Working Paper

Update on electric vehicle uptake in European cities

Electrification Zero-emission vehicles
Engineering & manufacturing

This paper provides updates on the European EV market in 2020 at the European, national, and local levels. The data include new passenger car sales at the European and national levels and new registrations at the subnational level. Data on new vehicle registrations, model availability, and charging infrastructure are presented at the metropolitan region level for major markets across Europe. The analysis includes the 17 largest national EV markets in Europe in terms of 2020 EV sales volume, and includes local-level data, where available, for 16 of these countries. The paper offers a specific focus on 50 metropolitan regions with the greatest EV registrations volume and shares and summarizes and provides examples of key local EV policies that have driven high levels of EV uptake in several metropolitan regions.

The European electric vehicle (EV) market experienced unprecedented growth in 2020, posting a 143% increase in sales of passenger electric cars from 2019. The robust sales in 2020 made Europe the largest EV market globally, surpassing China. This came during a period of major disruption in the vehicle market due to COVID-19: Although sales of all new cars in Europe fell by 20%, the surge in EV sales boosted the EV share to 11%.

The EV growth in Europe was largely fueled by the need for manufacturers to comply with more stringent European Union CO2 standards for new passenger cars and vans from January 2020. However, there was substantial variation across the European market, reflecting the influence of national and local policies as well as other factors such as the availability of electric models and charging infrastructure across local markets. This relative local-level success in EV uptake could hold lessons for designing, adopting, and sustaining local EV policy and programs going forward.

Research demonstrates a link between city policies and electric vehicle uptake. Successful local EV markets in Europe have adopted a broad array of policies, described in this paper, to overcome barriers of model availability, cost, convenience, and consumer awareness. As the market continues to grow and evolve, cities can learn from each other and strengthen and adapt policies accordingly.

This research yields the following high-level conclusions:

European cities experienced strong electric vehicle market growth in 2020, but EV distribution remains unequal. Regions in northern Europe continued to see the greatest uptake. All of the 16 metropolitan regions with twice the European average EV share (23%) were located in Norway, the Netherlands, or Sweden. Although regions of southern and eastern Europe had comparatively low new EV sales shares, they still experienced steep increases from 2019 levels. For example, Rome boosted its new EV sales share from 1% in 2019 to 5.5% in 2020.

Charging infrastructure is increasing, but trends and approaches across markets vary widely. In each of the major European markets, public charging has expanded alongside new EV sales. However, different patterns of public charging infrastructure are emerging among leading European markets. Variations in public charging infrastructure and fast charger availability indicate that there is no universal EV-to-charger ratio that can serve as a benchmark across different markets, although the number of electric vehicles supported per public charger tends to rise as markets mature. Cities are supporting charging growth by providing subsidies for key segments like multiunit dwellings and creating comprehensive strategies with stakeholders like electric utilities and charging operators.

Policies at the European Union, national, and local level are contributing to electric vehicle uptake. Across Europe, the passenger car EV market in 2020 has been driven largely by European Union CO2 emission standards for new passenger cars, as well as financial incentives provided by national governments. However, leading European cities have also implemented innovative policies to further spur uptake by improving EV convenience, awareness, and affordability. Some top EV markets in Europe are implementing zero emission zones, providing parking benefits, allowing access to priority lanes to improve EV convenience, and offering discounts on tolls and congestion zones.

City strategies are increasingly aiming toward 100% ZEVs. A growing number of local governments are announcing plans to regulate or restrict access to combustion engine vehicles in urban centers, cities, or metropolitan regions, often ahead of national targets to end new combustion vehicle sales or registrations. European capitals are leading the way: London has implemented small street-based near-zero-emission zones in three areas and Amsterdam and Paris have announced plans for citywide ZEZs in 2030. Cities are also leveraging their unique authority over public and private fleets to accelerate EV uptake in high-visibility segments. Paris has set the goals of having a 90% electric municipal fleet in 2021 and 100% zero-emission public transportation in 2025.