Electric car market outpaces global auto downturn in 2020
Ross Cullen


The global auto industry suffered a punishing year in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the electric car market bucked the wider trend with growth of more than 40 percent.

An annual report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows the momentum for electric cars has continued into this year.

First-quarter sales for 2021 are nearly two-and-a-half times greater than in the same period a year earlier.



The IEA's Global Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021 shows that, despite the pandemic setting off a cascade of economic recessions, a record 3 million new electric cars were registered in 2020.

That is a 41 percent increase from the previous year.

By comparison, the global automobile market contracted 16 percent in 2020.

Car sales collapsed as forecourts closed, business forecasts had to be revised down, and workers at car factories were put on furlough last year due to the impact of COVID-19. 

For the first time last year, Europe overtook China in terms of the global electric car market.

Electric car registrations in Europe more than doubled to 1.4 million, while in China they increased 9 percent to 1.2 million.


China more private and publicly accessible electric vehicle chargers than any other country, according to the IEA. /VCG

China more private and publicly accessible electric vehicle chargers than any other country, according to the IEA. /VCG


"While they can't do the job alone, electric vehicles have an indispensable role to play in reaching net-zero emissions worldwide," said Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA.

Presenting the report on Wednesday to a closed press briefing, Birol's colleague, Timur Gul, expanded on this point.

"We will need much broader efforts across all parts of the energy sector." he said. 

"So technology solutions in heavy industries such as cement production, iron and steel production and various others, in the building sector, in shipping and aviation and, of course, for road vehicles: Cars, trucks, buses and two-wheelers."

Looking ahead, the IEA said electric vehicles are set for significant growth over the coming decade.

Based on current trends and policies, it projects the number of electric cars, vans, heavy trucks and buses on the road worldwide to reach 145 million by 2030.

But the global fleet could reach 230 million if governments accelerate efforts to reach international climate and energy goals.

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