China and Norway Lead the World’s EV Switchover

The U.S. government recently backed down from enacting tough new measures that would have forced automakers to quadruple their sales of electric vehicles by 2030. Even if Washington hadn’t buckled to outside pressure, the U.S. ambitions for 2030 would not have been exceptional. The move would have raised market share of all-electric vehicles in the U.S. to a level still well below 20 percent. Meanwhile, there is a growing group of nations with their sights set much higher. China, for one, is expected to meet its own 2030 EV adoption target: 40 percent of vehicles sold. By decade’s end, China is expected to be selling only EVs in regions like the island province of Hainan. Norway, more ambitiously still, aims to eliminate sales of new ICE vehicles by 2025. (Eighty percent of new vehicles sold there, as of 2022, are EVs.)

It stands to reason that Norway is far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of EV adoption. Norway has been working, with a consistent program of government funding and incentives, toward getting EVs on its roads since the 1990s. Early government investment in charging infrastructure went a long way toward soothing the range anxiety that made car buyers in other places reluctant to make the switch to battery power from gasoline or diesel.

Globally, according to research by the Rocky Mountain Institute, EVs will comprise two-thirds of the world’s car sales by 2030. However, according to the World Resources Institute, “EVs need to account for 75 percent to 95 percent of passenger vehicle sales by 2030 in order to meet international climate goals aimed at keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).”

According to the WRI’s analysis, above, Iceland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and China are the leading EV adopters after Norway. But as of 2022, there was still a major gap between the top spot and the countries trailing behind, the WRI found. Forty-one percent of Iceland’s auto sales, 32 percent of Sweden’s, 24 percent of the Netherlands’, and 22 percent of China’s were EVs. The nations in this group, however, have made pledges that would narrow the gap by 2030. Analysts are optimistic that electric vehicle sales will reach the levels necessary to help avert climate disaster. WRI adds that because the average annual growth rate in EV sales was 65 percent over the past five years, the world needs an average annual growth rate of only 31 percent through 2032.

Who’s aiming to achieve what by decade’s end?

Thirty-three countries are signatories of the Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero agreement for heavy- and medium-duty vehicles like tractor-trailers, buses, and box trucks. The group’s member states are “working together to enable 100 percent zero-emission new truck and bus sales by 2040 with an interim goal of 30 percent zero-emission vehicle sales by 2030.”

More than a dozen European nations are signatories of the pact; their membership dovetails with the European Union’s promise to reduce the continent’s average vehicle CO2 emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2040.

Germany has not signed on to the Drive to Zero agreement, But that hasn’t stopped it from pursuing its own set of ambitious goals. The German government wants all new vehicles for its government-owned fleet to be “environmentally friendly drive technologies” by 2030, and has set a 2025 deadline by which at least half of those vehicles will be EVs.

(For more on what other countries’ plans are, check out the International Energy Agency’s Global EV Policy Explorer page.)

Demand for battery-powered vehicles has risen steadily as advances in battery technology and production have brought the purchase prices of EVs down. EVs are at the point where their sticker prices have fallen or will soon fall below those of comparable vehicles with internal combustion engines. According to analysis by the Energy Innovation and System Transition project, that milestone will likely be reached this year in Europe. Cost parity between battery- and petrol-powered vehicles will happen by 2026 in the U.S. and 2027 in India, say EEIST researchers.

If those sunny forecasts hold up, they certainly won’t hinder other national EV adoption goals. The EU has targeted a fivefold boost of EV presence on its roads, from roughly 8 million today to 40 million by 2030. To make sure EV availability won’t fall short, Europe is planning to turn to Chinese manufacturers as a backstop. The EU says its countries will import more than a million EVs a year from China in order to help the continent reach its environmental targets. Meanwhile, strong government policy and financial incentives from these countries are laying the groundwork for a more robust EV industry to hit the marketplace as the cost of EV ownership continues to fall.

Not to be outdone, India’s government has enacted an enhanced EV adoption strategy featuring generous incentives it predicts will allow electric vehicle sales there to catch up with those in China and EU nations by 2030.

Downsides to the forecasts

But not all skies are sunny. Though it’s clear that ess carbon in the atmosphere coming from tailpipe exhaust is a win for the planet, not everyone shares the belief that all-electric transportation is the panacea it is chalked up to be. Among those suggesting a measured approach that takes factors such as the local availability of natural resources into account is economist David S. Rapson, a professor at the University of California, Davis. “It is quite possible that, absent technological advancement, the costs of mitigating greenhouse gasses through electrification can rise above current estimates of the social cost of carbon or, more significantly, above alternative approaches to mitigating climate change,” says Rapson. “If such an outcome does arise, policies that rigidly adhere to 100 percent [EV adoption] targets could prove extremely costly and ultimately counterproductive.”

Pushback against such government targets is happening beyond U.S. borders. Canada ‘s Liberal government issued a draft in 2022 calling for 20 percent of new light vehicles sold there to be zero-emission vehicles by 2026. The plan seeks to raise that figure to 60 percent by 2030. But Canada might have a fight on its hands that mirrors what the U.S. government was up against before its about-face.

Tim Reuss, president of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, told Wards Auto that, “With the current high interest rates and high inflation severely impacting consumer affordability, many consumers lack the means to purchase EVs, as evidenced by the rising inventory levels on our members’ lots. Instead of attempting to dictate what individuals have to purchase, we suggest government focus on creating the right set of circumstances to stimulate demand.” Canada might be forced to lower its EV adoption trajectory before all is said and done. Russia’s government, which will likely see little if any pushback, says it is instituting measures that will result in electric vehicles comprising 10 percent of the country’s overall vehicle production by 2030.