Electric vehicle capitals: Accelerating the global transition to electric drive

Published: 2018.10.30

Dale Hall, Hongyang Cui, Nic Lutsey

This briefing provides an update on the cities around the world with the largest electric vehicle markets. We focus on 25 metropolitan areas which each have seen over 20,000 electric vehicle sales through 2017: Beijing, Changsha, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Zhengzhou, China; London, England; Paris, France; Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Bergen and Oslo, Norway; Stockholm, Sweden; and Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, United States. In addition to analyzing the electric vehicle sales and charging infrastructure in these markets, we identify and discuss the unique policies, actions, and programs in place that have enabled this success.

From our analysis of the electric vehicle markets and supporting policy and infrastructure in place in these leading cities, we make the following observations:

Nearly half of the world’s electric vehicles are in 25 cities. As of the end of 2017, these 25 cities were home to nearly 1.4 million of the world’s 3.1 million passenger electric vehicles. These 25 cities, representing just 12% of world passenger vehicle sales, account for 44% of the world’s cumulative electric vehicle sales through 2017. 

The electric vehicle market is accelerating, with China leading the way. Global electric vehicle sales increased by more than 50% from 2016, to about 1.2 million in 2017. The growth has been greatest in China, with half the global electric market and 11 of the 25 top electric vehicle market cities. Major cities like Beijing and Shanghai have implemented strong policies not found outside China, including large incentives and licensing and registration privileges for electric vehicles, to simultaneously tackle congestion and air quality. Other leading markets in Europe and the United States have similar but less extensive versions of the incentives and policy approaches of China.

The top electric markets are beginning to solve the infrastructure challenge. Charging infrastructure buildout is key driver to the growth of the electric vehicle market. Electric vehicle capitals use multi-faceted strategies to spur infrastructure investment, such as adopting building and parking codes to ensure broad access to charging over the longer term. The top 25 electric vehicle markets have, on average, about 24 times the available charging per capita as elsewhere. However, charging availability varies greatly among leading markets. 

A comprehensive policy package is necessary to launch the electric market. Nearly all global electric vehicles (98%) are in China, Europe, Japan, and the United States, which have regulations to ensure electric vehicle model availability, incentives to reduce vehicle price, infrastructure to ensure convenience, and campaigns to educate consumers. Comprehensive local-level policies are also a distinguishing feature of top electric vehicle markets. Although Beijing and Shanghai have uniquely strong electric vehicle licensing policies, many cities in China, Europe, and the United States provide substantial financial and nonfinancial perks. 

Cumulative electric vehicle sales and 2017 passenger vehicle sales in top global electric vehicle markets
Cumulative electric vehicle sales and 2017 passenger vehicle sales in top global electric vehicle markets.