Thursday, March 16, 2017

Op-Ed: Top 10 Countries in the Global EV Revolution: 2016 Edition

Thanks to Assaf Oron for inviting me to cooperate on this article.

Image result for Plugin EV in the world

This is my third year publishing a “Top EV Countries” list. The 2015 list generated some

excellent comments, above all “What are the criteria?” So this year, I tried to make these

more objective, in the sense of using an actual score calculated from publicly available

numbers. Of course a strong element of judgment remains regarding how to weight and scale

the score. For that, I solicited some input from Insideevs’ team of contributors, as well as from

Jose Pontes, editor of the EV sales blog, without which this list would have been impossible

to put together. Their input has greatly influenced score composition, however the

responsibility for the final scores and their calculation is solely mine.

I was surprised by some of the new names near the top; but all have earned their spots there.

Also, while in 2014 I felt there are only 6 countries that merit getting on the list, and in 2015 7

countries – for 2016, I think there are certainly at least 10 countries that already play a

substantial positive role in the electrification of global ground transport. A couple of important

EV countries have even been left out; see if you can spot them!

This preamble being long enough, I don’t want to distract with score-composition details here;

they appear near the end. But the score is out of 100, and “absolute” rather than relative. For

example, a score of 80-90 would be won by a country nearing 50% EV market share with

rapid year-over- year increase, strong EV bus sales, solid infrastructure/policy support, and

either having an auto industry well on the transition to EV-making, or at least carrying part of

its EV-demand weight in terms of battery production (the maximum possible score with no

auto industry and no EV battery production, is 80 points). The score does not include 2-


Right now, no country is anywhere close to 80 points. In fact, only 2 countries cross 50 points.

Keep in mind that only 39 countries, two-thirds of them in Europe, participate in the list. The

rest lack numbers, and many of them probably see no EV action at all. I tried to add a couple

of Asian countries via direct inquiries with no success, making me admire the EV sales blog

even more.

Last note: please don’t quibble too much about the ordering of the countries in positions 4-10,

as they are separated by no more than ~3 points top to bottom. Ok, without further ado!

10 th place: Netherlands, 36 points. Claim to fame: high but uneven market share in a PHEV-

dominated market.

Netherlands boasts the world’s #3 EV market share, but it’s down from #2 and last year’s 6%

share represents a precipitous drop from 2015 when it neared 10%. Moreover, >80% of sales

are PHEVs (recipe secret: I do penalize 1 point for the PHEV:BEV ratio being worse than 2:1,

and vice versa). Both are the result of rather funky and inconsistent EV policies. The

Netherlands does have some e-bus activity; according to Zeeus, its electric bus fleet is

among the largest 5 in the continent, which probably means 100-odd buses.

9 th Place: France, 37-minus points. Claim to fame: EVs’ stable “Oak Tree” country continues

to forge ahead, but not fast enough to stay in the Top 5.

In 2016, France’s EV market share, still BEV-dominated, inched up to 1.7%. Curiously,

France is the last country where “Pokemon EV” Mitsubishi I-Miev is still popular, selling in the

thousands in 2016 under 3 different nameplates, 2 of them French (but shipped ready-made

from Japan; thanks Jose!). I gave France a bonus point for Renault’s launching the 41-kWh

Zoe and 33-kWh Kangoo, but it happened too late in the year to cause a sales surge. Maybe

in 2017.

7 th Place (two-way tie): Japan and Korea, 37-plus points. Claim to fame: leading EV-

making country continues to stagnate, meets rising EV-making power with a bitter historical

score to settle. Both make many GWh’s of EV batteries.

Japan still makes the world’s best selling EV for 2016 (Leaf). However, its domestic EV share

continues to decrease, while Korea’s jumped by ~2.5x last year, mostly thanks to the

introduction of the Hyundai Ioniq late in the year. Meanwhile Korea is thinking outside the box

about electric buses; in mid-2016 a bus line in Jeju Island switched to electric buses with

swappable batteries, and the country also leads the development of buses that get wirelessly

charged as they go. Both approaches can help reduce the size of the battery that needs to sit

inside the bus itself.

Both countries ended 2016 around a rather underwhelming 0.4% market share. The reason

they are in the Top 10 at all, is that they are two-thirds of the world’s 3-country oligopoly over

EV lithium-ion battery production. Japan and Korea supply practically all of the batteries

appearing in Western-made EVs. They demonstrate that high-income countries can be

leading battery makers: no excuse for farming it out of sight to poorly-regulated plants in poor


But if the Prius Prime doesn’t take off, or the Gen 2 Leaf gets delayed again or underwhelms

the audience, Japan might drop out of the top 10 this year. What a fall for a country that was

arguably the world’s #1 in 2011.

6 th Place: The United States, 38 points. Claim to fame: Home of the Tesla, Volt and Bolt

renews its growth, but is bumped down the list by a couple of upstarts.

