It's been said of the still-new breed of “plug-in vehicles” that the proverbial horses have broken past the gate, there’s no putting them back, and more precisely, during 2013 these “horses” crested past the one-third million global unit mark.

Counting reported registrations and sales of plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles since a few came to market as far back as 2003 – and the real game got started in 2010 – a cumulative total of about 380,000 had been delivered as of December.


 

Below, we’ve compiled a list of the half-dozen countries buying the most of these vehicles.

Together, these countries account for over 353,000 vehicles out of the total – 93 percent of the plug-in electrified vehicle (PEV) stock.

Their counts in cases includes some commercial and low-speed vehicles because some countries lump in data for types of plug-ins other than regular road-going varieties and there is no way to distinguish between these. In other cases, for similar reasons, we have only battery electric cars, and no plug-in hybrids.

As the world approaches 400,000 plug-in vehicles in use, also true is there has been pushback against them, and earlier optimistic projections have been tempered. What is more, the cumulative total is not really a lot compared to tens of millions of conventional cars and trucks sold over the same period.

But it is what it is, and the plug-in market is expanding; many more vehicles are coming , even if it’s not as fast as some proponents would like.

Core motivations behind the push for these advanced gas-electric vehicles include national and regional government regulations. Those reasons plus the underlying environmental and energy concerns that gave rise to mandates – and generally shared sentiment held by consumers – is continuing to spur demand.

Countries which showed the highest rate of growth from 2012 to 2013 were the Netherlands (338 percent), Norway (129 percent), Germany (105 percent) and the U.S. (81 percent).

Despite Germany’s growth however, it yet lags behind in a distant seventh place with only 11,702 plug-in vehicles purchased since 2009. This amounts to 0.14 plug-in vehicles per 1000 people in the premier-automotive manufacturing country of over 80 million people, and Germany's market share for plug-ins (among the entire passenger vehicle market) is 0.20 percent.

Those countries with the highest market share in 2013 were Norway (5.6 percent), the Netherlands (5.37 percent), France (0.65 percent), Sweden (0.57 percent) and the U.S. (0.62 percent).

As for the actual car brands, names you are likely familiar with are leading the way, but smaller fish also round out the counts. Our HybridCars.com Dashboard shows all sellers in the U.S.

In Europe notable brands include Renault-Nissan, Mitsubishi (and re-badged variants), General Motors’ brands have a growing presence, and Tesla Motors is on the rise also.

But without further deliberation, following are the top six by volume:


1. United States

 


 

Since 2010, a total of 168,152 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) have been sold.

This does not include around 1,800 sales of the Tesla Roadster, 1,600 Fisker Karmas and 500 Mini Es, but if you wish, add them in and you have just over 172,000 plug-in vehicles since 2008.

By either count, the U.S. – a manufacturer and innovator in the plug-in vehicle space – is the highest adopter by a wide margin when looking at volume, but on a percentage basis it is only just decent in the scheme of things.

Last year saw an increase in sales to 96,050 units compared to 53,172 units in 2012. However, given the U.S. population is estimated at more than 320 million, the penetration rate per 1000 people is 0.53, and market share out of 15.53 million passenger vehicles sold in 2013 was 0.62 percent.

The U.S. is projected to continue as a driver to the global plug-in car market due in part to its federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy mandates. These will tighten fleet emissions and mpg requirements from 2017 to 2025 – although the rules are actually written so that automakers can meet standards with only 1-3 percent plug-in cars if they choose to maximize efficiency from conventional gas and diesel technologies.

It’s been said that a more robust push to the market is coming from Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandates imposed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and other states that have signed onto these rules.

The U.S. auto industry this year is reportedly preparing a push of its own – against the strict rules that mandate by 2025 one out of seven cars sold must be a ZEV, but CARB’s rules will continue as a prod – or, depending on perspective, a threatened hoop automakers must jump through.

Meanwhile, consumers are becoming aware of plug-in cars, and while unconvinced consumers and some in the media in turn push back also, there is room for much more growth.


2. Japan

 


 

December sales stats for Japan won’t be available until the end of this month, but the count from 2009 through November 2013 of over 68,000 battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles puts it firmly in second place.

Japan evenly matches the U.S. with 0.53 units per 1000 people, but its population is of course smaller, with over 127.1 million people.

Market share is 0.85 percent of all passenger vehicles sold in Japan - in qualified terms.

