R.I.P. Combustion Vehicles

Johnny Wentzel

Peak 2017 can probably be best worst remembered for Imagine Dragons and fidget spinners. But new data suggests that 2017 was the peak for more than just genre-less music and whatever fidget spinners are classified as.

What happened: New data suggests that global combustion vehicle sales peaked in 2017 and will continue to tumble as the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) grows rapidly. That feels like long enough ago to not consider this a “bold” prediction by experts, but we’ll give them a pass due to the unpredictability of supply chains, the global pandemic, a war in Ukraine, and widespread inflation.

Thankfully, no planets are currently in retrograde.

Annual sales of global vehicles by type
millions of vehicles

Combustion vehicle sales
Courtesy of Visual Capitalist

Worldwide EV sales surpassed 10 million for the first time last year, accounting for about 13 percent of the global market.

  • In 2017, EV sales made up only about 1.3 percent of all vehicles sold. Over the same period, global combustion vehicle sales fell a staggering 20 percent, with experts suggesting they won’t bounce back.

In China—the world’s largest vehicle market—combustion vehicle sales were down 28% in 2022 compared to 2017, and EV sales are expected to account for nearly a third of all vehicle sales in the country this year.

Zoom out: Environmental treaties like the Paris Agreement coupled with rich EV incentives will likely continue to push down combustion vehicle sales.

Canada, the EU, and a growing list of US states are set to phase out combustion vehicle sales completely by 2035, signaling that combustion vehicles are being dropped like they’re (screaming) radioactive, radioactive.