The dragging impact of the coronavirus pandemic - combined with the war in Ukraine, rising inflation, and energy and fuel costs - made 2022 a challenging year for car sales.
But the sales of electric cars were virtually untouched, and in fact broke a new record in the European Union, according to figures released this month by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA).
APV surpassed fossil fuels for the first time
Together, alternative propulsion vehicles (APVs) claimed more than half of the EU car market during the last quarter of 2022 (53.1 per cent), with more than 1.3 million cars registered in total.
APVs are vehicles that either do not burn traditional fossil fuels derived from petroleum, such petrol and diesel, or that use a hybrid system that is powered by a fossil fuel engine backed by a renewable energy source, such as electric batteries.
In quarterly terms, the Association said it was the first time that APVs have outperformed petrol and diesel vehicle sales.
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) - pure electric vehicles - also broke records in 2022, taking 12.1 per cent of the total market share, compared to 9.1 per cent in 2021, or 1.9 per cent in 2019.
Hybrid cars did not fare too badly either, achieving a total market share of 22.6 per cent, an increase of 22.2 per cent compared to the same period in 2021.
The last quarter of 2022 - the reference period ACEA uses in the report - was particularly robust for the BEV market, which grew the most.
From the period October to December, EU registrations of new battery electric cars went up by 31.6 per cent, selling 406,890 total units.
Most of the EU markets recorded growth for BEVs, Germany in particular registering 198,293 units sold. France took second place, selling 62,155 units, and Sweden the third with 37,013 registered sales.
The countries with the poorest total BEVs were Cyprus, with only 108 new units sold in 2022, Estonia (202 units) and Bulgaria (325 units).
Cyprus, however, with its modest numbers, recorded the most significant increase in BEV sales compared with 2021 (671.4 per cent more) followed by Latvia (199.2 per cent) and Sweden (84.3 per cent).
Exactly ten years ago, only 0.5 per cent of the entire automotive market was made up of electric cars (BEVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs).
Petrol and diesel continue to lose ground
The report also says that petrol and diesel cars are gradually losing ground. Still, combined, they accounted for more than half of EU car sales in 2022 at 52.8 per cent (16.4 per cent and 36.4 per cent respectively).
Diesel vehicles sales marked a downward trend, decreasing 19.7 per cent, and felt especially sharply in France and Belgium.
In both countries, the number of low-emission zones preventing diesel vehicles from circulating is on the increase.
“Customers are more informed today, we have many, many fewer customers coming to the dealership asking for diesel because they know that it will soon be banned,” Alix Couturier, a sales advisor at Autothivolle, a car dealership group in France, explained.
“Fuel prices also rose above 20 € per litre. Now compare that with an electric car that costs about 1.80 € for 100 kilometres, recharge and maintenance included. You don't need to do any big calculations to realise it is a lot more convenient”.
In France, it is already prohibited for certain diesel and petrol models to circulate in a selected number of cities. Lyon, for example, home to Euronews, will completely prohibit diesel and a large proportion of petrol cars in 2026.
In the EU, the ban is set for 2035
Countries leading the way in electric mobility have not earned their place for granted. Over the years, they have offered financial incentives such as tax reductions and exemptions for those who choose to buy electric vehicles.
In France, the government offers an ecological bonus to help citizens buy cars that operate exclusively on electricity, hydrogen or a combination of both, financing up to €5,000 for individuals to opt for a green option.
“I would say that in 2022, more than one out of every two customers coming to our agency inquired directly about green cars: electrics, hybrids and plug-in hybrid electrics,” said Couturier to Euronews Next.
The transport sector is among the largest contributors to EU greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the European Commission has announced the ban on sales of all combustion engine cars by 2035 to ensure its progress towards its 2050 objective of being climate neutral.
Further growth in Europe’s electric vehicle fleet could help the EU meet emissions reduction targets and ensure progress towards its 2050 objective of being climate neutral.
Which country has more EVs?
The ACEA report did not provide sufficient data to compare the total number of electric cars in the European Union, however, 2021 data from the European Environment Information and Observation Network, can help paint a picture of the industry.
According to their figures, the countries with the highest percentage of new electric cars were Norway (86 per cent), Iceland (64 per cent), Sweden (47 per cent), Denmark (35 per cent) and Finland (32 per cent).
Those with the lowest percentage were: Cyprus (0.8 per cent), Slovakia (2.1 per cent), Czechia (3.3 per cent), Estonia (3.02 per cent), and Poland (3.2 per cent).
The European bloc has one of the strongest electric car markets in the world, only second to China, which also broke records in 2022, doubling its sales compared to the previous year with 5.67 million EVs and plug-in hybrids sold, the China Passenger Car Association said.