Global electric car sales rose by 140% in first quarter, IEA says

Sales in the US doubled, compared with the same three-month period last year

A driver of an e-rickshaw waits for passengers at a busy market place in New Delhi, India, Sunday, March 28, 2021. India has ambitions to expand use of electric vehicles to wean itself from polluting fossil fuels, but EVs are still a rarity on its congested highways. A lack of charging stations and poor quality batteries are discouraging drivers from switching over. (AP Photo/Neha Mehrotra)
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Electric car sales surged 140 per cent in the first quarter of the year, with China emerging as the biggest spender, according to the International Energy Agency.

About 500,000 electric units were sold in China, the largest car market globally, followed by 450,000 across Europe, the Paris-based agency said in its Global EV Outlook 2021 report.

Sales in the US also doubled, compared with the same three-month period last year. However, the increase was from a relatively lower base, the agency said.

The increase comes as demand for sustainable transport options grows.

Last year, consumer spending on electric vehicles hit $120 billion while car registrations rose by 41 per cent amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sales received a boost from government measures to control pollution and embrace net-zero emission targets.

A record fall in emissions due to coronavirus-induced mobility restrictions last year also led to growing awareness about the health of the planet, prompting policymakers to opt for a more sustainable recovery after Covid-19.

“Even before the pandemic many countries were strengthening key policies such as carbon dioxide emission standards and zero-emission vehicle mandates,” the agency said in the report.

“By the end of 2020, more than 20 countries had announced bans on the sales of conventional cars or mandated all new sales to be zero-emission vehicles.”

Global car sales fell by 6 per cent last year but about 3 million electric vehicles – or 4.6 per cent of the total – were sold.

The report noted that Europe overtook China as the largest market for electric vehicles last year.

However, China sold more electric vehicles than any other country in the first quarter of this year.

Government support for the industry had waned over the past five years around the world as electric cars became more popular.

However, this picked up after the onset of the pandemic.

Last year, governments committed $14bn to support the industry, up by a quarter compared with 2019 and driven largely by commitments in Europe.

EU governments provided additional incentives to protect electric vehicle sales amid the coronavirus-induced economic downturn.

China paused its planned phase-out of a subsidy programme to boost electric vehicle sales in the country.

Sales also benefitted from the growing range of electric models and falling battery costs.

“Out of the world’s top 20 vehicle manufacturers, which represented around 90 per cent of new car registrations in 2020, 18 have stated plans to widen their portfolio of models and to rapidly scale up the production of light-duty electric vehicles,” the agency said in the report.

The sector is also expanding to include heavy-duty vehicles, with four big lorry makers planning to release future models that run on electricity.

The IEA stressed that the global market share of electric vehicles could substantially gain from a stronger adoption of climate goals.

In its sustainable development scenario, the agency said it expects 230 million electric vehicles, including two and three-wheelers, to be on the roads by 2030.