Tesla Powers a Surge in Electric Vehicle Sales in Europe

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JOHANNES EISELE/AFP

While plug-in electric vehicle sales in the U.S. are still showing impressive gains in 2014, the green car totals, including hybrids, are down compared to last year. That’s the headline from this side of the Atlantic. Over in Europe, a different tale is being told. According to figures from JATO Dynamics (via Auto News Europe), electric vehicle sales spiked 91 percent in Europe in the first half of 2014 compared to the previous year’s numbers, with Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) leading the offensive with its luxury Model S.

Among Europe’s fastest growing segments, electric vehicles barely edged crossovers (89 percent growth in first half of 2014) as the leader through June of this year. The efficiency and utility of the small SUV segment is making sense around the globe, but there is no denying the appeal of zero-tailpipe emissions cars in a European market where gasoline prices are considerably higher compared to the U.S.

One example of the perfect scenario for electrified cars comes from Norway, where 97 percent of electricity is produced by hydropower, making cars bona fide zero-emissions vehicles throughout its life cycles. Tesla’s Model S accounted for more than half of the EV sales in Norway during the first half of 2014, according to numbers quoted by EVObsession. All told, Norway’s EV sales increased by more than 300 percent in the time period.

While the small, idyllic example of Europe is hardly a barometer for the electric vehicle market in the U.S., there were telling trends in the European numbers. Namely, it still comes down to availability and affordability. As the BMW i3 and Model S have become more widely available, consumers have jumped on the opportunity to own and drive these models.

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BMW joined Tesla on the leader board among the fastest growing EVs in Europe, according to Auto News. The overall segment leader was the Nissan Leaf, which regularly dominates the U.S. market in sales volume. Nissan, which has a corporate sisterhood with Renault (itself a manufacturer of budget electric vehicles in Europe), seems to have hit the right note in affordability and mass-market availability.

Nissan Leaf sales jumped 56 percent in Europe in the first half of 2014 (year-over-year), which is even better than the 34 percent rise in the U.S. this year. The appearance of charging stations has also played a role. Tesla powered up its fiftieth Supercharger station on the Continent in August, which represents a fraction of the number Nissan has already installed of its own fast-charging stations.

It is easy to see a path to wider acceptance for electric vehicles in the United States: more cars with better range and more opportunities to charge the batteries when drivers aren’t on the road. The debuts of the Kia Soul EV and Volkswagen e-Golf may help the cause, but there is still a long way to go before EVs can seriously dent the U.S. market. Automakers ought to know the formula, at least.

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