Published on February 19th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


How Are Electric Vehicles Selling? Quite Well!

February 19th, 2013 by  

Reposted from EVObsession:

Nissan Leaf via Nissan

Nissan Leaf via Nissan

One of the most common myths repeated and repeated and repeated in mainstream media (and even in cleantech and EV media) is that plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) aren’t selling well. Quite to the contrary, for this stage of the technology’s evolution, they’re selling very well.

The first question that probably comes to mind for you here is: “If most other reporters and bloggers are saying that they aren’t selling well, why do they think so?”

I think there’s one main reason why these other people are more negative about this matter — expectations. (And, really, that’s the root of all of our disappointments, isn’t it?) In the case of PEVs, there have been some very ambitious expectations. Because the expectations were so high, and actual sales have been quite a bit lower, everyone is saying that PEVs aren’t selling well. However, they are selling quite well considering that they are a completely new type of car.

Plug-In Electric Vehicles Versus Hybrids

Chevy Volt via Chevrolet

Chevy Volt via Chevrolet

U.S. Toyota Prius sales totaled 15,556 cars in the model’s first full year, while Honda Insight sales we considerably lower at 3,788.

U.S. Chevy Volt sales totaled 7,671 cars in the model’s first full year, while Nissan Leaf sales totaled 9,674.

So, 19,344 units of the the first two hybrids were sold in the U.S. market in their first full year, compared to 17,345 units of the Leaf and Volt.

In year two, 15,600 Toyota Prii were sold and 4,700 Honda Insights were sold, versus 23,500 Chevy Volts and 9,800 Nissan Leafs. So, in year two, PEVs are beating hybrids by about 13,000 units. Additionally, plug-in electric vehicle competition has increased much faster, with most major automobile companies now having one or more PEVs on the market.

In other words, early plug-in electric vehicles have seen sales similar to early hybrid sales, or even better.

And why is all this important? Because hybrids now account for a large portion of the automobile market. Last year, the Toyota Prius actually became the 3rd most popular car in global auto sales. It also became the most popular car in California (which doesn’t surprise me — last time I was in California, I saw a Prius just about every 5 seconds).

Furthermore, plug-in electric vehicles (and especially 100% electric vehicles) are considerably different for the consumer end than hybrids were compared to gasoline-powered cars. With a conventional hybrid, your driving and fueling up is the same as it has always been. Whereas plug-in electric vehicles mean plugging your car into a socket or EV charger. The larger the change, the more likely people are to be cautious about it. While the difference in plugging in versus filling up a gas tank isn’t all that big a deal (and is actually more convenient), the shift surely keeps a good number of people from quickly making the shift.

The implication of all this, however, is that PEVs will be selling like hotcakes in a handful of years.

Why Were The Expectations So High?

So, the question remains: why were sales expectations so much higher than they should have been? I’ve got a few guesses.

1. Car companies looked at the numbers — the overall cost of car ownership for a gasoline-powered vehicle versus a PEV — and figured PEVs would be a smarter choice for a large number of buyers. However, unfortunately, buyers aren’t so rational in their purchasing. Most do not look beyond the sticker price and also compare the full price (or full cost) of automobile ownership when comparing cars.

2. Car companies didn’t anticipate the anti-PEV media attacks and overall messaging that slowed sales of the Leaf and Volt.

3. Car companies thought consumers would be much more excited about fuel-efficient, green cars that cut our oil use and emissions. (After all, a large majority of citizens are supportive of “being green” and cutting our emissions, and are not fans of oil companies or oil wars.) In particular, after the rise in hybrid popularity, I think Nissan and GM anticipated consumers would more easily take the “step up” to PEVs.

Pretty reasonable assumptions. Unfortunately, they were a bit off.

However, I think that as people slowly come to realize that PEVs are actually cheaper, that the anti-PEV propaganda most people in the media have been pushing is BS, and that PEVs are actually more convenient than gasmobiles, we will start to see these numbers take off. I think the fact that PEV sales beat hybrid sales in their second full year of sales in the U.S. is an early indication of that.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB β€” after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • For Mr EVDriver :

    I’ve updated the EV vs ICEV cost comparison spreadsheet (link below). A few notes:

    1- Maintenance costs were never calculated in the initial spreadsheet. There was a placeholder for them, but perhaps I decided to leave them out of the calculation due to uncertainty with the EV costs. (So, initial benefit to the gasmobiles there.)

    A study on the difference in costs was recently published on this matter, so the maintenance costs are now based on that, and included in the calculation.

    2- Projected battery replacement costs are now included, based on projections by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. (They don’t really change much. The EV savings at 9 years go from $20,746 to $17,896. Not insignificant, but insignifiant when it comes to which car wins based on price alone.)

    3- I’ve put a call-out for more input on the assumptions used, and I’ll soon do comparisons with more competitive EVs (the Ford Focus Electric isn’t exactly the most competitive EV on the market. ;D) Thanks for pushing me to do better calculations… which I imagine are simply going to put EVs in better light. But we’ll see….

    Link to the spreadsheet:

  • The first all-electric miles are the most important.


