Most car brands now offer electric models and e-vehicle prices have dropped, but the sector is still waiting for a breakthrough moment in Europe.
A new JRC analysis on the deployment of electric vehicles (EV) in Europe concludes that the sector evolved significantly between 2010 and 2017, although progress is still small to be characterised as full-scale commercialisation.
In 2010, electric vehicles still represented a niche market. Since then, the brands offering EV models have increased, and European consumers now have a wide choice of electric vehicle models which cover all car types.
Although still small compared to conventional passenger cars, the e-vehicle market share has increased steadily in Europe, with some countries witnessing impressive growth.
In 2017, almost 300 000 electric passenger cars were registered in Europe, against around 1400 in 2010.
Highest numbers were registered in Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, France and the UK.
The e-vehicle market is almost equally divided between battery-charged vehicles and plug-in hybrid cars.
Place for improvement in the electric bus sector
Electric buses offer an environmentally friendly transport alternative, especially in cities. However, the urban bus sector in Europe has yet to experience a full transition to e-mobility.
A European Commission study from 2017 estimated the global electric bus stock to count 173 000 buses, with 98% of the global stock being situated in China.
Between 2010 and 2017, the highest numbers of electric buses in Europe were registered in the United Kingdom (~200), the Netherlands (~175), Belgium (~140), Germany (~90) and Austria (~75).
Recharging infrastructure improving unevenly in different parts of Europe
The availability and development of EV recharging infrastructure is another important factor contributing to the development of e-mobility.
In general terms, the recharging infrastructure has improved in Europe.
More charging points are now available and technological advances have made the recharging faster.
However, the situation is very different from one Member State to another.
The Netherlands, Germany, France and UK have the highest number of charging points, ranging from around 140 000 in the UK to around 325 000 in the Netherlands.
All other European countries have less than 5000 charging points.
Barriers to mass market uptake
Despite the increasing numbers in market penetration, barriers to mass market uptake of e-vehicles still seem to exist.
In some countries the lack of publicly accessible recharging points may have already led to lower consumer confidence in the viability of EVs.
Consumers also tend to be worried about the cost of electric vehicles, issues linked to the driving range and high maintenance costs.
The JRC report points out that some barriers could be linked to consumers' misconceptions about e-vehicles.
One common misconception is that e-vehicles are slower or provide an inferior driving experience compared to traditional cars.
The report also emphasizes that with the evolution of the market and technology, e-vehicles are becoming cheaper, better performing and even faster than expected.
Recommendations for a way forward
Support policies remain important to help the transition to low emission mobility, and incentives can play a catalytic role in EV deployment at this stage.
At the moment, support measures stimulating EV demand are not harmonised in the EU Member States.
This has led to market fragmentation both in terms of the number of EVs on the road and the availability of publicly accessible recharging infrastructure.
The JRC report recommends that support measures are harmonised to promote the use of e-vehicles as well as the development of accessible recharging infrastructures.
Measures supporting interoperability and targeted infrastructure investments are also necessary.
Finally, policies targeting consumer behaviour and raising awareness of low emission mobility can play a major role in the transition towards a near zero emission mobility.
One of the key priorities for the European Union is the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Since transport today still is heavily reliant on fossil fuels and one of the main pollution sources, with an associated major impact on economy and the environment, low- and zero- emission vehicles can have a positive impact on Europe's decarbonisation efforts and also to improve air quality.
In many countries therefore relevant policies and incentive schemes are supporting the transition to electro-mobility.