Europe's EVs Surge, Chargers Struggle to Keep Up

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It was tough going for new petrol and diesel cars in Europe last year. Diesel sales were notably anemic, with buyers put off by the legacy of the "Dieselgate" scandal and urban pollution concerns. Covid-19 played its part in buyer lethargy, with showrooms shut and less driving due to lockdown restrictions. But amid the poor overall new car sales figures in Europe's big markets the growing share of electric vehicles (EVs) stands out, making 2020 a bumper year for electric mobility as many markets recorded new record highs for sales of electric variants (NE Oct.22'20). Long-held anxieties over their cost, driving range and charging infrastructure are clearly easing, if not disappearing, even if the generalized lack of convenient charging points remains a stumbling block for some prospective buyers. New pure electric models from BMW, Daimler Benz and Volkswagen, allied to innovative purchase or leasing options, have debuted well, while Tesla's online sales policy proved a winner when auto showrooms were shut. Not yet able to match Tesla's dedicated charging networks, other automakers are tempting customers with offers of thousands of kilometers of driving for free. Among improvements in the ambience around EVs, GridServe late last year opened the world's first large-scale dedicated charging station in the UK, surrounding its 36 high-speed chargers with outlets offering the gamut from fresh coffee to high-end groceries. Automotive analyst Matthias Schmidt tells Energy Intelligence that range anxiety and hefty price tags are no longer the biggest barriers to making the switch to EVs, with the best selling models claiming driving ranges of around 300 miles (483 kilometers) -- and rising. Subsidies and tax concessions have supported sales in Germany and Norway where EV penetration is highest. But the charging infrastructure "as a whole" is still a problem, according to Schmidt. "For car owners having to rely on public charging facilities, such as those with no off-street parking possibilities, there are still a lot of question marks remaining on how they can charge as conveniently as going to the next fuel station that they have been accustomed to, with little waiting time," he says. Germany, for example, has 17 EVs registered for every publicly available charging point. VDA, the country's automobile association, calls the lack of charge points "the problem child" of electromobility. Big Oil is increasing EV charging points at branded filling stations and installing stand-alone units, aided by acquisitions and internal start-ups, but rollout has lagged EV sales. The utilities and smaller independent providers are also active but have been equally blindsided by the surge in EV sales of recent months. When surveyed, EV drivers often rave about the driving experience, with handling and performance more often than not outshining conventional cars. The word-of-mouth praise means the former wariness or outright hostility toward EVs is waning as they become more familiar. Attitudes are also colored by the impending phaseout of conventional petrol- and diesel-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) autos in Europe and elsewhere (WEO Oct.27'20). The growing sales impact of battery EVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) was vividly apparent across the continent in December, with most markets hitting record numbers. It's far from a uniform market and consumer preferences vary, with pure electric vehicle sales outrunning plug-in hybrids in the UK, France and Norway, whereas PHEVs sold better in Spain and Sweden (NE Jan.7'21). Consumers are increasingly spoilt for choice, however, with manufacturers scheduled to bring more than 35 new electric variants to market in 2021 -- exceeding the new petrol or diesel offerings planned for the year. The UK already has more than 100 plug-in car models available and Tesla's all-electric Model 3 was the UK's best seller in December, topping the list of new car registrations. Traditional automakers are now moving onto Tesla's turf with Volkswagen's all-new electric range already the most popular by sales in Germany -- where a whopping 26.6% of autos sold in December were non-ICE vehicles, mainly pure EVs and PHEVs, outgunning the once all-mighty diesel car, which sank to 26.2% of sales. Jay Eden, London 2020 Electric Car Sales in Key European Markets EV Vol. % of Sales PHEV Vol. % of Sales All Non-ICE* % of Sales Germany 194,163 5.2% ~200,000 ~6.8% 394,943 13.5% UK 108,205 6.6 66,877 4.1 285,199 17.5 France 110,969 6.7 74,531 4.5 185,500 11.2 Norway 76,789 54.3 28,905 20.4 117,945 83.4 Sweden 27,968 9.6 66,109 22.6 123,044 42.1 Spain 20,156 2.0% 23,301 2.3% 205,482Ü 24.1% *Includes BEV, PHEV, HEV and fuel cells

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