EV sales figures for 2021 – both locally and worldwide – are starting to dribble in this month, revealing the increasing acceptance of electric vehicles by drivers.
Tesla, now the world’s most valuable carmaker by market cap and leader in EV sales in many markets, in the early days of January said it had delivered 936,000 electric cars in 2021 – almost double the number in 2020.
With its Shanghai factory now ramped up to full production, and two more EV factories at Berlin, Germany and Austin, Texas to open in 2022, it is showing very little sign of slowing down, even amid pandemic and supply chain challenges.
In Australia, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) reported 5,149 electric cars were sold in 2021, a tripling of sales compared to 2020 – at least according to carmakers that share their data with the industry body.
It’s known that Tesla does not report its local sales figures to the FCAI, and this has meant The Driven’s EV sales reporting throughout 2021 has been supplemented with shipping data.
Conservative estimates put Australia’s total EV sales including Tesla for 2021 at 15,000. It is thought that somewhere between 10,000-12,000 Model 3s arrived in Australia in 2021, although any that arrived in December may still be in transit and thus not yet officially recorded as a sale to a customer. The latest ship to arrive in Australia in 2021 with Tesla cars on board arrived on the December 30, for example.
In addition to Tesla, we can reveal that the next most locally sold EV in 2021 was the MG ZS EV, still officially Australia’s cheapest EV and priced below $45,000, drive away.
Chinese company MG sold 1,354 ZS EVs, and this was followed by the Porsche Taycan, which sells from $156,300 before on-roads. There were 531 Taycans registered in 2021.
Next on the list is the Hyundai Kona EV with 505 sold. The Hyundai Ioniq EV fastback, which sells from just under $55,000 driveaway, also did well with 338 sold, but it narrowly missed beating the premium EQC electric SUV. Mercedes-Benz sold 360 of these in 2021, while it sold 192 smaller EQA compact SUVs.
It is not yet confirmed exactly how many Mini Cooper EVs sold in 2021 but our figures estimate around the 290 mark, while Nissan sold 370 Leafs and Kia sold 217 e-Niros and 35 BMW iX were snapped up.
Hyundai delivered 172 of the Ioniq 5 since its arrival in September, and the South Korean carmaker says it has more inventory secured.
Expect figures coming in from January to include the Polestar, and perhaps even the Kia EV6, which is being launched this weekend at the Melbourne Tennis Open.
While the increasing EV sales figures are encouraging, the exact nature of the transition is not completely clear because reporting from various sources is not transparent, and much of it centres around the company that has perhaps had the most impact on changing the face of the auto industry: Tesla.
As mentioned above, local Tesla sales reporting is guided only by shipping data from Twitter user and tracker @Vedaprime, but has its limitations.
Even on a global scale Tesla itself is not entirely transparent with its figures. Although CEO and co-founder Elon Musk has said he believes Tesla will sell more Model Ys than its other electric models combined, the EV maker combines its Model 3 sales figures with that of the Model Y, and the Model S with the Model X.
Why this is so is as hard to fathom as the company’s own press department, which has been completely disbanded – even in Australia. Instead, the company’s public communications consist of a combination of tweets from Musk, the occasional blog post, and investor bulletins.
Canberra Times reporter Peter Brewer says that locally, Tesla does not report sales figures due to “a long-running feud” with the FCAI, saying the EV maker doesn’t want to pay “hundreds of thousands of dollars” based on how many vehicles it has sold.
Still, Tesla’s unorthodox approach has clearly not been detrimental to its sales (see above figures).
But Tesla’s opaque attitudes combined with the way industry and government figures are issued means timely, complete and transparent figures are all but impossible.
Lengthy delays in registration reporting from state departments, and combining electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid drivetrain under one umbrella also muddy the picture. Carmakers are helpful but the more EVs enter the local market, the more lengthy the process of retrieving piecemeal data is.
One light at the end of the tunnel perhaps is that the FCAI says it may look at reviewing the way it reports on car sales. While it has since 2021 separated drivetrains as a whole, listing electric, hydrogen, hybrid and plug-in hybrids separately, models that sell with multiple drivetrains have sales figures bundled together.
While that doesn’t solve the issue of Tesla, it would be a big step forwards.
This article has been updated with new estimates for the Mini Cooper SE.
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.