Electric vehicles have had a bumper year in 2020 in many global markets. Despite the pandemic causing a huge downturn in car sales in most regions, EV registrations have continued to grow. But the standout winner globally has been the Tesla Model 3. It is now one of the top 20 most purchased cars globally of all types – not just EVs. According to data from Focus2Move and manufacturers, the Tesla Model 3 was the 16th bestselling car in the world in 2020.
The Model 3 sold a total of 439,760 units in 2020, which is even more impressive considering the car was only launched in the US in 2018, and even later in other regions. Sales volume ramped up very quickly indeed. It is now the bestselling EV of all time as well, with over 800,000 units sold overall. It has surpassed the Nissan Leaf, which previously held the top spot but only hit a 500,000 milestone in 2020, despite having a seven-year head start over the Tesla Model 3.
To put that in perspective, the bestselling car in the world in 2020 was the Toyota Corolla, which will come as little surprise to anyone, considering how many you see on the roads in every country. It sold 1,134,262 units globally, showing that internal combustion engine (ICE) cars still dominate, for now. What will be a surprise, however, is that it is not the bestselling car in any of the world’s largest vehicle markets – it is just available in more countries, so they all add up. Toyota has the second spot, too, with the RAV4, and third is the Ford F Series. The latter’s performance is particularly telling because, in complete contrast to the Toyota Corolla, its sales are primarily in the US. This is why the recent announcement of an electric F-150 Lightning is so significant for the US market.
But Tesla’s impressive Model 3 sales are just the headline in a generally positive retail picture for EVs. In Europe, the volume of pure electric and plug-in hybrid registrations increased by 147% compared to 2020, rising from 575,000 units in 2019 to 1.42 million in 2020, according to JATO Dynamics. Top of the list was the Renault Zoe with 99,261 sales, refreshed by a new version released mid-year. The Tesla Model 3 came in second, with 85,713 units. This is particularly impressive considering that the Model 3 is in a luxury price bracket above every other vehicle in the top ten bar the Audi e-Tron, which sold a third as many cars.
The EV story is most rosy in Norway, where eight out of ten new car sales are now electric. In the UK, battery-electric vehicle (BEV) sales were up 185.9% year-on-year in 2020 compared to 2019, and plug-in hybrids up 91.2%, making the overall increase for plug-ins 140% – a little less than the European average. But pure BEVs were clearly the big winners. China is already a mature EV market, with 1.3 million units sold in 2020, but that was still an increase of 8% over 2019, and this is predicted to balloon by 40% to 1.8 million in 2021, so it could be the largest global market again after Europe surpassed it for EVs in 2020. The US was a bit of an outlier, with EV sales dropping from 331,000 units in 2019 to 296,000 in 2020. But with a US Senate panel considering a tax credit of up to $12,500 to further President Biden’s environmental agenda, there could be much greener pastures ahead for electric vehicles in America.
This is likely to be only the start for Tesla’s reign in the global top 20. Both in Europe and in the USA, car markets are dominated by SUVs, which make up 40% or more of sales in both regions. The Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV has only just been released in Europe yet it is already the best-selling EV, nudging the company’s own ID.3 off the top spot in April 2021. More affordable electric SUVs will sell like hot cakes; there just have not been that many of them available until now.
Tesla is not in this market in most regions yet. Tesla’s first SUV, the Model X, was too premium to be a volume seller. The Model Y only began US deliveries in March 2020, China started deliveries in January 2021, and the car is not due to make its debut in Europe until the end of 2021 or 2022. Europe and the USA each made up 17 million of the global 88-million-unit car sales total in 2019, with China a further 25 million. Once the Model Y has a whole year of global sales under its belt in all three of these regions, it could also enter the top 20 globally – and even soar past the Model 3. The electric vehicle is no longer a niche. The EV is very clearly going mainstream now, and ICE’s hold on the car market is starting to melt.