The USA’s EV market gets so much press, and its EV industry has been such a trend-setter,

that it’s easy to forget our annual domestic EV market share has yet to cross 1%, a feat that

at least 12 other countries did manage to achieve in 2016. Add to that policy/infrastructure

inconsistency at the state level, and duplicity at the industry level – e.g., Bolt hero Mary Barra

joining the call to Trump to undo fuel-efficiency standards – and as of the end of 2016, the US

pretty much deserves the spot it got.

Next year, if and when Tesla’s Gigafactory starts making its own battery cells (sorry

Tesla/Volt fans, no credit for putting together battery packs from cells made elsewhere),

expect the US to gain a few crucial points. Together with EV market share finally crossing 1%

in a big way – Trump or No Trump - I won’t be surprised to see the US score for 2017 around

45 points, possibly climbing back into the Top 3 where one should expect it to be. This year,

however, the US was upstaged by…

5 th place: The Ukraine! 39-minus points. Claim to fame: local groups make up for economic

challenges by importing thousands of used EVs; 4% market share with sales jumping ~5x

year-over- year.

I can already see the comments asking: “USED sales?? WTH?!” Let me pre-empt them by

asking back, what would you do living in a country with $4,000 per-capita GDP, which means

that even at ~$150/kWh, new EVs are still priced out of your league? And no domestic auto

industry either?

Well, some Ukrainians got together, established a conveyor belt of used EVs (half of them

Leafs) coming in from the West, lobbied for government support, and in 2016 things really

flourished with >2.5k sales, nearly all >2-year- old used, jumping five-fold over 2015 and

landing the global #4 spot for market share. The motivation for this “Ukrainian EV miracle” is

pretty clear: with its domineering enemy Russia being an oil power, the desire to punch Big

Oil in the face (which I share, heartily) takes on a personal and immediate form in the


Still not convinced about used sales? Besides doing it for its own domestic needs, the

Ukraine is also setting a global example for poor non-industrial countries to get into EVs, and

a venue for leading EV volume markets to get some demand and resale value for short-

range, degraded used BEVs. I also double-checked the Ukraine story with Jose, who has

direct personal connections there, and he says it is both genuine and impressive. If the

Ukrainians put together a second triple-digit increase year, they might be able to hang onto

the top 5. But we’re not done with Cinderellas tonight...

4 th place: Iceland! 39-plus points.

In this list’s first draft, Iceland hovered near the bottom of the Top 10. Then, prompted by

Jose, I double-checked updated 2016 numbers from (an official EU alt-energy-

vehicle tracking site, apparently Jose plays a big role there too), and learned that quietly away

from the limelight, Iceland managed to capture the world’s #2 market share spot, with 6.3%!

(The initial EV sales blog report pegged it at <5%.) This numbers boost, together with

acknowledgment of Iceland’s strong pro-EV culture and infrastructure (perhaps second only

to Norway), nicely paired with an almost purely renewable grid, catapulted the sparsely-

populated Nordic island all the way to #4. And we’re staying Norse for a wee bit more, with...

3 rd place: Sweden! 41 points. Claim to fame: well-rounded performance and the highest EV-

production-share among automaking countries.

Somehow, Sweden remained just outside my handmade 2014 and 2015 lists (it did get an

honorable mention in 2014). But when all the numbers are put together, Sweden suddenly

appears everywhere. In particular, after getting “denominator” automaking numbers (i.e., the

total national auto production) from the world’s automaking association, Sweden suddenly

jumped way up to the top with a national EV-making share of ~8.5%. The next on the list,

Germany, makes just under 2.5% EVs. Admittedly, a high national rate is easier when you

only have one major automaker (Volvo), but still Volvo boasts the #1 EV share among

established “traditional” Western automakers, indicating a high degree of commitment, even if

most of it is still on the PHEV front.

Volvo also makes some EV buses, and Sweden’s EV sales market share (3.6%) is #5 in the

world, growing ~1.5x in 2016. So Sweden scores on multiple fronts, reflecting a robust and

consistent pro-EV culture, doubtlessly inspired by its neighbor…

2nd place: Norway, 54 points. Claim to fame: EV share continues to shatter records and

expectations (>30% in 2016, including used imports). Leaders set commitment towards

ending ICE sales next decade.

Not much to add about Norway, poster child of the EV world. Each year everyone expects

they won’t be able to keep it up, and yet they do. It should be noted that Norway is another

market besides the Ukraine where used-EV sales play a substantial role; they contribute

~10% to the numbers, pushing the overall number of EVs added to Norwegian roads in 2016

past 50,000. Norway’s “used import” EVs are much newer than the Ukrainian version, and in

many cases – in particular, Soul EVs from Germany, as previously documented – they are

actually brand-new EVs deceptively registered in the EU to gain points for the automaker

before heading to Norway. Norway itself, though, should not be faulted for this trickery, surely

not from an EV supporter’s perspective.

