Global electric vehicle sales look set to crash this year, and the coronavirus pandemic won’t be the only culprit. Total EV sales will plunge 43 percent in 2020, according to new research from Wood Mackenzie.
The 2020s are the decade in which EVs are expected to move from the margin of the global auto market to its fast lane, as battery pack prices tumble, driving ranges extend and charging infrastructure becomes more sophisticated and widespread. But the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic shockwaves have not made for a good start.
WoodMac now expects global EV sales of 1.3 million units in 2020, nosediving from a record 2.2 million units sold last year.
The coronavirus pandemic deserves much of the blame. In China, the world’s largest EV market, sales of all types of cars fell 21 percent in January compared to last year, and by an eye-watering 80 percent in February. Things were even worse for EVs, with February sales projected to be down more than 90 percent.
“Most new EV buyers are still first-time owners of the technology,” Ram Chandrasekaran, principal analyst for transportation and mobility at Wood Mackenzie, said in a research note. “The uncertainty and fear created by the outbreak have made consumers less inclined to adopt a new technology.”
“Once the epidemic is contained in China, we suspect consumers will flock back to car dealers and reaffirm their confidence in EVs.”
The bounce-back could take longer in Europe and North America, where the COVID-19 outbreak is several months behind China's trajectory.
“The first lockdown in the U.S. did not start until March 20, but the effects have already begun to show in EV sales,” Chandrasekaran said. “General Motors is offering a discount of $10,000 for its Chevrolet Bolt. Further such rebates are sure to follow to move inventory as demand drops [more].”
Other factors are contributing to skidding EV sales, including the collapse of oil prices and a relative lack of new EV models set for commercial release this year, Chandrasekaran said.
Tesla's ambitious 2020 goal looks questionable
Tesla, the world’s highest-profile EV manufacturer and the dominant player in the U.S. market, is an exception to the lack of new models on the market, having last month started deliveries of its Model Y, a compact crossover utility vehicle built on the Model 3 sedan platform. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has mused that Model Y could outsell Model S, Model X and Model 3 combined.
Tesla roared into 2020, putting up unexpectedly strong EV delivery numbers in the first quarter after turning out the first vehicles at its new factory in Shanghai, known as Gigafactory 3. But its share price has fallen by 40 percent since achieving an all-time high in February, amid manufacturing disruptions and economic concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak. (The stock has still doubled over the past year.)
Tesla idled production at its Fremont, California EV factory last month, raising serious questions about the company's ambitious goal to hit 500,000 vehicle deliveries this year — concerns Musk has not yet addressed. Most of the workforce has been sent home at Nevada’s Gigafactory, where Tesla makes battery packs and other components with its partner Panasonic. Tesla has reportedly slashed employee salaries across the board, with deeper cuts of up to 30 percent for executives.
Beyond the Model Y, many anticipated EV models were not expected to hit the market until late 2020 or 2021 — and that was true before the novel coronavirus hit, WoodMac’s Chandrasekaran said.
General Motors brought hundreds of analysts, investors, journalists and policymakers to an event near Detroit last month to highlight its big ambitions for EVs, but none of those models will be available until late 2021. Ford's Mustang Mach-E is not expected to be widely available until late 2021, and Volkswagen's long-touted ID.3 won't hit the market until later this year.
Beyond any impact from the coronavirus, those sluggish EV-model launch timelines could weigh on the market this year as consumers hold off on making purchases.
“Unfortunately for EV adoption, this is likely to lead to a plateauing of sales in the near term," Chandrasekaran wrote. "While the pent-up demand from the pandemic will help a bounce-back in sales later in the year, new demand growth will [not be apparent] until 2021."