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Global electric vehicles sales grew 41% in 2020 even as overall vehicle sales fell

Data: International Energy Agency; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

U.S. electric car sales more than doubled in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2020, but check out the chart above — the domestic market remains small compared to Europe and China.

The big picture: Those are two takeaways from new International Energy Agency data out this morning on global electric vehicle markets.


Overall, global EV sales (including plug-in hybrids and fully electric models) grew 41% last year even as overall vehicle sales fell. But EV sales declined slightly in the U.S. last year.

  • Sales are picking up speed in the U.S. and other markets so far in 2021, rising 140% globally in Q1 compared to the first three months of 2020.
  • Overall, there were about 10 million electric cars on the world's roads at the end of last year, plus some 1 million electric vans, heavy trucks and buses, IEA said.

Why it matters: "Current sales trends are very encouraging, but our shared climate and energy goals call for even faster market uptake," IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

  • The biggest growth is coming in Europe and China, where government regulation and support are strongest.

The intrigue: At a 30,000-foot level, IEA sees a mixed picture when it comes to EVs globally.

  • Under current policies and trends, the number of electric vehicles on the world's roads (including buses and trucks but excluding two- and three-wheelers) reaches 145 million in 2030, about 7% of the total fleet, IEA projects.
  • Under its Sustainable Development Scenario, which is roughly aligned with the Paris Agreement goals, that 2030 total would reach 230 million.

One big question: How big automakers' EV aspirations do or don't translate into reality.

  • The report has a helpful compendium of major manufacturers' EV targets (scroll down on this page).
  • Those ambitions, if realized, would make global sales largely aligned with IEA's Sustainable Development Scenario.

What we're watching: How much — or how little — the White House can influence the U.S. trajectory in the years ahead.

  • While sales are growing this year, the White House is asking Congress for greatly expanded consumer incentives and funding for charging infrastructure.

Go deeper: The mad scramble for electric vehicle batteries

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