It's a different market over there.

Will the U.S. regain its lead or will the gap widen even further this year?

Does this also show opportunities exist in the U.S., including with electrified trucks, SUVs, crossovers, and other popular vehicles?

Bolstered by availability of a car model the U.S. does not get, Western Europe’s plug-in-electrified vehicle (PEV) sales are solidly eclipsing those of the U.S. for the first time.

Sales volume in the new global leader for the period of January through April 2015 is actually 60-percent ahead of the U.S. which held a lead through 2014 and then fell behind at the turn of this year.

Too many factors to fully contemplate are responsible for the trading of places, but one notable fact is Europe is experiencing a much-closer split between acceptance of plug-in hybrids versus pure battery electric cars, and PHEVs are on the rise.

According to Europe’s Automotive Industry Data newsletter, Western Europe purchased 51,386 PEVS through April. These are comprised of 24,578 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and 26,808 battery electric vehicles (EVs).

By contrast, the United States bought 32,087 PEVs through April. These consist of 10,684 PHEVs and 21,403 EVs – double the EV sales in a market with more EVs and during a relatively weak time for PHEVs including the Chevy Volt.

The global PEV market is yet tiny, but Europe has witnessed faster year over year increases and the split between PHEVs and EVs has gas-electric PHEVs catching up and predicted to supercede EVs, whereas in the U.S. consumers are preferring more EVs.

This is a shift in buying decisions for the U.S., and one year ago during the same January to April timeframe in 2014, the U.S. was split nearly evenly with 15,967 PHEVs and 15,060 EVs.

While comparing a continent to a nation may be arguable, the European Union is in respects categorized as a sole entity, and in any case, Western Europe is a more or less cohesive sales region.

Its acceptance rate of plug-in cars also surpasses China’s reported numbers although that nation said to be full of potential has been on a tear to subsidize and increase its PEV sales.

ChinaAutoWeb reports a 27,405 China-made plug-in hybrids, a 166 percent increase over the same period one year prior, and pure electric cars are at 16,138, a 132 percent increase.

Sales in an early leader and producer in the PEV market, Japan, are meanwhile down significantly in 2015, hovering at around 8,000.

This leaves Western Europe as the global leader in PEV sales at the moment, and its pace has been increasing.

Calendar year 2014 sales had the EU at 97,791 and the U.S. at 118,682.

Last year the U.S. was the global leader, but it lost its lead beginning this year.

EU Plug-in Hybrid Growth

A look at the breakout of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles indicates plug-in hybrids are gaining ground comparatively faster in Western Europe than in the U.S.

As observed by the industry AID newsletter reporting from closer to the EU market, the PHEV and EV segments are vying neck and neck, and one vehicle is heavily credited for this – the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV which has also become the number-one PEV in the UK.

If you follow plug-in cars, you already know the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is an SUV Americans have been asking for since 2013 when it was launched in the Netherlands.

Think of it as the nearest thing to a Chevy Volt in five-passenger, all-wheel-drive form. Its electric range is in the 20-some miles span, and reports have been it can be squeaked to over 30 in easier driving, and it’s a light truck.

A heavily modified Outlander PHEV completed the FIA-certified Asia Cross Country Rally 2014. According to the AID newsletter, a couple of the strongest drivers in Western Europe are the Netherlands and UK which account for two out of three PHEV sales.

Americans love trucks, and apparently the vehicle is working for Europeans too. Global sales for the Mitsu are over 60,000 and this is without its being imported to the U.S. It’s been repeatedly delayed and has gone through a model cycle and the U.S. is being promised the refreshed one next year.

“Kicked off in a near solo-move in the Netherlands during October 2013, followed nearly a year later by its no less spectacular showroom debut I the UK," says the AID newsletter , "almost overnight Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV has spawned – if not pioneered – and almost entirely new sub-sector.”

Beyond this, European automakers driven by regulations demanding lower CO2 output, and increasing popularity for plug-in hybrids besides, are bringing more models into their portfolio.

Projections for the “neck-and-neck” race between two different approaches are for PHEVs to possibly surpass EVs though AID’s industry forecast is not bullish for high-end PHEVs created by German automakers targeting the affluent.

Rather, cars like the Outlander PHEV and any others that can be had by more people on a more-modest budget are predicted to support higher sales volume.

Both PHEVs and EVs have their pros and cons, of course. For pure EVs, they are zero emission, and the electric drive experience favored by many is not marred by part-time (or most of the time) gas engine operation in a hybrid mode.

For PHEVs, there is no range anxiety. As it is, this latter form is catching up, while in the U.S., products such as they are have shown EVs the overwhelming favorite.

While an in-depth analysis is beyond the scope of this article, in brief, one factor to be mindful of is the specific models available in Europe are in cases overlapping – like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S – and in cases different.

In addition to the Outlander PHEV, Europe gets Renault, Citroen, Peugeot PEVs the U.S. does not including the relatively popular Renault Zoe. The U.S. gets the Chevy Volt but then again, so did Europe as the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera and Chevy branded, but GM could not sell that car there and it’s not due to come back with generation two.

The global best-selling car is the Nissan Leaf which just crossed 175,000 sales. It alone is responsible for over 20 percent of cumulative global PEV sales which now are in the vicinity of 850,000.

Beyond this, a host of variables other than product selection come into play including buyer attitudes, and incentives. Europeans are enjoying relatively lower gas prices, though they are higher than in the U.S. Europeans are also less divided over the climate change issue. In the U.S. there is a strong debate in some quarters and much outright animosity levied against the notion that greenhouse gases could be altering the global climate.

Meanwhile, Europe is now ahead and gaining ground. How things will play out the rest of the year with the launch of the Volt in the U.S. and Leaf sales tapering off plus many other factors is anyone’s guess.

Thanks to Mario R. Duran for his assistance with the data.

This article originally appeared at