economy

The countries most ready for electric cars

By Jeremy Williams

Sustainable transport begins with active transport and then public transport, but cars will remain important for the foreseeable future. We have to stop burning oil in those cars if there is to be any hope of protecting a liveable climate, and that is a deeply embedded habit to unpick. It’s well worth keeping an eye on who is leading on this, and what we can learn from them.

The Global Electric Mobility Readiness Index, or GEMRIX, is an attempt to track the transition internationally, and it sorts countries into a variety of categories.

At the top comes Norway in a league of its own. As I’ve written about before, Norway began the journey into electric mobility decades before anyone else. The first incentives for EVs were introduced in 1990. That headstart makes them the only country today where over half of new car sales are electric. They won’t be alone in that for long mind you.

Below Norway in the index is a group of countries where EVs are “on the verge” of the mainstream. In order, they are:

  • China
  • Germany
  • Singapore
  • UK

In these places, buying electric is a viable decision for ordinary drivers, and it’s not just for the brave and the pioneering anymore. I see this on my own street, where I have been watching the adoption among my neighbours. Out of 200 or so houses on the street, there are now six EVs and four homes with charging points. All the charge points are new this year.

GEMRIX identifies a third category as ’emerging markets, where charging infrastructure is still catching up and owning an EV is possible but riskier. Local differences make it easier in some places of course, and the United States is a very big country to make generalisations about.

  • US
  • Japan
  • UAE
  • Thailand

Behind those four are the countries just beginning the transition, such as India, Brazil or Mexico.

It will be interesting to see how places shift in these rankings. I expect some places will slip up. EV ‘readiness’ feels fairly fragile in the UK, and we’re at an important moment where we can either lean into the change and accelerate it or cave in and hold it back. The AA warns that a lot of drivers could be left behind if we don’t up our game on street chargers, and surveys show that scepticism remains. There is immense lobbying power in the status quo, and antipathy towards EVs in some segments of the media makes them an easy target at the moment. I suspect that the car manufacturers are invested enough for the transition to be more or less inevitable, so the real question is how fast it will happen. A lot will depend on government leadership in the coming months. (If you’re living in the UK right now, I heard your sigh from here at the words ‘government leadership’.)

There’s going to be accelerating change too of course. China has a habit of building infrastructure incredibly fast, and I wonder how long it will be before they catch up to Norway and take first place – just as they have with almost every other low-carbon technology. India has rowed back on its incredibly ambitious target of all electric vehicles by 2030, but big gains in air pollution are making a compelling case for EVs. Indian companies are launching vehicles for the domestic market, often with affordable cars, scooters and three-wheelers, rather than the luxury market that dominates in Europe.

Electric cars will not fix the climate, but the climate will not be fixed without electric cars. It’s going to be a story to keep an eye on.

First published in The Earthbound Report.

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