Electric vehicle capitals: Showing the path to a mainstream market

This briefing assesses metropolitan area-level data on electric vehicle registrations and identifies the 25 largest electric vehicle markets, which together represent 42% of new passenger electric vehicle sales globally through 2018. To provide a blueprint for other governments, this briefing analyzes the incentives, charging infrastructure, and city promotion actions in these areas that are spurring electric vehicles into the mainstream.

From this research, we make the following three conclusions.

Cities in China continue to be the largest markets globally. Cities in China represent 5 of the 6 largest electric vehicle markets by cumulative electric vehicle sales. The top 13 markets in China have accounted for one quarter of all the electric vehicles sold globally through 2018—and more than in all of Europe or the United States during that period. In particular, Shanghai, with the most cumulative electric vehicle registrations, Shenzhen, with the most electric vehicle registrations in 2018, and Beijing, with the most cumulative and 2018 battery electric vehicle registrations, have implemented novel policies, developed massive charging infrastructure networks, and provided generous incentives to accelerate electric vehicle uptake. Other cities in China have followed with similar promotion actions to achieve high electric shares, such as Tianjin, Weifang, and Liuzhou (each with over 15% sales share in 2018).

Cities adapt as electric vehicles enter the mainstream. The top electric markets are quickly moving from early adopters to the mainstream consumer. Twelve of these 25 cities had an electric vehicle sales share of over 10% in 2018. The cities are adjusting their policies to reflect this market growth, with several taking steps to phase out cost-intensive policies like purchase incentives and toll exemptions. At the same time, cities are developing strong policies to assure the continued shift to electric vehicles, such as licensing restrictions on internal-combustion vehicles, zero-emission areas, and electrification requirements for public and private fleets. Cities are also continuing to expand charging infrastructure to keep pace with the electric vehicle market, including adopting EV-ready building codes to reduce the long-term costs.

As the global market grows, the role of the top cities remains crucial. As the global market has grown from under 1 million electric vehicles sold in 2015, to over 5 million through 2018, and over 7 million through late 2019, the top 25 metropolitan areas have consistently accounted for over 40% of the global electric vehicle stock. However, there are signs that the market is becoming less concentrated. The top 10 cities identified in this year’s study represented a lower share of the global stock in 2018 than in previous years. As battery costs fall, electric vehicle production expands to more markets, and more governments set electric vehicle targets, the policies from electric vehicle capitals are increasingly being adopted by more, and by smaller, cities looking to emulate leading markets. As electric vehicle sales grow worldwide, the lessons from these leaders will continue to be vital for governments to smoothly orchestrate the transition to the mainstream market.

electric vehicle capitals
Electric vehicle share of new vehicles in selected metropolitan areas for 2015-2018.