Norway scores 39 of 50 possible points in the sales category, far ahead of second-place

Iceland (25). But until it also replaces its ICE bus fleet, or starts making some lithium-ion cells

in large quantities, it is unlikely to claim the #1 spot (which, using the new system, Norway

might have won in 2014, but not in 2015).

1 st place: China, 61 points. Claim to fame: by far the largest EV volume country (both sales

and production), continuing breakneck growth. Makes and deploys nearly all of the world’s

electric buses.

Among large vehicles, buses and in particular urban buses offer the best opportunity for early

EV adoption. Travel distances are relatively short, the form enables sticking a huge battery-

pack at the bottom with few design problems, and EVs do far better with the stop-and- go bus

driving mode than ICE buses, both energy-wise and maintenance-wise. Also, diesel buses

play a large role in urban particulate pollution; so switching to an EV bus fleet is an

environmental two-for- one win. Last but not least, most bus customers are transit agencies,

who might have strict requirements but are less spoiled and finicky than the private market,

and (given the right political climate) more committed to environmental policies.

Unfortunately, in the wealthy world buses are much less the essential staple than they are in

the less-wealthy world, and most Western governments haven’t promoted bus electrification

too much. So in the West and in particular Europe, the story has been one “pilot study” after

another, in which a couple of electric buses are used for a couple of years, everyone is

amazed at their success, and then…. Crickets. Barring a few exceptions (e.g., London), no

massive orders follow these “pilots”. Across all of Europe, after years of successful “pilots” in

numerous cities, at the end of 2016 there were only ~1300 electric buses deployed, and this

includes ~300 “hopping trolleys” that travel mostly using overhead rails, with a modest battery

allowing 15km off-rail range. Worse, the continent has yet to develop a homegrown

automaker dedicated to electric buses, such as the US’s Proterra. In fact, Europe’s largest

bus maker and the world’s #3, Daimler, has been almost(?) completely AWOL from the EV

bus scene.

Enter China, grand debunker of the “EVs are toys for the rich” canard. In 2015 electric bus

deliveries in China suddenly jumped to >100,000, and in 2016 they further increased to

~135,000, most of them BEVs with decent range, no rails required. At least 98% of the

world’s electric buses are in China. A good chunk of the remaining 2%, as well, was made by

Chinese companies (e.g., the massive London order mentioned above). Now these

staggering numbers, although coming from reputable sources, are not completely

decipherable to us. “Buses” might include vehicles from 10 seats up. Still, there’s no question

that electric buses now take up a good chunk of bus sales in China (Jose estimates 20%

market share for 2016), and hopefully this spills over to other countries quickly (are you

listening, India?). Without its bus dominance, China would narrowly lose the #1 spot on our

list to Norway.

Besides that, in 2016 China made about half the world’s EV battery capacity, split about

evenly between cars and buses. I penalized its battery industry one point for lack of

transparency: investigative reports found out that the supply chain of some Chinese lithium-

ion battery companies includes slavery cobalt from Congo (Korean companies might also be

implicated, but to a lesser extent). As to China’s auto sales (>350k EVs, ~1.5% market share,

1.8x increase), the rapid increase which like elsewhere, was fueled by incentives, generated

some cases of fraud, prompting the government to pause subsidies in early 2017 and send

the EV market to a screeching halt. I think the pause has now been mostly released for

companies found “clean”.


I wasn’t expecting too many surprises in 2016’s list, but ended up with an entire slew of


If you’re curious about the score composition, 50% of it is sales (mostly market share, but

volume and year-over- year change also mattered, and there was that BEV:PHEV

bonus/penalty), 30% production (volume, share of country’s auto industry, and batteries;

countries sans an auto industry got a 50% waiver for the former two, but not for batteries),

15% for buses and 5% for policy/infrastructure (that bit was the most arbitrary, so I ended up

keeping it small). Just to demonstrate how strong the 2016 list is: hovering ~2.5 points below

the Top 10 are the UK and Austria, two pretty good EV countries, and below them Germany,

the world’s #3 EV producer by volume and #2 by percentage.

You might also be curious about the lowest scores: spots #38 and #39 are occupied by

Turkey and Slovakia, with 11 and 8 points, respectively. Both have ridiculously low market

share, and are penalized for having sizable auto industries with no documented EV activity (to

be fair, Turkey did produce the Renault Fluence ZE a few years back, but that seems to have

gone away). The lowest-ranking wealthy country is Italy at #30, with 19.5 points. But China

and Ukraine are living proof, in two completely different ways, that this doesn’t have to be a

wealthy-world game anymore. India, are you listening again?

I hope to see more countries cross 50 points, surely by 2018 and perhaps even next year. My

guess is that the US or any European country that sets up large battery factories or deploys

gobs of electric buses, will be the first to do so, although Korea could be a “dark horse”

candidate as well – while the leaders forge ahead towards 70 points and beyond.

Article also published on Inside EV's

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    Be careful, Volvo Cars belongs to Geely and AB Volvo (building trucks including Volvo Trucks and Renault Trucks, buses and Construction Equipment) are two separated companies.