European electric vehicle registrations doubled in the first quarter of 2020, even as total car registrations fell more than 25%, prompting clean mobility advocates to urge more incentives while fossil car manufacturers plead for bailouts and clemency on climate action.
March was a particularly rough month for gas-powered vehicle sales. “Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, overall European car sales in March dropped by 55% compared to last year,” writes Forbes. The pandemic has hit EVs, as well, but not nearly to the same degree.
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“They have seen a relatively lower drop,” the business magazine states, citing data from the European Alternative Fuels Observatory (EAFO). “If anything, they reached an all-time high during these months.”
Evaluating the comparatively robust health of EVs, EAFO clean mobility specialist Floris Jousma told Forbes the good numbers reflect how “most people that registered a new EV in the first quarter had already ordered them before the pandemic.” More models, declining prices, and expanding battery range are also playing a role, as is peer influence.
“Our research shows that when an acquaintance (like a friend, family member, or even neighbour) buys an electric vehicle, people are more inclined to also open their mind to buying one as their next car,” he said.
EVs still represent only 4% of cars on the road, so “the present moment may be ideal to boost the sector” with consumer-pleasing initiatives like a wider charging network and purchase subsidies.
But, warns Forbes, “change won’t come without controversies.”
Exhibit A for such battles: a letter sent at the outset of the pandemic by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association and other representatives of the traditional auto sector to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The letter asked “for liquidity to be made available and for climate targets to be delayed,” reports Forbes. Unimpressed, a coalition of NGOs responded, charging the car lobby with using the pandemic as a vehicle to attack CO2 targets.
Such a strategy is as lacking in foresight as it is unethical, said Transport & Environment analyst Lucien Mathieu. He told Forbes it’s “in the best interest of the industry” to look to a green recovery and become “future-proof”—that is, decarbonized.