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Electric cars outsell diesels for first time in Europe, dethroning decades-long standard

Diesel-powered cars have long been the default choice in Europe, but last month that changed as EVs find favor on the Continent.

Volkswagen ID 3
Cars like VW's ID 3 are proving popular.

Change has come to Europe, and more Europeans than ever are ready to go electric. According to data the Financial Times compiled with auto analyst Matthias Schmidt and published earlier this week, electric cars outsold diesel-powered vehicles for the first time in December 2021 in 18 European countries. In Western Europe, car buyers purchased 176,000 new EVs compared to 160,000 diesels. That boils down to a 20% market share for EVs, and less than a 19% share for diesels.

An important distinction here is that this only looks at battery-electric cars. This is not a combined figure for electrified vehicles, which includes hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs. Past data showed electrified car sales as a whole overtook diesels back in September 2020.

Diesel became the preferred fuel of choice across Europe thanks to decades of subsidies for the fuel. They include a cheaper fuel tax to create artificially cheaper fuel compared to gasoline. However, many European nations have begun to incentivize EV purchases and the European Union ramping up its emissions regulations has expedited the introduction of zero-emissions cars from numerous automakers. Nations across the Atlantic also plan to phase in a ban on new cars powered by the internal-combustion engine as soon as 2030 in some cases.

It's a different story here in the US, where the car market remains largely focused on gasoline-powered vehicles. The US will implement stricter fuel economy standards and the Biden administration has outlined executive actions to spur EV sales. They include an aspiration for 50% of new vehicles sold to feature a battery-electric powertrain by 2030. California also plans to ban the sale of new cars powered by fossil fuels by 2035.