For the 0.85 percent estimate, sales counted are for 2,872,111 new cars. However, in Japan they have tiny kei cars, and adding these in brings the registered fleet to 5,375,513, lowering the share to 0.45. We are going with the higher number to stay more apples-to apples with other nations.

Japan is a major manufacturing base for cars like the Nissan Leaf, home also to Honda and Toyota which are also at work on plug-in and other advanced electrified technologies.

The perceived need for these products and industry drivers are similar in kind in Japan.


3. China

 


 

The world’s largest auto market is also a mix of first-world and emerging capabilities, and since 2011 its massive population now totaling 1.385 billion absorbed 38,592 electrified plug-in vehicles including cars, buses and commercial vehicles.

We hear a lot of talk about China’s grand plans, and relatively generous subsidies for EV manufacturing and purchases, but it is actually under-performing with 0.08 percent of the total market consisting of plug-in vehicles.

The penetration rate, is just 0.03 PEVs per 1,000 people.

This week BYD announced the domestic launch of its Qin plug-in hybrid, and this may be part of the first Chinese imports to the U.S. as part of a four-car U.S. lineup by end of 2015.

BYD says it's planning also distribution to other key global markets.

Within China’s market, a new round of subsidies in September by the central government led to a bullish 60,000-80,000 unit sales projection for this year by Ye Shengji, deputy secretary-general of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

What ever it does in the near term, China’s sheer size, and desire and determination to grow will certainly see it ascend as time goes on, and there’s no telling how high it will ultiimately climb.


4. Netherlands

 


 

Since 2009, the Netherlands has registered 28,673 PHEVs and BEVs which is a large number considering its population is around 16,833,606, about four-million people less than reside just in Beijing.

The Netherlands’ market penetration rate for plug-in vehicles is around 1.71 vehicles per 1,000 people, and the market share is a not-insubstantial 5.37 percent of all passenger vehicles.

This market share, makes the Netherlands the second-highest ranking country in the world in terms of plug-in vehicle adoption on a percentage of the whole market basis.

What’s more, the majority of its cumulative plug-in volume happened all of a sudden, as 22,415 sales out of the total 28,673 were documented last year – a growth rate of 338 percent – by far the highest of any country in the world.

By contrast, 5,117 vehicles were bought in 2012, 746 in 2011, and 395 in 2010.

Progressive policies in the country and eager, forward-thinking consumers are making this one of the world’s case examples demonstrating viability for plug-in cars today.

This nation was chosen by Tesla Motors as an assembly plant location and distribution base as its is centrally located within Europe, and no doubt highly EV friendly itself.


5. France

 


 

France’s total might be lower or higher depending on how one parses the data, but the stats we could get are 28,560 battery electric vehicles, including 17,256 cars and 11,304 utility vans, and excluding plug-in hybrids.

The country’s population is over 65,860,000 and sales of plug-in electrified vehicles per 1,000 people is around 0.44.

The market share is close to the U.S. at 0.65 percent but because this includes commercial vehicles, we named the U.S. as higher with 0.62 percent BEV and PHEV passenger cars. France's market share is 0.49 if only all-electric cars are considered.


6. Norway

 


 

Last but not least is Norway which gets a boost given its sales of 20,486 include sales back to 2003, but most of the growth has happened only recently.

Also, the total is only for all-electric cars, excluding PHEVs which the country is also buying in much lesser numbers. Further, about 1,500 sales are for low-speed city cars in the early years, but this is an amazing story either way.

Norway’s population is 3.2 million people less than that of New York City at just around 5,042,671 people but the rate of EVs per 1,000 people is 4.04 – 2.4 times more than the Netherlands which includes PHEVs, and Norway's market share for EVs in 2013 was 5.6 percent.

We wrote about the phenomenal growth in this country in November, and the following month saw a new record for plug-ins, and calendar year sales in 2013 were 10,769 out of the total 20,486 or 129.1 percent growth.

If the U.S. had the same percentage of market share as Norway, given its vastly larger population, its plug-in sales would have been 872,534 units, and we’d all be celebrating Obama’s ambitious 2015 goal of 1 million plug-in cars some time this year.
 

Thanks to alternative-energy advocate and HybridCars.com reader Mario R. Duran who helped with research. Duran gathers U.S. data from HybridCars.com's Dashboard and other sources, and globally from published reports.