Expert Insights

How Many Electric Vehicles Sold in 2021?

Dave Nichols
July 11, 2023
EV sales are surging. Electric vehicle sales growth topped that of the global car market in 2021, up 26 percent over the previous year. Even with Covid-19 restrictions and component shortages, global EV sales topped 6.4 million units sold worldwide for the year.
A full lot of cars with a focus on the green cars dotted throughout

Global Electric Vehicle Sales Surge in 2021

EV sales are surging, big time! Electric vehicle sales growth topped that of the global car market in 2021, up 26 percent over the previous year. Even with Covid-19 restrictions and component shortages, global EV sales will top 6.4 million units sold worldwide for the year.

China is at the top of the list for EV adoption, accounting for 12 percent of all new electric vehicle sales in 2021, doubling the sales of 2020. Chinese carmakers have expanded their all-electric vehicle offerings with such brands as Aion, BYD, Li Xiang, NIO, and Xpeng. Norway remains the global leader in EV adoption at over 80 percent of all new car sales.

EV sales growth in the United Kingdom and Europe saw growth rates up to eight times higher than for total light vehicle markets. The share of all-electric and plug-in hybrid model sales in Europe increased over six percent in 2021. Tesla led global sales growth, selling over 386,000 units in the first quarter, followed by the Volkswagen Group with 332,000 units sold. General Motors came in the third spot with sales of 227,000 units in the first quarter. As far as the product segment mix, most EV sales in 2021 were for sedans, compact crossovers, and SUVs. Expect all-electric pickup trucks to add to that mix as sales figures for the rest of the year are tabulated.

a Tesla driving fast

Worldwide, electric vehicle sales are up an astounding 98 percent over 2020. Based on current estimates, over 4-million all-electric vehicles and 2.4-million plug-in hybrids were sold in 2021, for a total of over 6.4-million EVs sold during the first half of the year. As we close out 2021, total EVs in operation around the planet will top 16-million and two-thirds of those will be all-electric vehicles.

Part of this huge surge is certainly due to a buying rebound after the pandemic. Global light vehicle markets have partially recovered after a 28 percent slump in early 2020. Hardest hit were western European car sales during the pandemic, down a whopping 40 percent, currently having recovered by 30 percent. However, EV sales held up far better, only down 14 percent in the first quarter of 2020 in European countries. Electric vehicle growth rates were off-the-hook in the first six months of 2021, hitting 157 percent in Europe, 197 percent in China, and 166 percent in the United States. With the exception of Japan, all major markets posted new sales records for EV purchases.

a couple talking with a car salesman

Reasons for Changing Trends

There are actually many reasons to explain the slump in electric car sales in 2019 and 2020 beyond just COVID and a lack of semiconductor chips. In 2019, changes in EV regulations in China and Europe caused a reduction in demand. For instance, in Europe the WLTP, which stands for the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test, enforced test measures for fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from passenger cars, specific to pollutant emissions. This forced many best-selling plug-in hybrids into service bays to be refit with upgrades. Meanwhile, in China there was a crackdown on vehicles with substandard range as well as poor safety records. This caused a halt in sales of many Chinese EVs and drove several automakers out of business. Vehicle sales of all kinds were on the rebound in 2021 and EV sales are currently more than back on track. Auto deliveries to dealerships increased by nearly 2-million units from January to June, over the same period in 2020.

a graph showing the amount of electric cars sold

U.S. EV Sales

Electric cars sales are well above previous annual levels in America as the federal government moves toward funding infrastructure for EV charging networks as well as passing laws for more provisions for zero-emission vehicles. Tougher standards on internal combustion engines regarding emissions and fuel economy is also in the mix as the United States moves toward a plan for 50 percent all-electric and plug-in hybrid sales by 2030.

Nationwide, about 322,000 EVs were sold in America in 2020 while in 2021, over 310,000 electric vehicles were sold in just the first six months of the year. California alone added 121,000 EVs in the same six-month period. All this is an excellent sign, especially since exciting new all-electric model vehicles have appeared on the American landscape in the second half of 2021 such as best-sellers the Volkswagen ID.4, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and Chevrolet Bolt EUV models. Check out our list of the Best-Selling Electric Cars here on GreenCars.