European Electric Car Sales Growth Will Slow Before Spurting, While China Lurks

Sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are exploding in Western Europe, but growth will slow over the next couple of years, restrained by the semiconductor shortage, and actions by manufacturers who will seek to push demand for internal combustion engine (ICE) powered vehicles before European Union regulations destroys ICE profitability.

Tesla TSLA +1.6% will retain its lead in BEV sales and profitability and only the best of traditional manufacturers like VW and Mercedes look like posing a serious challenge.

Meanwhile, Chinese carmakers, which tried and failed to penetrate Europe markets with traditional ICE cars, look like being much more of a threat with electric ones.

In Western Europe, BEVs are now linked with big numbers. Recently, sales passed one million in the year, while Germany recently announced there were now 1 million BEVs on its roads. BMW announced in early December it had sold its 1 millionth electric vehicle and plans to reach 2 million by 2025.

Western Europe includes the big markets of Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain.

BEV sales more than doubled in 2020 to just under 750,000 and jumped again this year with sales of 1,143,000, according to Schmidt Automotive Research, representing a market share of 10.3%. The pace of growth will slow though with market share rising to 12.0% in 2022, 13e.0% in 2023 and 15.0% in 2024, before jumping 5 points to 20.0% in 2025 and an estimated total of 2,860,000.

Fitch Ratings warns that even though the number of available electric cars and SUVs is increasing and battery technology is improving, range anxiety is still an issue, and a slow expansion of the charging infrastructure could impede a major step-up in EV sales.

In addition, EV profitability does not yet match that of ICE vehicles and (manufacturers) earnings and cash flows will remain burdened by further heavy technology investments over the next several years,” Fitch Ratings said in a report.

“Margin dilution from a higher share of EVs has been manageable for carmakers as government subsidies enticed EV buyers, but a gradual removal of the incentives could weigh on profitability in the medium term, diluting manufacturers’ margins but helping them to avoid (excess CO2) fines (from the EU). We also expect greater competition for European carmakers from new entrants, notably China,” Fitch Ratings said.

According to David Leah, analyst with LMC Automotive, the number of Chinese electric models in Europe has more than doubled over five years and government backing at home has given them a competitive advantage.

“This has allowed Chinese (manufacturers) to develop more competitive battery technology, as well as control large parts of the battery material chain, thus enabling them to achieve greater economies of scale. BEV prices have halved in China during the last 8 years, whilst increasing by 42%-55% in the West,” Leah said.

“As a result, Western (manufacturers) are playing catch up in the mass market BEV space, and the growing threat of new entrants has forced Western companies to reassess their competitiveness as competition intensifies,” Leah said.

Prospects for BEV sales won’t have been helped by news Wednesday one of the biggest selling electric cars in Europe, the Renault Zoe, was awarded zero stars in the Euro NCAP safety ratings, and the Dacia Spring only 1 star. Dacia is Renault’s value brand which uses mainly old technology to cut prices to the bone. Most modern vehicles score 5 stars in these tests.

Investment bank UBS expects strong global BEV sales, with Tesla remaining the undisputed leader.

“In 2021, Tesla has gapped away further from all others in terms of volume growth and margins, and Tesla’s lead should be undisputed in 2022 as battery cell supply could emerge as the next bottleneck for the industry,” UBS analyst Patrick Hummel said in a report.

“We expect global BEV sales to grow by about 60% again in 2022, reaching 7 million or 8% share globally. Only the fastest moving (traditional manufacturers) can avoid further bleeding to Tesla, such as Mercedes-Benz and VW Group. As BEV demand will likely continue to exceed supply, BEV pricing will be very solid and therefore margin parity vs. ICE cars reached over the next 1-2 years,” Hummel said.

And Schmidt Automotive Research said the slowing in BEV market share to 2024 is the result of manufacturers seeing a window to push profitable ICE vehicle sales before EU regulations on CO2 tighten. More regulation in 2027 will have a similar impact before BEV demand wins again, as ICE profit margins disintegrate.

Schmidt Automotive reckons BEV sales will gradually accelerate again and reach a market share of 60.0% by 2030, or 8.4 million vehicles.  VW has said its European BEV sales will hit 70% by 2030 while Ford Europe and Jaguar have set a 100% target.

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Source: European Electric Car Sales Growth Will Slow Before Spurting, While China Lurks

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