Electric car registrations: a 2% increase of something tiny is still tiny

We have a new Flemish Minister of Energy since two days. As a result of the local elections of October last year, the previous Minister became mayor of his home town Ostend. That is a bit sad, he had the habit of enthusiastically sprouting meaningless claims about energy that were very easily debunked. I wrote several posts about such claims, so I will certainly miss his mindless claims.

The new Minister, Lydia Peeters, took the oath of office the day before yesterday. The first tweet on her twitter account came only a day later and is a retweet of a tweet written by her spokeswoman (translated from Dutch):

Nice increase becomes visible! @Lydiapeeters: “The switch to electric vehicles keeps going on” @BelgaPolitics Read it here:

It linked to an article in Metro (Dutch ahead). Which is a bit odd. Couldn’t they find another source than a free newspaper distributed to for example commuters in train stations? According to the title, that “nice increase” seems to be 2%. Reading the text of the article reveals that this is actually 1.94% and it is not for a whole year, but only for December 2018. The growth of the registration of new electric cars seemed to be rather low in the first eight months of the year, but started to rise from September 2018, culminating in a 1.94% increase in December compared to November.

This tweet was followed closely by another tweet, this time from the Minister herself (translated from Dutch):

Today, together with @OmgevingVL, I launch the campaign ‘From Euh to Aha’ to convince Flemish people to make environmentally friendly choices when buying a car. Read it here:

This tweet has the same structure as the previous tweet, so I have the impression this might even be written by the same spokeswoman (it is also possible that they compared notes). The link goes to a page on the website of the Minister, titled The number of all-electric cars is suddenly growing rapidly (Dutch ahead).

If that was all, then it wouldn’t have blogged about it. However, there were some things that didn’t add up. The first sentence on that webpage claims that there are “more than 33,000 electric vehicles in Flanders” at this moment. I couldn’t believe this. I took a look at the Belgian numbers (Flanders + Wallonia) before and, as far as I remembered, these told quite a different story.

Was there recently an incredible increase of electric car sales in Flanders (and therefor also in Belgium)? Or where does that number comes from exactly? It is also not very clear whether they mean something different when they mention “vehicles” or “cars”. It is my impression that the data they link to is about “cars”, not “vehicles” (besides cars these could also be vans, trucks, buses,… which less likely have an electric motor).

Time to check the numbers.

Since I only had the relative numbers (share of electric vehicles to the total number of newly registered cars), I had to find the absolute numbers for Flanders. Luckily for me, there was a link at the bottom of the webpage of the Minister that goes to a website of the Flemish Government. They also have a statistics page (Dutch ahead). It gives the (yearly) evolution of “environmentally friendly vehicles” in Flanders from 2012 until 2018. This is the table that explained a lot:

  Number of cars Share
  2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2018
Electric cars 441 671 1,287 2,229 3,732 5.547 7,934 0.22%
Plug-in hybrid cars 29 220 448 2,122 7,767 18,216 25,376 0.72%
TOTAL electric cars 539 1,082 2,110 5,075 11,499 23,763 33,310 0.94%
Natural Gas cars 184 268 998 1,537 3,727 6,221 9,644 0.27%
TOTAL cars 3,218,892 3,243,513 3,296,689 3,347,610 3,405,291 3,507,886 3,538,688 100%

Interestingly, now I have the absolute numbers of registered environmentally friendly cars in 2018, it is clear that this “more than 33,000” number is not about all-electric cars, but all-electric cars plus plug-in hybrid cars. That is something different from what is suggested at the webpage of the minister. The title mentions the all-electric cars that are on the increase, but in that first sentence it apparently seamlessly morphs into all types of electric cars (including plug-in hybrids). This is important since the plug-in hybrid cars have the biggest share (all-electric times 3). So, is this 1.94% increase in December 2018 for all-electric cars or also for plug-in hybrid cars?

