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Affordable electric-car sales surge across Europe

One million new plug-in cars hit European roads last year for the first time ever. 

By Chiara Milford , in Environment , on February 11, 2021 Tags: , ,

You can sense Thayr Albadri’s smile, even through the phone. The Volkswagen salesman has a good reason to be cheerful. It’s been a surprisingly good few months for his Stockholm dealership.

“Our order books went through the roof,” he said. 

Sales of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles rose by 148 per cent in the EU in 2020, despite the pandemic tanking the global auto market. There were over one million more new plug-in cars added to European roads last year.

As sales of diesel and petrol cars plummeted, electric cars saw a nice bump in sales across the continent., while sales in the United Kingdom rose by 184 per cent.  

Graph of new plug in vehicle registrations Europe
Number of new plug-in cars registered in Europe (EU 27, Iceland, Norway and the UK) every year since 2012

“It’s a lot of cars,” Albadri said, laughing. 

The car everyone’s been waiting for

The relatively affordable Volkswagen ID.3 was the most sold fully electric car in Sweden in the last months of 2020.

The starting price for a new VW ID.3 is 434,900 Swedish krone (CAN$66,845) but prices vary depending on the country and available government subsidies.

VW sold around 4,000 of the electric hatchbacks in the last quarter of 2020, making it more popular than Tesla’s Model 3 and the Mercedes E-Klass.

“This is the car everyone has been waiting for,” Albadri said. He sold 30 VW ID.3s himself. The model only became available in Europe in September. 

In Sweden, electric vehicles make up nearly a third of new cars bought. The proportion of rechargeable cars grows every year. Only Norway has a larger share of plug-in cars. 

The EU tightened emissions targets for 2020/21, which is forcing car manufacturers to reckon with the need for lower-emission cars by releasing more and more models. There are hefty fines for car companies who fail to meet the targets so they want to sell as many EVs as possible. 

Higher-income northern European countries are leading the charge of new electric car owners.

Sean Smith, a London-based sound engineer, is happy he got his VW ID.3 so cheap. 

Sean Smith with his ID.3 electric car
Sean Smith is happy with his VW ID.3 fully electric car

A local dealership was selling them with a £4,000 (CAN$7,021) discount in December and he jumped at the chance to upgrade from a hybrid. 

“I saw an ad on the Auto Trader website at this ridiculously cheap price,” he said.  

With government grants and tax rebates, the price ended up being around £25,000 (CAN$43,830) for Smith. 

Switching to electric

He was motivated to stop driving fossil-fuelled cars after the VW emissions scandal. “I didn’t want to contribute to that problem. It was morally the right thing to do,” he said.  

An electric car has around three times lower emissions than a fossil-fuelled car. Hundreds of new EV models are being made over the next two years.

Still, he wouldn’t have been able to afford one without government incentives and home renewable energy companies making charging at home essentially free. 

Switching to electric was not without its problems for Smith. He’s still waiting for a software update to fix navigational glitches. Plus, his two young children got motion sickness on a long journey for the first time in his new ID.3. 

He thinks this is because of how smooth the acceleration is, without the noise of a traditional engine.

“It’s more of a computer than a car,” he said. 

But he doesn’t regret his decision. 

“Once you’ve driven in electric mode you don’t go back,” he said. 

Despite the astronomical growth, electric cars only make up about 0.4 per cent of the total driving on European roads. Road traffic is still Europe’s biggest source of carbon emissions. 

In order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the world’s cars will need to be almost entirely electric by 2050, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. 

“I don’t want to use the word pioneers, but we’re certainly the guinea pigs,” said Smith, “We’re the people who are prepared to to sit in a service station for a bit longer than they want to in order to drive something futuristic.”