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Electric vehicles roar up Britain's sales rankings

EV sales are rising in the UK as political changes in Europe help fuel the transition away from fossil-fuel engines

Sales of hybrid and electric vehicles in the UK hit a record high in May as buyers turned their back on diesel cars.

Data for May released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) this week showed that 11,240 units were sold last month, a 38% increase on 2017, while the market share for EVs and hybrids also increased to 5.8% on the previous year's figure of 4.4%. So far, in the first five months total sales are at 57,000, representing a rise of 19.5%.

Political shifts in Western Europe in recent weeks are also expected to support momentum towards faster adoption of electric vehicles.

The populist Five Star Movement that has become the majority partner in a new Italian coalition government has been strongly supportive of a reduction in the use of vehicles powered by diesel and petrol engines. The new socialist-led government in Spain's radical demands for more ambitious EU renewable energy transition targets suggest it will also likely push Brussels for faster adoption of EV transition targets.

Under the Paris Agreement and air quality rules, Europe needs to achieve total emissions cuts of 40% by 2030.

Globally, the sales picture is similarly bullish, with new electric car registrations rising more than 50% in 2017, the International Energy Agency said in its flagship EV report at the end of May.

China, the world's biggest market for electric vehicles, saw sales grow by about half - although the market share remained small at 2.2%.

"Looking ahead, the strongest current policy signals emanate from electric car mandates in China and California, as well as the European Union's recent proposal on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions standards for 2030," wrote the IEA.

Beijing wants 7 million electric vehicles by 2025, while California wants 5 million by 2030. The EU is yet to produce a mandate, but has targeted a 30% fall in emissions from the EU fleet of new cars from 2021 to 2030.

The IEA sees EV adoption gathering speed in the years ahead towards those targets, as government initiatives start to bite. "Supportive policies and cost reductions are likely to lead to significant growth in the market uptake of (electric vehicles) in the outlook period to 2030," the report said.

Diesels and demand

Public perceptions and the expected arrival of tougher clean air regulations on diesel-powered cars are already having a dramatic impact on diesel car sales, with the SMMT figures showing that registrations in Britain dropped for the 14th month in a row. Diesel engines have steadily been declining in popularity since mid-2015, when it first emerged that Volkswagen had been fitting its cars with so-called cheat devices that enabled its cars to pass emissions tests in lab conditions. Diesels accounted for just 43.8% of total new car registrations in Europe in 2017 - 11.1 percentage points lower than their 2011 peak, according to data from Jato Dynamics . The volume of diesel cars registered fell by 7.9% to 6.77 million units last year in the continent.

The potential for an impact on oil demand as EV's market share grows has also been highlighted by a decline in fuel demand in Norway last year. Demand in the Scandinavian country, which at 39.2% has seen Europe's largest EV adoption rates, fell for all fuels with the exception of jet kerosene and heavy fuel oil.

In total, EVs are expected to remove 2.5 million barrels a day of oil demand by 2030 as government policy initiatives take effect, the IEA projected in its report.

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