FRANKFURT -- Registrations of full-electric cars in Europe rose 58 percent to 130,297 in the first quarter, but still only accounted for 4.3 percent of total registrations, industry data showed.
Overall sales of passenger cars in the European Union, UK and countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) fell by 53 percent in the same period, when many showrooms were closed due to lockdowns to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the ACEA auto association said on Tuesday.
Of the 3.05 million new cars registered in the first three months of the year, 52 percent were gasoline and 28 percent were diesel, according to ACEA's report on registrations by fuel type.
Germany was Europe's top market for battery-powered car registrations, with a 63 percent rise to 26,030 units. France was No. 2 with sales rising 146 percent to 25,950 and the UK was in third place with registrations up 204 percent of 18,256. In Norway, previously Europe's No. 1 market for EVs, sales declined 12 percent to 6,347.
Automakers need to sell more electric vehicles after EU lawmakers in December 2018 ordered them to cut CO2 emissions by 40 percent between 2007 and 2021, and then by a further of 38 percent by 2030, or face fines.
Average emissions from new cars should not exceed 95 grams of CO2 per km by 2021. In 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available, the total was 120.4 grams per km, according to the European Environment Agency.
Analysts at PA Consulting have forecast that, based on 2018 fleet average emission levels, manufacturers would need to sell more than 2.5 million extra electric cars, or a sales increase of 1,280 percent by 2021.
Automakers are readying new electric and hybrid models to try to meet the targets.
Volkswagen Group said in March 2019 it planned to launch almost 70 new electric models by 2028, starting with its ID3 model which is set to hit showrooms in Europe in the summer.
BMW has said it plans to offer 25 electrified models by 2023, with more than half being full electric and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plans to offer 12 electrified models by 2021, including both hybrid and full electric vehicles of all types.
However, a lack of charging infrastructure will continue to hamper sales, and electric car sales will not overtake gasoline and diesel models in the five largest western European markets until 2030, forecasters at LMC Automotive have said.
The ACEA statistics showed quarterly sales of plug-in hybrid cars rose by 127 percent to 97,913 vehicles, with Germany again leading the way with a 258 percent leap to 26,419 cars.
With economies facing deep recessions and consumer confidence plunging, analysts fear it could get harder to persuade drivers to embrace change.
In Germany, Europe's largest car market, showrooms have been open since late April, but demand is massively down and inventory levels unusually high in what is usually the strongest sales period, German dealership association ZDK said.
Demand is down by at least 50 percent from a year earlier, according to more than half of the 1,357 dealers polled by ZDK.
Shifting more electric cars will be made harder by the backlog of unsold combustion-engined vehicles.
"There are between 750,000 to 1 million unsold cars sitting in German dealerships, the vast majority of them are conventional gasoline and diesel cars," ZDK spokesman Ulrich Koester said.