The most successful EV model to date is not from the US or China

The hit of all time.
The hit of all time.
Image: EPA-EFE/Friedemann Vogel/
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When it comes to being the top maker of electric vehicles (EV) by sales, China’s BYD and Tesla have been duking it out in recent years. Neither company, however, has a model popular enough to rival Japan’s Nissan Leaf, which is the most popular electric car of all time.

First sold in the US and Japan around a decade ago, the battery-powered car has sold more than 360,000 units as of 2018, according to data released last week from Germany-based Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW). Tesla’s Model S, the California-based carmaker’s first EV model released in 2012, came in at second place, selling more than 240,000 units in the same period, while Chinese state-owned firm BAIC’s EC series was the third most popular EV model as of last year.

In total, there are now 5.6 million EVs on the road as of 2018, up 64% from the previous year, according to ZSW, which includes data from both battery powered EVs and plug-in hybrids. China accounts for half of that number, while the US makes up around 20%.

Nissan Leaf can thank its popularity to the European market, which China’s carmakers haven’t been able to crack. The five-seater Nissan Leaf sedan is extremely popular in Europe, where it was launched in 2011 (pdf). Leaf was the most popular EV in Norway in 2018, when around 12,000 of the vehicle were delivered to the country where half of the cars last year were electric.

But under intensifying competition from its rivals, Nissan is planning to roll out a new Leaf model called LeafPlus that triples the range of its 2010 model. LeafPlus’ range of 226 miles (360 km) will put it in line with major competitors like Tesla’s Model S and Hyundai’s Kona EV. Meanwhile, some Chinese EV startups like three-year-old Aiways, as well as more well-established players like Daimler shareholder Geely, are looking to launch EV models in Europe.

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