Global electric car sales on the rise

After four years of steady growth, U.S. plug-in electric car sales were essentially flat last year. However, in other parts of the world, it was a different story.

Tyrone Siu/Reuters/File
A BYD E6 electric car, which will be used as a taxi, is seen plugged into a charging unit during a launch ceremony for the line of vehicles in Hong Kong (May 15, 2013).

After four years of steady growth, U.S. plug-in electric car sales were essentially flat last year.

Low gas prices and increased demand for SUVs had a dampening effect on the segment, which still accounts for a very small fraction of U.S. new-car sales.

However, in other parts of the world, it was a different story.

Global electric-car sales actually increased significantly last year, thanks to strong sales outside the U.S., according to data compiled by the Department of Energy (DOE) (via Charged EVs).

Global sales increased by about 80 percent in 2015 compared to 2014, from 315,519 to 565,668.

U.S. sales didn't contribute much to that achievement, though.

Despite record new-car sales, sales of electric cars decreased incrementally from 118,882 in 2014 to 115,262 in 2015—a drop of about 3 percent.

In contrast, Chinese sales exploded from 61,984 in 2014 to 214,283 in 2015.

Last year, China's BYD alone sold 61,772 highway-capable battery-electric cars and plug-in hybrids—more than any automaker in the world.

Granted, Chinese sales figures often lump in low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles that wouldn't be road legal in the U.S.

Western Europe also saw a sales increase, from 102,565 in 2014 to 184,500 in 2015.

So did Japan, which registered 46,339 sales in 2015, compared to 30,567 in 2014.

Even Canada—which is a much smaller new-car market—saw electric-car sales increase from 1,521 units in 2014 to 5,284 units in 2015, according to the DOE data.

Together, the five markets studied account for 95 percent of global plug-in electric car sales.

While the U.S. did not follow last year's global trend, it's possible that things will begin to turn around soon.

Carmakers and other entities continue to work on expanding charging infrastructure, which remains a major obstacle to widespread adoption.

The multi-year cycles of automotive product planning also means there are many new electric-car models in the works.

Longer-range versions of the BMW i3 and Volkswagen e-Golf are expected soon, the 200-mile 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV starts production later this year, and a redesigned Nissan Leaf is anticipated by the end of 2017.

The massive influx of reservations for the Tesla Model 3 is also encouraging, although production of that 200-mile electric car won't begin until the end of 2017 at the earliest.

This article first appeared in GreenCarReports.

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