Why U.K. Electric Vehicle Sales Are Exploding in 2015

nissan Leaf Miles Willis/Getty Images
Miles Willis/Getty Images

While electric vehicle sales have seen better days (and months and years) in the U.S., the opposite is the case across the Atlantic. U.K. plug-in sales improved 139% in the first nine months of 2015 according to government agency Go Ultra Low, marking an unprecedented leap for the EV segment. What British consumers have that Americans don’t comes down to practicality in available vehicles, and the edge has allowed the segment to crack 1% of the total market.

The contrast begins with the U.K.’s best-selling plug-in, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Combining utility, vehicle clearance, and storage capacity with over 20 miles of pure electric range, this model is a smash hit among Englanders. Go Ultra Low reports 9,303 models have sold through three quarters in 2015, which would make the electrified Outlander the best-selling plug-in hybrid on the U.S. market.

However, the scale of things would more likely make the race a blowout. The nearest runner-up to Mitsubishi’s PHEV would be the Chevy Volt, which sold 9,264 units through the same period. Before you consider the race neck-and-neck, it’s important to note the U.K. auto market did not break 2.5 million vehicles in 2014. Compared to the 16 million-plus cars sold in America, it’s not even close, and plug-in hybrids like this model have been powering the European EV market the entire year.

Nonetheless, zero-emissions electric cars are also holding their own in the U.K. The Nissan Leaf is second in 2015 with 4,285 sales followed by the BMW i3 with 1,564 sales. These models have fared much better in the U.S. despite an equivalent in EV incentives across the pond, where a 5,000-pound ($7,743) credit remains in place. All things considered, the superior plug-in hybrid market overseas is carrying the day.

Miles Willis/Getty Images
Miles Willis/Getty Images

While the list begins with the Outlander hybrid, it continues with popular PHEVs like the Audi A3 e-tron and Volkswagen Golf GTE. A few of these models have been promised and/or confirmed for U.S. release, but their rollouts have included numerous delays. (At last check, the Outlander PHEV was confirmed for Spring 2016 in the U.S.)

Americans are preferring crossovers and traditional SUVs more and more every year, so it might seem impossible that no automaker has tapped the plug-in utility vehicle market yet. Low-volume availability for the Tesla Model X, Volvo XC90 T8, and other vehicles don’t suggest this factor will change meaningfully anytime soon.

Would the Outlander PHEV sell at the same volume (or a much higher one, according to scale) in America as it has in the U.K.? That question is impossible to answer, but the conditions — including various PHEV incentives — are already in place. Thus far, practical plug-in hybrids are the difference between a robust EV market overseas and a sluggish one in the U.S.

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