The number of electric vehicles sold throughout the world just passed 4 million — and sales are increasing at an exponential rate, say researchers at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

It took five years for electric vehicle (or “EV”) sales to reach 1 million in 2015.

It took just six months to go from 3 million to 4 million this year. The 5 millionth EV will be sold by March. (See graph below).

That’s good news for investors in “battery metals” such as lithium, cobalt and graphite that are needed by car-makers to power EVs.

It’s also good news for producers of materials such as copper, nickel and rare earths that are used in electric car engines, parts and charging infrastructure.

The 4 million electric passenger cars are in addition to sales of more than 421,000 “e-buses”.

China accounts for more than 40 per cent of electric car sales — and pretty much all the e-buses. Europe and the US are at about 25 per cent each, though sales of Tesla’s new Model 3 may skew that number to North America.

The only barrier to sales growth was “if sales of the Tesla Model 3 were to slow down”, which underlines the importance of Elon Musk’s car-maker, Bloomberg said in its quarterly Global Electrified Transport Market Outlook.

Electric vehicle sales are growing exponentially, reports BloombergNEF
Electric vehicle sales are growing exponentially, reports Bloomberg NEF

Bloomberg expects the new Tesla Model 3’s arrival in Europe mid next year “will likely boost EV sales in the region further”. A China quota on EVs also starts next year “and will push sales forward”.

Daimler goes all-in on electric

Meanwhile, Daimler introduced the first model under its Mercedes Benz EQ electric car brand on Wednesday. The German car-maker is going all-in on electric, spending 500 million Euros ($806 million) on a second battery factory for its electric cars.

In total, Daimler will spend more than $1.6 billion building eight battery factories around the world.

“We are investing more than 10 billion Euros in the expansion of our EQ model portfolio, and more than one billion euros in global battery production,” said Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche.

Still, there are signs that electric car sales may face hurdles in the future — particularly if a trend to “ownerless” car-sharing continues to grow among young people.

This week giant US auto association AAA announced plans for a fleet of 260 shared electric cars in Sacramento, the capital city of California.

The trend to ownerless cars may accelerate as driverless vehicles become common as well.