  • EVDriver

    Gotta love Zachary’s cost comparison between EV and ICE, which assumes that battery replacement will be free. Kool-Aid taste good, Zach?

    • Bob_Wallace

      EV – don’t you think you’ve acted like an ass long enough?

      If you’ve got something positive to contribute to the site please stick around.

      If all you can do is insult and act the bore then show yourself to the door.

  • jb

    Otis: who said phevs only go 10 miles? They go at least 30 miles

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’m seeing four PHEV autos.

      The GM Volt has a 38 mile electric range.
      The Fisker Karma – 50 miles.
      The Ford C-MAX – 75 miles.
      The Prius – 15 miles.

      • Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid — 13 miles.

        Ford Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid — 21 miles.

        Ford C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid — 21 miles.

        Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid — 11 miles.

        Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid — 37 miles.

        Think the bottom line is that there’s a lot of variation.

        • Curious why the diff in Plug-in America’s numbers and the EPA’s.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Plug-in America’s number on the C-MAX is clearly wrong. I checked the Ford page.

            A range of mileages should give people some options as to how many electric miles to purchase. As long as batteries are expensive someone with a short daily commute might be better off with the 10-15 mile Prius rather than the 35-40 mile Volt.

        • EVDriver

          Quoting from the manufacturer manuals again, Zach? All of those numbers can be reduced by at least one-third for cold weather operation.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You do know that if you preheat your EV while its attached to the grid you can get full range out of the batteries, do you not?

            You do know that batteries heat up as they discharge, do you not?

    • Otis11

      Yeah, as the guys have said there’s a bunch of variation, and ranges do seem to have gone up quite a bit recently, but the average still looks to be in the upper teens, low 20s. Significantly better, but still not ideal.

  • Otis11

    The issue I see is that many of these PHEV only have an electric range of 10 miles or so – meaning for most drives the engine still has to turn on, and is only on for a very short period. (Which is extremely inefficient and hard on the engine as it never fully warms up – particularly bad for the transmission. The Volt got around this by not having a transmission, but still less than ideal.)

    I think to be a really significant boon, the electric range really needs to be at least 40 miles, 50 would be optimal. More than that and it might as well replace the engine with extra batteries, but much less and you get the first problem.

    The other point of note is that they keep making hybrid cars and crossovers. While this is good and I think many people should switch to smaller cars, some of us still need trucks for various reasons. Give me a F150 with a modified Volt drive train.

    Though, truth be told if I had the money and didn’t need a pickup I’d likely have a Model S…

    • Bob_Wallace
    • Yeah, some of them are lame in the battery category. The Volt seems the best, imho. But depends on one’s needs. Something like 40% of trips are actually just 2 miles or less. Depends on the individual.

      Regarding the truck, the Via Motors truck (think it uses the Volt drive train… is based off of it heavily).

      • Otis11

        Yeah, I’ve been following that one since back in 2008 when it was being developed by razor technologies. They were projecting 100 MPG. That was a little optimistic, but they’re getting there.

        Looks like a great truck – unfortunately I don’t have the money for a $79k truck… but there’s hope that the cost will come down relatively soon as it said in Bob’s link.

        Thanks guys!

    • drees

      I don’t think your “engine is only on for short period” argument holds up.

      Sure – the engine runs less on a PHEV – but that’s the point! If it were really inefficient, the car’s MPGe numbers would really take a hit – the EPA tests are designed to take that into account. As for the transmission – hybrids and PHEVs are designed for this type of duty cycle, so you can be sure that they design it properly to last a long time.

      The average trip is very short – less than 15 miles. The key to making PHEVs with small batteries effective is to be able to plug in at every opportunity – with a typical commute a bit over 20 miles, even a 10 mile EV range would basically eliminate gasoline consumption.

      Sure – a bigger battery would let you reduce gas consumption even further – but look at how much more expensive and how much heavier the Volt is compared to the Prius plug-in.

  • I think the car manufactures haven’t do a good job of teaching people the real cost of a gas car. After all it hard to say, buy my PHEV because in the end my gas cars is going to cost you 3 times it’s sticker price.

    • Yeah, the marketing has been one big fail.

      The cost issue.

      And the convenience of never (or rarely) having to go anywhere to charge, the convenience of easily doing so at home. Just seems to be something grossly overlooked. (And, actually, this is related to the cost thing — as you well know, time costs are no small matter.)

      • Ronald Brakels

        I would say it’s not that the marketing that has been a big fail, rather it’s that it has been swamped by anti-marketing. It’s almost as if some people have a vested interest in keeping oil burning internal combustion engine cars on the road.

        • Bob_Wallace

          There also seems to be a social/cultural tendency to “laugh at the hippies”. Some people, mostly men, have gotten themselves into a mind set that ideas that come from the left are unworkable.

          That puts them into the position in which they have to look for a way to minimize and dismiss ideas which do not come from their clan.

          A large part of US media has been taken over by corporate interests and I would guess over the years most of the hires have been from this group of ‘right of center’ people. It’s not that they have a vested interest in ICEVs, it’s that talking down EVs is what their team does.

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