European EV Market Currently Favors City Cars and Supercars

By · October 10, 2012

Renault Zoe, next year's leader

The Renault Zoe could become next year's leading EV.

Cars that use stop-start (no-idle) systems have become popular in Europe in recent years. In Paris or London, it's now very common not to hear anything next to several cars stopped at a light, before they all start at about the same time when the light turns green. Many of us are hoping for a similar rise in adoption of cars that remain silent even after they start moving. But it's now obvious this will take longer than previously thought. The electric car is not slow on the road, but it is moving very slowly in the marketplace. Yet, we can already see the segments of the market where EVs are most likely to get a sizable share of the market.

Citroen C-Zero, this car has been driven all around the world

The Citroen C-Zero has been driven all around the world.

The compact car segment, where the Nissan LEAF is firmly planted, may not be one of them. This is the most popular segment in Europe, but Nissan will sell fewer than 10,000 cars in the whole of Europe this year. The manufacturer has confirmed the 2013 model will see some changes, but it will need many changes and a price reduction to convince more buyers. Other manufacturers don't have much expectations for this segment either. The Ford Focus Electric was at the Paris motor show, and Ford's facing hard times in Europe right now, but it knows that this car will not reverse its fortune here. It's doubtful Ford will even try to sell it in all European countries. The same thing holds true for the Mercedes B-class Electric Drive, which may turn out to be a limited production model, only intended to comply with regulations in California.

The real market could be in small city cars. The electric Smart has just been launched in Europe, and initial orders are promising. Volkswagen will begin selling its electric Up!, its smallest model, before the electric Golf. But the volume leader could be the Renault Zoe.

Smart electric drive

Smart electric drive

The family car market is virtually non-existent. So far this year, sales of the Renault Fluence Z.E. are less than half of those of the Nissan LEAF. Tesla Motors wasn't at the Paris motor show, and that was a surprise, because they were there last time. Maybe they're afraid of negative comments from wild European journalists, or perhaps they came to the rightful conclusion that there is no market in Europe for an expensive family car like the Model S. A 150-mph BMW 525d has a 700 miles range and it's half the price of Model S with the big battery. Cars are mostly diesels in this segment in Europe, and they're all long range. Mercedes sells its E300 diesel hybrid with 1,000 miles of range (check this video), so it would be hard to get anyone impressed with a 300-mile range EV. Ultimately, a 130-mile range car like the Renault Zoe would be more satisfying because hardly anyone would try to drive long distances with it.

Finally, there are the electric supercars I wrote about last week. They provide strong acceleration, stunning good looks, with their owners mostly using them for short high-thrill rides. The market may change in the not-too-distant future, but that's what it looks like today.

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