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Electric vehicles around the world

The UK Government is keen to promote the use of electric vehicles and to ensure a related expansion in the number of public charging points. With the second anniversary of the publication of the Road to Zero strategy in the UK coming up in July, now is a suitable time to reflect on how the sales of electric vehicles and the profusion of public charging in the UK compare with other countries.

Globally at the end of 2019, there were 7.5 million electric vehicles on the road, but the distribution of these differs significantly from country to country.


In terms of car sales, China leads the way with over 1.1 million electric cars sold in 2019 alone; 4.5% of all cars sold. China has 260 million registered cars, and 1.2*% are ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV), which is a combination of battery electric vehicles (BEV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and a small number of other fuel types.

However, the momentum is slowing down. Sales of ULEVs in 2019 were only 3% higher than the previous year, compared to the 44% year on year growth in Europe, reflecting a drop in government subsidies in China and improved investment into Europe’s charging infrastructure.

China produces over half of the world’s vehicle batteries, and both Volkswagen and Tesla are looking to start production in the region as well.

The charging infrastructure in China is on a grand scale, with around 210,000 public chargers.


The US saw a 12% decline in ULEV sales in 2019, down to 318,000 from 359,000 the previous year.

There were 17 million new US car sales in 2019, with around 279 million vehicles on the roads. Of this figure, about 1.4 million are electric vehicles, just 0.5% of the total. The US has 25,000 charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles. California leads the country in both EV car sales and the number of charging locations.


Over 30 new electric models entered the European market in 2019, helping drive sales to 590,000 units. Although only roughly half that of China, the gap is closing, facilitated by changes in vehicle taxation following the VW diesel scandal.


Norway is the global leader when it comes to adoption, with over 56% of new car sales being ULEVs. Government grants, tax exemptions and incentives have aided the transition to electric, and the government has a goal for all car sales to be of zero-emission vehicles by 2025. Schemes such as free parking for Evs and no tolls have made the cost of ownership on par and often lower than the fossil fuel alternatives.

Norway has 14,900 public charging points and overall ULEV make up 13% of all road vehicles in Norway, with over 370,000 electric vehicles.

In the UK 2.7% of cars sold were ULEVs in 2019. There are 32.8 million cars on the UK roads, of which 269,000 (0.7%) are ULEVs. There are over 11,000 public charging locations in the UK.

As we learn more about electric cars and understand the benefits of moving away from fossil fuels, there is a clear desire to embrace the change to EVs. Investment in the charging infrastructure in the UK may be costly, but it will create cleaner urban environments and help towards building a more sustainable future. Countries such as Norway have pioneered the way towards that sustainable future. The Road to Zero has provided a guide for the UK on how to get there. The practical part of incentivising people to buy electric vehicles and be able to charge them simply and quickly clearly needs to move on apace.