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The U.S. is falling further behind China and Europe in EV production


U.S. President Joe Biden test the new Ford F-150 lightning truck as as he visits VDAB at Ford Dearborn Development Center in Dearborn, Michigan, May 18, 2021.

Leah Millis | Reuters

The US lags behind China and Europe when it comes to production and uptake of electric vehicles domestically, according to a new study by the International Council on Clean Transportation — and that gap widened from 2017 to 2020.

Since 2010, the world’s stock of electric passenger vehicles edged past a cumulative 10 million in 2020, according to the study.

At the end of 2017, automakers based in the US had churned out 20% of the global stock of electric vehicles. By 2020, US automakers represented just 18% of the cumulative amount of electric vehicles produced since 2010, while share of production rose in China and Europe.

From 2010 to 2020, researchers found, China was the largest electric vehicle producer geographically and accounted for about 44% of electric vehicle manufactured with about 4.6 million units in both production and sales during the decade.

Europe produced 25% of global electric vehicles from 2010 to 2020, accounting for the manufacturing of 2.6 million electric vehicles and sales of 3.2 million (making the region a net importer).

Tesla China-made Model 3 vehicles are seen during a delivery event at its factory in Shanghai, China January 7, 2020.

Aly Song | Reuters

Looking at last year alone, US-based automakers produced at least 450,000 electric vehicles with Tesla accounting for about 85% of that output for the year. Annual electric vehicle exports from plants in the US in 2020 exceeded 215,000, the most of any single nation.

Stronger demand overseas than in the states makes it a necessity for electric vehicle makers like Tesla to ship, and set up shop, beyond the US. Companies tend to sell their electric vehicles relatively near the plants where they are assembled.

Electrics (including hybrids and pure battery electric vehicles) made up just 2.3% of new vehicle sales in the US in 2020. Meanwhile, 10% of new vehicle sales in Europe were electrics, and 6% were electrics in China.

That demand overseas is creating a network effect of sorts. Automakers have committed more money, and are making more aggressive plans to set up new plants and sell a greater variety of electric vehicle models overseas than they are in the states, the ICCT study notes.

For example, Volkswagen is expected to have the greatest total electric vehicle production by 2025, based on the company’s announced plans and investments to-date, with no all-electric plants in the US, but several all-electric assembly plants in Europe and China.

And only General Motors and Tesla plan to have vehicle assembly plants dedicated to making electric vehicles only in the U.S. by 2025.

Policies “focused on a transition to zero-emission vehicles,” or a lack thereof, have spurred these trends, ICCT researchers concluded.

In Europe, the study notes, automakers have introduced dozens of new electric models, and greatly increased the volume of electric cars they are making or plan to make, compared to the U.S. in recent years. This move is largely to meet regional vehicle emission standards.

In China, both “demand- and supply-side policies,” helped drive greater production and adoption of electric vehicles, the study found. China has extended a variety of consumer incentives and strengthened regulations that limit internal combustion engine vehicles, while making it easier to buy, register and drive electrics instead. 

Meanwhile, in the US some vehicle efficiency standards were rolled back under President Trump. And federal electric vehicle purchasing incentives began phasing out for automakers with the highest volume of electric vehicle sales, like Tesla and GM.

A new bipartisan infrastructure plan in the U.S. includes $15 billion toward electric vehicle infrastructure, electric buses and transit– a fraction of President Joe Biden’s earlier proposal to spend $174 billion on boosting the electric vehicle market.

Nic Lutsey, Program Director at ICCT said in a statement: “Electric vehicle manufacturing growth happens where there are strong national policies designed to spur the market forward. Hundreds of billions of dollars are on the table and the United States hasn’t even bothered to pull up a chair.”

Read the full study here.


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