Comparing the Top 5 European countries for electric vehicle adoption

Comparing the Top 5 European countries for electric vehicle adoption

FleetCarma’s John Morland has provided an impressive overview of the EV-market in five European countries. Behind China, many consider Europe a hotbed for electric vehicles. While overall European sales numbers were only up 13%, and exponential growth will be required to meet Europe’s goal of “8 million EVs by the end of 2020,” significant milestones were hit in 2016.

By the end of the year, Norway, the Netherlands, and France each achieved cumulative plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales of more than 100,000. In Norway, plug-in electric vehicles even accounted for more than 33% of new car registrations. Norway, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany account for 82% of the cumulative sales of PEVs in Europe, and we can take a look at these top 5 countries to better understand what’s working and what isn’t.

In this article, we survey each country’s incentives, energy costs (electricity and gasoline), and charging infrastructure.

1) Norway

In March 2016, PEVs reached a market share of 33.5% according to Inside EVs. Every third new car registration for March in Norway was a PEV! Norway’s accomplishment is both surprising and predictable. Contradictory? Yes, but here’s another contradiction: Norway is a major petroleum producer, but almost all its electricity comes from hydro-electric power.

Norway could have gone either way – so what pointed to EVs?

In 1990, a Norwegian coalition government began its support for zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) by introducing exemptions on purchase and import taxes. At that time, the coalition was concerned with improving the local environment and the worldwide climate as well as preserving fossil fuels. Promotion, education, and infrastructure development over the next 26 years seem to have assured today’s successes. Norway’s original goal was to have 100,000 ZEVs on the road by 2020, but as of September 2016, HybridCars reports that there are a total of 121,330 PEVs; plus some hydrogen cell cars.

Norway has high taxes on high emission vehicles, which help to pay for these incentives. Norwegian PEV drivers, in a survey, identified the zero tax incentive for ZEVs as the highest motivator for their purchase. Around 96% of electric car owners in Norway have access to a charging station in their own home or apartment. Additionally, Norway has a well-established charging system for those without access to a charging station or for those travelling extended distances.

The world’s largest EV fast-charging station opened in rural Norway (Nebbenes about 60 km north of Oslo), September 1, 2016.

The average number of charging stations in Norway is 2.4 for every 1,000 registered vehicles.

2) France

France is home to a number of vehicle manufacturers, including Renault, Peugeot, and Citroen, as well as assembly plants for foreign brands. The Renault Zoe alone accounted for almost half of all French PEV sales during 2014. France made tremendous gains in PEV numbers going from less than 10,000 registered PEVs in 2012 to over 100,000 in 2016.

Here’s the current offering—France doesn’t offer indirect incentives at the national level.

  • Environmental bonus or feebate (bonus/malus)—It’s a one-time tax that penalizes (malus) high CO2 emitters and rewards (bonus) low emitters. It can be as high as 27% of the list price to a maximum of 6,300 euros ($6,744 US). The malus revenue finances the bonus.
  • Conversion—Up to 3,700 euros ($3,961 US) applies to diesel car owners who switch to a ZEV.
  • There are various other vehicle taxes that are reduced by varying amounts depending the amount of CO2

A zero emissions vehicle buyer can receive up to 10,000 euros ($10,705 US) for the combined incentives. After this past December’s air quality scare in Paris, Forbes reports that this now applies to light trucks and taxis with a 1,000 euro ($1,070 US) bonus for electric scooters.

Since 2013, the French government has provided funding to assist public charging. Unfortunately, charging availability information for France is limited. The highest density in any of the regions is 0.1 charging points for every 1,000 registered vehicles.

3) The Netherlands

The latest Netherlands plan is to phase out all internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2035. Here’s another contradiction—the Netherlands, home of Shell Oil, proclaims an end to the ICE. However, the EV transition is understandable given that around 90% of the population lives in urban settings whose short travel distances are favorable to PEVs.

Rather than singling out PEVs, the system is based on the level of each vehicle’s CO2 emissions. As in Norway and France, the main incentives are delivered in taxation schemes. The Netherlands has not introduced indirect incentives nationally—they’re at the municipal level.

