Europe’s carmakers are gearing up to make 2020 the year of the electric car, according to automotive analysts, with a wave of new models launching as the world’s biggest manufacturers scramble to lower the carbon dioxide emissions of their products.
Previous electric models have mostly been targeted at niche markets, but 2020 will see the launch of flagship electric models with familiar names, such as the Mini, the Vauxhall Corsa and the Fiat 500.
The number of electric vehicle (EV) models available to European buyers will jump from fewer than 100 to 175 by the end of 2020, according to data firm IHS Markit. By 2025 there will be more than 330, based on an analysis of company announcements.
The new supply will cater to a rapidly expanding market as demand for petrol-powered vehicles gradually recedes. UK EV sales will rise from 3.4% of all vehicles sold in 2019 to 5.5% in 2020 – or from 80,000 this year to 131,000 in 2020 – according to forecasts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. By 2026 electric vehicle sales will account for a fifth of sales in the UK, the forecasts show. Similar predictions from LMC Automotive suggest 540,000 electric cars will be sold across the EU in 2020, up from 319,000 over the course of 2019.
New European Union rules come into force on 1 January that will heavily penalise carmakers if average carbon dioxide emissions from the cars they sell rise above 95g per kilometre. If carmakers exceed that limit, they will have to pay a fine of €95 (£79) for every gram over the target, multiplied by the total number of cars they sell.
The excess emissions bill would have been £28.6bn on 2018 sales figures, according to analysis by the automotive consultancy Jato Dynamics, illustrating the extent of the change required by carmakers over a short period of time. Jato analyst Felipe Muñoz said there will still be large fines, as companies keep selling profitable internal combustion engine cars and struggle to bring down EV prices to parity with their fossil-fuel peers.
“It is very difficult for carmakers to change manufacturing infrastructure in such a short period of time,” Muñoz said.
However, some analysts take a more sceptical view of the industry that spawned the Dieselgate scandal, in which Volkswagen and Daimler were shown to have deliberately cheated emissions regulations. Carmakers successfully lobbied for a rule that means cars emitting less than 50g of carbon dioxide per kilometre are eligible for so-called super-credits, a controversial policy which means that every electric vehicle sold counts as two cars. That makes it easier for carmakers to meet their targets, even if average emissions from their cars are actually higher than the rules stipulate.
“A lot of action has been postponed until [the carmakers] need to,” said Julia Poliscanova, the clean vehicles director at the campaign group Transport & Environment. “What they’re planning to produce is more or less what they need to hit their CO2 targets.”
Multiple new electric car models will go on sale just in time to qualify for EU regulations. In November the first of Volkswagen’s ID.3 cars rolled off a new electric production line in Zwickau, eastern Germany, that will be able to produce 330,000 vehicles a year by 2021. The first of BMW’s Mini Electric models, made in Oxford, will arrive in showrooms in March. Vauxhall, owned by France’s PSA Group, will start production of its Corsa-e in January, with sales to begin in March.
Sales of pure electric vehicles will still be dwarfed by those of cars with conventional fossil-fuel engines, as well as hybrids that use both battery and internal combustion power. However, the electric vehicle surge is likely to contribute to significant price reductions, as carmakers compete for buyers beyond the early adopters willing to pay a premium.
Consultants at Deloitte estimate the market will reach a tipping point in 2022, when the cost of ownership of an electric car is on par with its internal combustion engine counterparts. Separate research by the International Council on Clean Transportation suggested this was already the case in February in five European countries, including the UK.
In the UK, some drivers anxious about the short range of electric vehicles on a single charge will be put off from buying them until the development of charging infrastructure spreads across the country. However, scandals such as Dieselgate have made investors “acutely aware” of the need to increase electric sales and comply with emissions regulations, according to Arlene Ewing, a director at wealth manager Brewin Dolphin.
“Brand is all to a carmaker and failure to meet the deadline may adversely affect their brand, reputation and, ultimately, sales,” she said. “We have seen this before. Consumers tend to be brand loyal.”
Rising demand from consumers has also filtered through to used electric cars: listings website CarGurus found that second-hand prices of some models had risen during 2019. Tom Leathes, the chief executive of rival car sales platform Motorway, said the market was growing “extremely fast”, despite the complications of selling cars that include separately leased batteries.
“We expect this segment to grow year on year for at least another 10 years as electric’s share of the new car market continues to grow exponentially,” Leathes said.
Five electric cars to watch out for in 2020
Price: under £26,000, range: 205 miles, due in early 2020
The “third-generation” mass-market vehicle from the world’s largest carmaker will be swiftly followed by the ID.4 SUV, on the same electric vehicles platform, and production will be carbon neutral, VW claims.
Price: £26,490, range: 209 miles, due in April 2020
Along with the Mini, the Corsa is one of the first of the UK’s perennial bestsellers to get an electric makeover. It shares its core parts with Peugeot’s e-208, another of the PSA Group’s key superminis.
Tesla Model Y
Price: about £30,300, range: 230 miles, production to start in summer 2020
The latest model from the company that kicked off the electric car race will be the Model Y, a compact SUV that can fit seven people. The Model Y will eventually be built on the same site as a recently announced Tesla battery plant in Berlin.
Ford Mustang Mach-E
Price: about £35,000, range: 370 miles, expected late 2020
The Mustang Mach-E is aimed at the booming family-friendly SUV market. The car will be the first all-electric vehicle from the US carmaker, which has been slow to develop new sources of power.
Fiat 500 Electric
Price: about £28,000, range: tba, due in late 2020
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been an emissions laggard because of its gas-guzzling Jeep. The company’s first fully electric car, the redesigned 500 Electric, will be made in its Mirafiori factory near Turin, with a right-hand drive version launched late in the year.