More full-electric vehicles were sold in Europe last year than plug-in hybrids, but plug-ins are poised to overtake EVs in the near future as more automakers expand their plug-in offerings.
Sales of battery-powered vehicles increased by 73 percent to 58,244 in the EU and EFTA markets in 2014, according to data from industry association ACEA. Volume for plug-ins and extended-range vehicles rose 26 percent to 39,547.
The Nissan Leaf was Europe's top-selling EV last year with a volume of 15,134, up 38 percent on the year before, according to JATO Dynamics. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV was the region's best-selling plug-in hybrid with sales of 19,855, up 141 percent.
The biggest market for EVs in 2014 was Norway, where 18,090 vehicles were sold, up 130 percent, followed by France (up 20 percent to 10,561), Germany (up 41 percent to 8,522) and the UK (up 173 percent to 7,416).
The Netherlands was the biggest market for plug-in hybrids in 2014 with a volume of 9,938, a steep drop from the 19,876 units sold in 2013. The decline came after the Dutch government reduced tax incentives.
The UK was the No. 2 market with sales rising to 7,945 from 1,114, helped by new incentives. Germany, the No. 3 market, saw plug-in vehicle sales rise to 4,596 from 1,665. Poland was the No. 4 market with a volume of 3,887, up from 1,869.
However, plug-in sales are likely pass EV sales as automakers introduce more models with the fuel-saving drivetrain, which can be paired with either a gasoline or a diesel engine.
Plug-in hybrids have similar ranges to conventional fuel-powered cars but can also be driven for short distances with zero emissions on electric power alone, for example in city centers.
Currently 10 out of the 17 plug-in hybrids on sale in Europe are built by German manufacturers. Volkswagen Group, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have identified plug-ins as a strategic response to expected tougher EU CO2 emissions regulations over the next decade.
Volvo also has an aggressive plug-in strategy. The Swedish automaker plans to offer variants with the drivetrain on all model lines.
“By 2015 or 2016, we will actually see an inflection point where global plug-in hybrid production overtakes that of electric vehicles,” said Ben Scott, senior analyst at IHS Automotive.
IHS estimates global plug-in hybrid production will amount to 1.35 million in 2020 and double over the following five years to 2.7 million. This still would only account for 2 percent of all light vehicles built globally. Global sales of battery-electric cars will be below 1 million in 2020, IHS forecasts.