be being raised at the FIZ.
Nissan introduced a new-generation Leaf last year, clothed in a shape a good deal less ‘other’ than its predecessor. But has the Japanese carmaker stumbled into the chasm that separates normality and dowdiness, because while the new model won’t shock, it doesn’t particularly awe either. Currently placed at 148, 15,710 broached European landfall to June, down 10.2% – a disappointing performance for a still new model. Supply issues, or a lack of customer engagement, one is compelled to wonder? Certainly, if Renault can design an attractive electric car, what’s stopping Nissan?
On the subject of attractive electric cars, Jaguar’s award-winning I-Pace, while posting a rise in sales of 2470%, can only manage 196th place, with 6,477 delivered to end-June. While this does suggest that the supply issues which plagued the model initially seem to be resolved, it is hardly setting the charts alight. But while these are hardly stellar numbers for Jaguar, they do represent the main success story for the beleaguered leaping cat of late, usefully outselling its combustion-engined saloon siblings for example.
Audi are new entrants to the EV party, their e-Tron crossover having become available for purchase in the early part of the year. It nips Jaguar’s kitten heels at 199th place, with 6,364 sold to half-year-end, which on the face of things does suggest that these might currently be optimum volumes at this particular price point. Undoubtedly this is how the denizens of Gaydon would choose to view matters at least.
Certainly so if one considers the sales performance for Tesla’s more mature offerings. Currently at number 229 lies the 7-year old Model S saloon, with 4,370 new owners for the first half-year, a fall of 46.3% over Jan-Jun 2018, while the Model X crossover has if anything fared worse, at 237 in the rankings with 3,667 sold, a drop of 30.0%.
This makes for interesting reading in the light of the Model 3’s availability and uptake. Size may be an issue in Europe – we know that price certainly is. Perhaps the Model 3 is closer to European customer’s needs, or has the appeal of the larger models faded? Certainly, as an EV specialist, Tesla has little to fall back on, should the model 3 also fall flat once the initial rush abates.
There are of course other model lines which offer an electrified variant; Smart has its EV Fortwo, VW at least theoretically have an e-Golf available for purchase while Hyundai also offers the unlovely Kona in fully electrified form. But since these appear to be lumped together with their combustion equivalents they don’t figure in this assessment.
Meanwhile the industry (and potential customers alike) await the imminent availability of Mercedes’ EQ model, the soon to be launched Porsche Taycan, (believed to be a potential, if very expensive gamechanger when it goes on sale next year) and VW’s Golf-sized I.D. offering, which could also prove to be one of the more affordable variety.
What little can be gleaned from all this is that EV sales will continue to grow – how could they not – but do seem likely to remain a strictly narrow choice for some time yet. It certainly currently seems difficult to envisage how legislators can shift buyers away from IC engines without beating them with sticks.
Carmakers themselves must also work to shift perceptions, which they won’t do until they have something compelling to sell. But until the market indicators point towards more widespread adoption, they remain somewhat ambivalent. Catch 22. So until the elastic snaps, the European EV remains likely to stay the domain of an affluent minority.