More than 2 million electric vehicles may be on the world’s roads by the end of 2016, writes the Guardian, citing data from the electric vehicle world database EV Volumes. That should be good news for electric carmaker Tesla. It is not. A closer look at the data shows that most of the growth comes from Tesla competitors, and from regions where Tesla is weak. It is a stereotype “that the U.S. market is further ahead in deploying the zero-emission technology thanks to cars such as the Tesla Model S,” writes Automotive News. As far as Tesla is concerned, electric vehicle sales are exploding in all the wrong places.
The “America First” stereotype was coined in 2014, when America was the world’s largest EV market. A year later, this changed in a big way, and it is changing in an even bigger way as we speak.
By the end of 2015, the world’s top electric vehicle markets were China and Western Europe, an analysis by the advocacy group Transport & Environment shows. Tesla’s home market, the United States, was listed third, with U.S. overall EV volumes decreasing.
This year, EV sales are expected to triple to 450,000 units in China, says Lisbon-based José Pontes, a man who has tracked the global market for electric vehicles since 2008. Pontes is better known for hisEV-Sales blog, a barebones website that has become the go-to place for anyone seeking numbers of electric vehicle sales. It is a hardscrabble field to hoe for data. Due to their low volume, electric vehicle sales often fall between the cracks of statistics, and they become a victim of hype.
Matters also are not helped by Tesla’s refusal to publish monthly sales data by region, as other automakers do. Tesla adds to the confusion by selectively releasing data when it fits its narrative. “Tesla Dominates U.S. Luxury Sedan Sales” was the headline last week. “Tesla’s Model S now Hong Kong’s top-selling sedan,” wrote Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post in the beginning of the year. A few years ago, “Tesla Model S Was Best-Selling Car In Norway,” but recently, the Scandinavian nation with a population (5 million) smaller than Hong Kong (7.1 million) dropped off the radar screen of EV watchers, possibly because January-September, Tesla cars rank 15th in its former showcase market Norway. “Part of the reason why we don’t release the monthly deliveries number is just because it varies quite a lot by region and the media tends to read all sorts of nonsense into the deliveries,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a 2014 conference call. The nonsense continues unabated, both from the media, and from Musk.
Most of the electric vehicles rolling emissions-free on the world’s roads are not from who we are led to think they are. In August, the Renault -Nissan Alliance put its 350,000th electric vehicle on the road, saying that “the Alliance today accounts for half of the EVs sold worldwide.” In the first half of this year, Shenzhen, China, based BYD emerged as the world leader in electric vehicle sales, selling 53,400 EVs in China alone, vs. 33,200 sold by Tesla globally. In just two years, China has become the world’s electric vehicle hotspot.
“China is the elephant in the room that no one talks about,” says Pontes. “The EV revolution will happen there regardless of what happens in the rest of the world.”
Indeed, the already huge (by EV standards) Chinese market is set to triple by year’s end, when more than half of all electric vehicles bought in the world will be sold in China. That seems to be the electric car market to be in, until one hears a caveat from EV-counter Pontes:
“95% of all EV sales in China are from local manufacturers.”
EV sales in the Middle Kingdom are firmly in the hands of established automakers, all of them Chinese. Tesla has for all intents and purposes lost China, and with it the most important market of the world. Will it ever regain traction? “Elon Musk will reach Mars before Tesla cracks China,” wrote old China hand and Model S owner Michael Dunne.
The world’s second-largest EV market Europe “could pass China,”Automotive News says, citing “recent announcements from carmakers such as Volkswagen Group, which said in June that it aims to sell 2 million to 3 million electric cars across the entire group annually by 2025.” In Europe, Tesla already is outclassed by the legacy automakers Tesla sought to disrupt. Europe’s best-selling EV is Renault’s Zoe. The second-best-selling electric car in Europe comes from a company that gets no respect otherwise, it is Mitsubishi’s PHEV Outlander SUV. January through July, the EU EV market was firmly led by the Renault-Nissan Alliance, with Volkswagen not far behind. Norway, a country that we were told has elected Tesla as its national car brand a few years ago, is now completely in control of established automakers. Volkswagen Group, Renault-Nissan, BMW, and Daimler each sold more electric vehicles this year in Norway than Tesla.
“I rely on facts,” says Pontes. The facts are that EVs are climbing out of their niche, and their prime markets are China and Europe, where a mix of emission regulations and incentives light a fire under the sector. Fact is also that in both regions, erstwhile disruptor Tesla is being disrupted by the locals, and in Europe, they have barely started.