Electric car sales surged 140 per cent in the first quarter of the year, with China emerging as the biggest spender, according to the International Energy Agency.
Around 500,000 electric vehicles (EV) were sold in China, the largest market for automobiles globally, followed by 450,000 across Europe, the Paris-based agency said in its Global EV Outlook 2021 report.
Sales in the US also doubled compared to the same three-month period last year. However, the increase was from a relatively lower base, the IEA said.
Higher EV sales this year come as demand for sustainable transport options grows. In 2020, consumer spending on EVs hit $120 billion while car registrations rose 41 per cent amid the pandemic.
EV sales received a boost as governments enforce measures to control pollution and embrace net-zero emission targets.
A record fall in emissions due to pandemic-led mobility restrictions last year has also led to a growing awareness about the health of the planet, prompting policy makers to opt for a more sustainable post-Covid recovery.
“Even before the pandemic many countries were strengthening key policies such as CO2 emissions standards and zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates,” the IEA said in the report.
“By the end of 2020, more than 20 countries had announced bans on the sales of conventional cars or mandated all new sales to be ZEVs.”
Global car sales fell 6 per cent in 2020, but around 3 million EVs were sold, accounting for a 4.6 per cent share in vehicle sales.
The IEA report noted that Europe overtook China as the largest market for EVs last year. However China still saw the largest number of sales for electric cars in the first quarter of 2021.
Globally, government support for the industry waned over the past five years as EVs become more mainstream. However, this picked up again following the pandemic.
Last year, governments committed to spend $14bn to support the EV industry, up 25 per cent from 2019 and driven largely by commitments in Europe.
EU governments provided additional incentives to safeguard EV sales from the pandemic-led economic downturn. China paused its planned phase-out of a subsidy program to boost sales of EVs in the country.
EV sales also benefitted from the growing range of models for the sector, coupled with declining costs for batteries.
“Out of the world’s top 20 vehicle manufacturers, which represented around 90 per cent of new car registrations in 2020, 18 have stated plans to widen their portfolio of models and to rapidly scale up the production of light-duty electric vehicles,” the IEA said in the report.
EVs are also expanding to cover sectors such as heavy-duty vehicles, with four major truck manufacturers planning to convert future models to run on electricity.
The IEA stressed that the global market share for EVs could substantially gain from stronger adoption of climate goals.
In its sustainable development scenario, the Paris-based agency expects to see 230 million EVs, including two- and three-wheelers on the roads by 2030.