Secondly, the share of all-electric cars in Flanders is already in the table: it is a whopping 0.22% of all cars in use today.

I don’t only have the absolute numbers of 2018, but I now also have the evolution of those numbers from 2012 until 2018. This is how this evolution looks like:

It is of course much nicer to tell the public that electric cars increased by 2% than to tell the public that their current share is only 0.22% of all cars in use, especially on the first day on the job.

There was however still one thing that was bugging me. According to the article in Metro, the increase started in September 2018 and that no specific reason could be found, except the speculation of the Minister that the increase could originate from the increased availability and the better mileage of those new electric cars. To me that didn’t make much sense. Did the availability and the mileage of those cars suddenly increased so much in the second half of 2018? There were also higher subsidies for electric cars since the beginning of 2018 and at the same time there were also measures that disadvantaged fossil-fuel cars. One would expect an increase from the beginning of the year, not at the end.

I was not surprised to hear that there was an increasing share in electric car registrations at the end of the year. The car sales in Belgium slow down in the last months of the year, sometimes even the second half of the year. This was also the case in 2018 (this is the Belgian data – I don’t have this information for Flanders, so unless the data is so very different for Flanders than for Belgium, this at least will give an idea):

This has to do with the Brussels Motor Show that is being held in January. Many Flemings will wait to purchase a car until January, because they expect a better deal at the motor show. Electric cars seem to have their own dynamics, so this means that (almost) the same number is divided by a smaller total number, therefor coming to a higher share in December 2018 (when car registrations are by far the lowest of the year). Again, the graph shows Belgian data, but I expect the same mechanism working in Flanders too.

Concluding, a 2% increase in December is nice, but how much is this the effect of a (traditional) slowdown of (fossil-fuel) car sales at the end of the year? Also, it is not even a blip in the grand scheme of things. A 1.94% increase of something that was incredibly tiny is still incredibly tiny.

Not sure about our new Minister of Energy. I wonder whether she realizes that this cheered fast 2% increase is in practice an insignificant increase.


7 thoughts on “Electric car registrations: a 2% increase of something tiny is still tiny

    1. trustyetverify Post author

      She is a lawyer, not sure how much she knows about energy.

      She took the oath of office on January 9 in the afternoon and the tweets were sent early in the morning of January 10, so I don’t think that she initiated or prepared that campaign. The work on that campaign was probably done beforehand by her team (my guess is also that her tweet was written by her spokeswoman, not by herself).

      It will come down to that team. None of the advisors of the former Minister had an education in energy (they had an education in law, international politics,…) and at least two of them are still in that position, now advising her (of the others I can not tell if they still work there as advisors because not all of them did update their accounts yet).

      These sloppy mix-ups therefor didn’t really surprise me, but I don’t think she was the one who did the mix-ups.


    2. trustyetverify Post author

      You are right, she indeed understand hype very well. On her second day in office, she invited kids who “skipped school for the climate” for their input on her climate policies…


      Not sure whether it is in the good direction.


  1. v8a4y5v8a4y5

    Question for you: As a professed layman, what do you suppose are the limits of your ability to make sense of anything that functionally you remain a layman in?


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      Not sure that I understand your question.

      In this post, I described how I came across the claims that there are currently 33,000 all-electric cars in Flanders and that there was a nice increase in the registration of those cars.

      I then searched for and checked the related numbers.

      I found out that:

      • this nice increase was first presented as 2%, but when looking closer it was in fact 1.94%
      • it was only for one particular month (in which the number of car registrations is traditionally very low anyway)
      • 33,000 is not the number of all-electric cars, it is the number of all-electric cars plus the number of plug-in hybrids (and plug-in hybrids have the biggest share)
      • the share of these all-electric cars is in fact 0.22% of all cars.

      Meaning that the increase is insignificant.

      Which shed a new light on the cheering statements about all-electric cars made by the Minister.

      There is no need whatsoever to be a professional to be able to figure this out. This is well within the ability of a layman.



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