  • New car registration tax—It’s based on the amount of a vehicle’s CO2 emissions, and is zero for zero emission vehicles, which can save thousands of dollars compared to high CO2 emitting vehicles. Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs) get a graduated reduction.
  • Ownership tax—It’s a tax based on vehicle weight and type of powertrain. ZEVs are exempt from this tax while PHEVs get a weight reduction credit.
  • Tax exemption on private use of company cars—Private use of a company car for more than 500 km adds a taxable benefit to an employees income. Again ZEVs are exempt from this and PHEVs receive a graduated reduction. This is significant because around 90% of PEVs are registered to companies.

Because taxes are based on the size and weight of a vehicle, the most significant benefits are earned on large PEVs. Surprisingly (but understandably), over 50 percent of the PEVs in the Netherlands are SUVs.

In 2016, the government reduced the amount of the exemptions for PHEVs. This tax was significant because it could save a top-percent tax earner from 6,000 to 7,000 euros ($6,600 to $7,700) per year.

The benefit was reduced because many plug-in hybrid owners were running their vehicles on gas or diesel instead of electricity. The government hoped that this move would encourage more BEVs, but instead the Netherlands experienced a 73% drop in sales in the first six months of 2016. The market recovered somewhat by year-end, but overall PEV sales declined.

The charging infrastructure in the Netherlands has been achieved with public-private partnerships. This partnership is a consortium of regional and state-owned electricity grid operators. The average number of charging stations in the Netherlands is 1.1 for every 1,000 registered vehicles.

4) United Kingdom

The UK has car manufacturers such as Vauxhall, Mini, and Land Rover as well as car assembly plants, and is the second largest car market in Europe. The UK doesn’t have an official PEV goal, but unofficially the government has a plan to make PEVs 5% of 2020 car registrations.

The UK has three policies for incentives:

  • The Plug-in Car Grant—Covers 35% of the cost of a car (up to a maximum of £4,500 ($5,600 US) depending on the model) and 20% of the cost of a van, up to a maximum of £8,000 ($9,900 US).
  • Electric vehicles (with CO2 emissions below 100g/km) are exempt from the annual circulation (ownership) tax.
  • Private use of company cars—Reduces the taxable income benefit based on the CO2.

The Plug-in Car Grant is the most important incentive for private cars—in some cases, it can reduce the total cost of EVs below the cost of conventional cars. Indirect incentives are left to the regional governments.

In 2013, the UK government announced a grant of up to 75% of the installation costs of new charging points. The average number of charging stations in the UK is 0.31 for every 1,000 registered vehicles.

5) Germany

Germany is the economic driver of the European Union and a manufacturer of some high-end cars such as BMW, Mercedes, and Audi.  “The car is holy in Germany,” says Sascha Müller-Kraenner, the Berlin-based European representative of The Nature Conservancy.

Germany ranks last of the five in PEV registrations. However, Germany has acted in response to its commitment to the Paris Agreement because, although it has been successful at reducing its overall greenhouse gas emissions by about 21% since 1990, its transportation emissions have increased.

The German government has adopted an incentive and investment program to encourage a switch to PEVs. Additionally, it has approved a push for a Europe-wide ban on ICE cars by 2030. No EU law has resulted, but it has generated some publicity in favour of PEVs.


  • Ownership tax—10-year exemption for BEVs registered before 2016 and a 5-year one for BEVs registered between 2016 and 2020. PHEVs pay the tax, which is lowered in proportion to their lower CO2.
  • Grants—4,000 euros ($4,950 US) for pure electric cars and 3,000 euros ($3,713 US) for hybrids. The grant applies only to cars up to a maximum list price of 60,000 euros ($74,250 US).
  • Private use of company cars—The tax on the taxable benefit to employee income is reduced by a formula involving the capacity of electric energy storage in the vehicle.
  • Minor incentives
    • BEVs exempt from emissions inspection
    • Low interest loans for companies to purchase PEVs


  • Preferential or free parking, access to HOV lanes, and restricted traffic zones for low emission vehicles (electric range of 40 km or more).

Funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure primarily relies on private-public partnerships. The average number of charging stations in Germany is 0.19 for every 1,000 registered vehicles. The following map shows the density of chargers.

For the summary, more detailed information and a number of interesting maps, click to FleetCarma’s article:

  • Different incentives have increased the number of EV’s in these countries (Norway, The Netherlands, France, UK, Germany).


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