Want to boost your EV sales? European cities offer some ideas

Electric vehicles (EVs) offer many benefits for the climate and clean air, but the transition isn’t happening on its own. Past research has shown that a diverse and sustained mix of policies is necessary to successfully spur EV uptake. Leading electric vehicle pioneers like London, Amsterdam, and San Francisco have enacted innovative policies to make electric vehicles more affordable, convenient, and visible to prospective drivers. If we look at the European cities with fastest growing electric vehicle markets between 2018 and 2019, can we find these same types of policies? 

To answer that, we took a look at the policies and actions undertaken in 22 metropolitan regions across 10 countries with the highest relative increase in new private passenger electric vehicle registrations share of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) between 2018 and 2019. These metropolitan regions, identified in the figure below, generally saw greater increases than their national markets, as well as larger relative increases than the European average of 51%. 

Figure 1. European metropolitan regions with a significant increase in EV registrations share between 2018 and 2019.

We can see that 10 of the 22 metropolitan regions more than doubled their new EV registrations share between 2018 and 2019. However, the markets vary greatly in size; the 10% EV share increase in Oslo meant growing from 25,000 EVs registered in 2018 to 28,000 in 2019, while Hulls’ 280% EV share increase meant growing from about 150 to close to 1,500 annual new EV registrations.

So, what can we learn about the EV transition based on these metropolitan regions? We found a number of similarities in the actions and approaches taken in those regions in 2018 and 2019:

Expanding public and private charging infrastructure. The development of a dense, interoperable, and reliable charging infrastructure network has proven successful in many markets. Out of the 18 cities for which we have 2018 and 2019 charging station data, 12 have increased their number of regular chargers by at least 30%, 5 by more than 50%, and Gothenburg and Ghent have doubled their public regular charging, reaching more than 1,600 and about 500 respectively. Many of these cities have also taken actions to make charging more convenient and cost effective. Enschede allows its residents to request a public charging station near their home for free and Málaga City Council has installed chargers in all municipal car parks. Additionally, Bern, Liège, and Tampere introduced new subsidies to support the installation of chargers, and Vienna and Linz tripled their home charger installation subsidy. 

Introducing local electric vehicle subsidies and incentives. Most of the metropolitan regions assessed offer city-level electric vehicle subsidies and incentives, building on the national financial incentives present in most European markets. Many cities, such as Leeuwarden, Bern, Málaga, and Marseille, increased or introduced local subsidies in 2018. Beyond financial subsidies, provide additional benefits to EV drivers. For example, Santander introduced free parking for electric vehicles. 

Electrifying municipal fleets. Public fleets are promising targets for electrification given their predictable schedules and ability to charge at depots. They also represent an outsized opportunity to increase the visibility of electric vehicles. In 2018, most of the cities surveyed had taken actions to electrify their public vehicle fleets. Nine of the 22 cities, including Bern, Ghent, Gothenburg, and Marseille, have all taken steps to electrify their municipal bus fleets. Lausanne has deployed electric garbage trucks, and Linz now uses electric fire trucks. Aschaffenburg, Leeuwarden, and Swansea have electrified their light-duty council fleets.

Communicating city programs, strategies, and the benefits of electric vehicles. Cities have found it valuable to directly address questions or outline actions taken to make electric vehicle drivers’ life easier. In 2018, Besançon held a “Meeting about electric mobility” aimed at answering questions such as How can I deal with the driving range? How can I install a charger in my garage? and What subsidies do I have access to? Another valuable communication tool is the publication of commitments and adopted strategies at the city level. In 2018, Bern published a roadmap setting electrification goals and Vienna published its “Mission 2030” which set goals for fleets’ electrification.

Planning for the implementation of zero-emission zones. Out of the 22 cities, about half have already established low-emission zones. Well-designed low-emission zones can be successful in reducing air pollution, but they may not be enough to achieve many local air quality and greenhouse gas targets. Some cities are moving to implement zero-emission zones that prohibit internal combustion engine vehicles in certain areas. The two cities with the highest electric vehicle registrations share in 2019, Bergen and Oslo, plan to introduce zero-emission zones by 2030. 

The policies and actions identified above are also present in other local markets that have significantly increased their electric vehicle uptake in the past years. However, national-level policies are also required in order to significantly increase EV uptake. These include policies to bridge the cost gap between internal combustion engine vehicles and EVs, policies to spur charging infrastructure buildout, and programs to promote consumer awareness. The CO2 emission standards for passenger cars and vans in Europe are also an important component of the transition away from internal combustion engine vehicles and are driving the accelerated electric vehicle uptake across Europe in 2020.

There are many signs that point to continued EV market growth in these metropolitan regions and across Europe beyond 2020. For example, France, Germany, Spain, Austria, and Italy all have released economic recovery packages in response to COVID-19 which provide more incentives for electric vehicles. But cities will always have a key role to play in the electric vehicle transition, and the experiences of these fast-growing EV markets from Spain to Finland further reinforce our tried-and-true advice: a sustained mix of incentives, infrastructure, fleet leadership, and long-term targets is a winning strategy.

Cities Europe