2022 has not been a pleasant journey for plug-in vehicles in Italy. After years of exponential growth, the spark for the electric vehicle revolution appears to have cooled in one of arguably the largest automotive markets – by volume and automotive history – in Europe and globally.
Official statistics for the first three quarters of this year (via UNRAE) paint a confusing picture, with one main certainty: a declining BEV market. Overall car sales in the first to third quarters of 2022 were marked by a continued contraction from 2021 post-covid rebound levels. Around 990,000 car registrations were recorded, down nearly 16% year-on-year (year-on-year) compared to nearly 1,180,000 in Q1-Q3 21. Traditional gasoline and diesel powertrains were the hardest hit: down about a quarter in absolute sales figures. They stopped at 27.8% and 20.3% market share, respectively, compared to 30.5% and 23.5%. Sales of plug-free hybrids were flat year-over-year, signifying an increase in market share from 28.1% to 33.8% in this deflated market. The shift to electrified ICE options has now been confirmed quarter after quarter, with mainstream automakers simply replacing most of their high-volume ICE models with very lightly electrically assisted ones. We can only expect this change to continue in the medium term, regardless of government policies, with 40% market share in sight for next year. But what about plugins?
All-electric cars are the surprise losers of the year. With just over 36,000 registrations at the end of the third quarter, BEVs were down 23.6% year-on-year from highs in 2021, when more than 47,000 units were sold during the same period. The market share stopped at 3.6%, against 4% a year ago. An extended hold phase pending incentives in the first five months of 2022 cut the legs of a market that needed fiscal stability. The subsequent, long-promised launch of revamped government incentives was mired in further promises of amendments, which did little to stabilize BEV sales on a renewed growth trajectory. But it is also a simple question of cost that is holding back the Italian BEV market. The market is focused on smaller models that are still far from the average car buyer’s price range. Italy’s disappointing economic conditions, leading to a likely recession in 2023, have made the situation worse.
A slightly different path has been taken by plug-in hybrids, which have managed to stay afloat despite the deteriorating auto market cycle. With nearly 50,000 registrations, PHEVs limited their year-on-year decline to -6.6% (compared to just over 53,000 units in 2021). This in turn meant an increase in market share, as most other powertrains suffered significant losses. At 5%, PHEVs actually increased their share year-on-year from 4.5% twelve months ago. The push for PHEV by many automakers is clearly having an impact, as many Italian customers are still unimpressed with the range of all-electric models available and prefer a less drastic step towards electric mobility. Thanks to the steady performance of plug-in hybrids, global plug-in registrations reached 8.7% market share at the end of the third quarter, a slight improvement on the 8.5% figure recorded a year earlier by the sum of BEV and PHEV.
The cumulative chart of the top 10 BEVs for the first quarter of 2022 shows stable positions and moderate figures.
The current queen since its debut, the Fiat 500e, registered 5,188 registrations in the third quarter, far ahead of all other BEV models for sale. The main difference with past performance is that this represented a 34% year-on-year decline, a stark comparison. Second by a wide distance, the eternal Smart ForTwo followed with 3,159 registrations, itself affected by a fall of more than 30% year-on-year. The Tesla Model Y managed to grab third place, closing the podium with 2,825 registrations. A great feat for such an outsized model in a city car market, made all the more surprising by the overtaking of the Dacia Spring, which was on the podium at the end of the first half of 2022 and is today forced into fourth position. by uneven deliveries in a market thirsty for low-cost models.
Other A- and B-segment BEVs followed, with just a touch of high-end models. The VW ID.3 is in eighth position, far from its true potential, and the indestructible Tesla Model 3, penalized throughout the year by a sharply increased price (due to imports?) and internal competition from its sister Model Y, produced more “locally” in Germany.
The first three quarters of 2022 showed numbers far from the type of statistics one would have hoped and expected for the Italian EV arena, but the many headwinds, local and global, hampered a market that promised to break many new barriers. It’s hard to predict a buyout in the coming months unless major political and economic shifts are unlikely to pull EVs out of this downturn.
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