Last year, Europe trailed the U.S. in electric vehicle sales, following the prevailing trend. Despite the EU’s population of 500 million, Americans purchase several million more cars on an annual basis, so you could argue the difference was proportionate — that is, until 2015. Europeans are crushing U.S. totals in EV sales this year: A better selection of cars — one plug-in hybrid SUV in particular on the market — is fueling the huge lead Europe has taken in the segment.
The statistics from Europe’s Automotive Industry Data (AID) show just how much times have changed in the first four months of 2015 (per HybridCars.com). EU electric vehicle sales (including pure EVs and plug-in hybrids) have totaled 51,386 units through April to 32,433 sales in the U.S. (per InsideEVs.com). That amounts to more than a 60% lead for PHEVs, which is a dramatic shift from 2014, when U.S. buyers purchased over 123,000 to the EU’s 98,000.
Europe has already passed its half-year pace from 2014 and has taken the world lead in EV adoption, and the difference is in the plug-in hybrids. According to the data, consumers are buying as many plug-in hybrids (24,578) as pure EVs (26,808). American, by contrast, are buying nearly as many pure EVs (21,000) but far fewer PHEVs (11,000). It seems to be a matter of choices; a pure EV by Renault cracked the top 10 in Europe last year, but the best-selling plug-in EV in England (and No. 2 in the EU) looked like this:
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, not for sale in the U.S. market, has taken Europe by storm since its release. According to the AID newsletter, “Almost overnight Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV has spawned – if not pioneered – an almost entirely new sub-sector.” That sector is the plug-in utility EV market Mercedes and BMW (among others) hope to enter in the coming months. Outlander’s performance shows what they are missing by not capitalizing on the U.S. market, Mitsubishi included.
On the U.S. market, teases and concepts have been the story of plug-in hybrid SUVs and crossovers. While the Volvo XC90 has made its debut, consumers are on hold when it comes to the BMW X5, Mercedes GLE, Audi Q7 diesel plug-in, and the Outlander itself, which is set to debut in spring 2016.
Meanwhile, we can’t forget the Tesla Model X, the hotly anticipated pure electric crossover that appears on schedule for September delivery. (Because of the existing waiting list, new orders for the SUV will be delivered in 2016.) Europeans looking for greater total range, the sort found in a plug-in hybrid, are likely to greet the Model X as warmly as they did Tesla’s Model S sedan.
In the meantime, the EU market is continuing to gobble up the Outlander utility vehicle with electric range, which has pushed the euro zone into its position as global EV sales leader. The impact of low U.S. gas prices — which, compared to Europe, were low even when they were high — also has to be considered. European countries don’t subsidize fuel prices the way the U.S. does; emissions caps are also tighter, which forces consumers to do the right thing where gas guzzling is concerned.
It all adds up to a blowout. The U.S. leads the world in many things, but when it comes to green vehicle adoption, we could learn a lot from Europe.