Paris - Demand for electric vehicles soared in the EU last year as buyers took advantage of government subsidies for clean cars aimed at helping manufacturers weather the unprecedented hit from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA).
Some 538,772 fully electric autos were sold across the bloc, up 117 percent from 2019, ACEA said Thursday, while sales of plug-in hybrids more than tripled, to 507,059 from 139,954.
Overall, sales of alternatively-powered cars -- including fuels like ethanol or natural gas -- made up one-fourth (24.5 percent) of the market last year, a figure that climbed to 34 percent for the fourth quarter alone.
European auto sales in 2020 inc. in 4th quarter
"There was a volume effect and prices fell," said Eric Esperance, an analyst at the Roland Berger consulting firm. "Once you've shifted manufacturing lines to electric, your goal is to sell as many vehicles as possible."
"Starting in 2023, prices are going to come into line with petrol models and subsidies will no longer be necessary," he added.
Renault's Zoe hatchback took poll position thanks to strong sales in France and Germany in particular, with nearly 100,000 sold last year on 23 key European markets, according to industry analysis group Jato Dynamics.
Tesla's Model 3 came in second with some 86,000 sold while Volkswagen's ID3 took third place with nearly 56,000, despite launching only last autumn.
Jato expects the ID3 to surpass both rivals this year as VW also rolls out an electric SUV dubbed the ID4 as well as an ID5 coupe.
Petrol and diesel car sales plunged by contrast as recessions prompted by coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions compounded declines prompted by stricter European pollution limits.
Carmakers are shifting en masse to electric and hybrid models in order to bring average fleet emissions under the EU limit of 95 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre, or face heavy penalties.
Diesel sales continued to slump, falling 32 percent over the year to 2.8 million, while petrol-powered cars fared even worse, down 37 percent to 4.7 million.
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The total European auto market contracted by nearly 24 percent last year.
But the ACEA said Wednesday that it expected auto sales to rebound 10 percent this year as the pandemic is brought under control, with electric vehicles leading the way.
By Taimaz Szirniks