Charging forward: the global EV leaders and laggards


As the world grapples with the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change, the electrification of transport has emerged as a critical component of the global environmental agenda.

Countries worldwide are at various stages of embracing electric vehicles (EVs), with some leading the charge towards a sustainable future, while others are just beginning to shift gears.

Here, we explore the electrification journeys of different nations, shining a spotlight on successful approaches, the barriers faced and the lessons that can be learned.


An electric dream

Norway has been ahead of the electrification game for decades and has emerged as the world leader in EV adoption.

Almost no one would have predicted this small country, with its challenging landscape and a dominant export of fossil fuels, would become a shining example of how nations can pivot towards a green transport future.

Last year, EV sales hit a global high, representing more than 82 per cent of all new cars sold – a huge increase from just one per cent in 2014.

This growth didn’t happen by chance, however. Instead, it was the result of a multifaceted approach which combined generous government financial incentives and benefits initiated in 1990, a strong commitment to building an extensive charging infrastructure and a cheap supply of electricity, powered by 99 per cent renewable energy.

Ultimately, the main driver has been making EVs more economically appealing than their ICE counterparts. Considerable tax and VAT exemptions, along with discounted tolls and parking, has made it easier for businesses and individuals to make the switch, and for the government to forge ahead with the planned 2025 ICE vehicle sales ban.


A pioneering region

Norway isn’t the only Nordic country to embrace sustainable transport practices – its neighbours are also making significant strides towards green mobility.

The Nordic region seems to be setting a global precedent, charting a path forward for the rest of the world to follow. Sweden, for example, is building the first e-motorway, able to charge EVs while they’re on the move, removing the need to stop for a charge break and alleviating range anxiety. Swedish company, Northvolt, is also developing the world’s greenest EV battery, Denmark recently delayed a tax hike on EVs to help boost sales and Iceland has the second highest share of EV sales after Norway.

Interestingly, the Nordic countries lead the way in renewable energy usage and have some of the highest fuel prices in Europe, making EVs a more cost-effective transport option.


Charging success

Another big success story is the Netherlands, which has become the European capital of EV charging infrastructure.

The country has the most public charging points per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe (577) – Romania and Cyprus, on the other hand, have just eight respectively. It also has the highest number of public charge points in Europe, suggesting 24 per cent of the continent’s public chargers are in the Netherlands.

Several factors have contributed to the Netherlands becoming the European capital of EV charging infrastructure. As well as having a dense urban landscape and compact size, which makes it easier for the country to facilitate a widespread charging network, another key element is the successful collaboration between the government, private sector and charge point operators. This partnership approach has facilitated the strategic deployment and expansion of charging stations across the country, ensuring accessibility and convenience for all EV users.

The Dutch government has implemented a policy of ‘demand-driven’ deployment, where the installation of new charging points is often initiated by EV owner requests, ensuring that the growth of the network aligns closely with actual user needs. Financial incentives, which lower the cost barrier for consumers and make it more attractive for businesses to invest in charging tech and services, have also played a crucial role.

The Netherlands has also embraced innovative technologies and smart charging solutions that maximise efficiency and grid stability. These include features like dynamic load balancing, which adjusts charging rates based on the grid’s current capacity, and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, allowing EVs to return energy to the grid during peak demand.


A slow road to electrification

Elsewhere in Europe, Italy offers a stark contrast, with electrification still seemingly in its infancy.

When it comes to new car registration figures, the country has the lowest share of fully electric vehicles across Western Europe (four per cent) – and the fifth lowest across the entire bloc.

Italy is said to have the oldest, most polluting vehicle fleet in Europe, while last year saw the country rejecting the original EU plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035.

Italy’s business minister said the original ban did not “match the European reality and, above all, they don’t match the Italian one”, while the infrastructure minister claimed the ban would penalise Italian and European businesses.

Financial incentives and support to buy electric vehicles and install charging infrastructure in Italy have previously been less generous compared to many other European countries. However, in January 2024, the Italian government announced a €950 million plan to boost cleaner car adoption.

Around €700 million has also been allocated to install more than 21,000 fast and superfast charge points across urban and suburban areas by 2025. Charging infrastructure in Italy currently falls short, with 56 public charge points per 100,000 inhabitants while only 12 per cent of the country’s public chargers are fast, compared to the global average of 22 per cent.


China’s charge

Further afield, battery innovation in China has led to the country dominating the world of EVs.

Chinese firms have been at the forefront of developing and manufacturing lithium-ion batteries, making significant advancements in efficiency, lifespan and charging speeds. This has led to makers supplying some 80 per cent of batteries globally, with the country processing more than half of the world’s lithium and making most of the battery components at a low cost.

Chinese dominance in the EV sector extends far beyond batteries, however. Thanks to early investment in EV tech by the government (which began around 2001) and available subsidies, procurement contracts and tax breaks, new EV companies are constantly emerging and making inroads into other markets.

EV infrastructure in China is also developing at a rapid pace to match the surging demand, highlighted by the fact that electric vehicles now account for 1 in 3 of all new car sales. However, distribution of charge points is imbalanced, with more than 70 per cent of China’s public chargers located in 10 of the most economically developed provinces and municipalities.

Only 30 per cent of chargers in China are public, underscoring the challenge of providing accessible charging options for all EV owners nationwide. To address the issue, China’s National Development and Reform Commission has called for local governments to offer financial incentives to help grow the charging network by installing public chargers in villages and along highways.


A political influence

Meanwhile, the 2024 presidential election looms as a potential catalyst for change in the United States’ approach to electrification.

The country’s political, cultural, and infrastructural divides are closely intertwined with EV adoption rates. Currently, nine out of the 10 states with the highest EV adoption rate are Democrat-leaning, unsurprising given ‘blue’ states typically employ strong environmental policies, have more urban infrastructure and higher fuel prices.

On the other hand, the same number of Republic states have the lowest adoption rate. These ‘red’ states, often characterised by their rural landscape, tend to prioritise traditional energy sectors, like oil and gas, which could reflect their low EV adoption rate.

This stark political divide underscores the challenges the U.S. faces in catching up in the global EV market. With just 2.1 million EVs on U.S. roads, compared to 4.4 million in Europe, perhaps a more cohesive national electrification strategy would position the country as a formidable EV competitor.


A learning curve

The road to electrification is as diverse as it is challenging. The leaders in the transition invariably adopt a multifaceted approach that combine far-reaching government support, investments in innovative technology and extensive charge point availability – something that other nations would be wise to emulate as they chart a course to net zero.



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