Global trade in electric vehicles booms


Opportunities abound in the electric vehicle (EV) market as industry sales have been rising dramatically in recent years, accounting for more than a third of all car imports last year and signifying a possible new direction in the global trade of transport equipment, according to a new report.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) in a new blog post revealed that import data between 2017 and 2023 show a significant shift towards EVs in general. Initially, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles represented a modest fraction of total car imports by value, starting at about 2.5%, 0.8%, and 1%, respectively. However, trade in EVs has grown significantly since then, the post said.

Beyond 2020, hybrids and plug-in hybrids have shown consistent growth, with hybrids initially experiencing more dynamic growth. However battery EVs have begun exhibiting the highest growth, bringing the value of their imports close to that of hybrids, indicative of a significant shift towards fully electric models, said the WTO report.

“By the end of 2023, EVs accounted for more than a third of all car imports in value terms. Although the growth rate appeared to slow down in 2023, the pronounced upward trend for EVs, particularly battery EVs, signifies a substantial change in demand and could suggest the direction in which the global automotive industry may go in the future,” it continued.

In the Philippines, Republic Act No. 11697 or the Electric Vehicle Industry Development Act (EVIDA) lapsed into law on April 15, 2022. EVIDA establishes a comprehensive roadmap for the EV industry designed to accelerate the development, commercialization and utilization of EVs in the country.

The Asian Development Bank early last year noted that like its Southeast Asian neighbors, the Philippines has a huge potential as a market and manufacturing hub for EVs since the country is the world’s second biggest supplier of nickel, which is used to make EV battery cells.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in a report last year urged developing countries like the Philippines to act swiftly to leverage the new opportunities presented by the booming market for green technologies, including those relating to EVs.

“We are at the beginning of a green technological wave in which early adopters of new technologies can rapidly move ahead and create lasting advantages in related economic sectors,” the publication said. “Therefore favourable conditions to catch up technologically and economically are available only for a short time.”

According to the WTO post, the United States was the leading global importer of EVs last year, with battery, hybrid and plug-in hybrid EVs recording imports of US$19 billion, $17.8 billion and $6.9 billion, respectively. “These figures represent more than one-fifth of total US car imports by value and signal an increasing adoption of electric mobility,” said the report.

Imports of EVs have also grown considerably in some European countries and in the Republic of Korea. In Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland in particular, the import value of electric cars has overtaken that of traditional internal combustion engine vehicles.

“As Belgium and the Netherlands are home to the two busiest ports in Europe, they may act as a transit point into other European countries,” the post commented.

Meanwhile, the total number of EVs exported has remained relatively stable, with over 43 million units sold in 2023 from over 40 million units exported in 2017. However, the types of vehicles exported underwent a dramatic change.

In 2017, Germany and Japan were the top exporters of passenger vehicles, but the proportion of EVs they exported was negligible. In contrast, in 2023 about one-third of the car exports from these countries were EVs. By increasing its emphasis on the export of hybrids, Japan has become the top global exporter of these vehicles, said the report.

In 2023, China became the leading exporter of passenger vehicles overall, with over 5.4 million units exported, of which roughly 1.8 million units, or about a third, were EVs. It exported over 1.5 million battery EVs, meaning that one out of every four battery EVs exported in 2023 originated in China, the post said.

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