Following up on my report on fully electric car sales, I was planning to write a report highlighting the year-over-year growth plug-in hybrids saw in the USA last year.
Based on sales data for 11 plug-in hybrids that are either published publicly or shared with CleanTechnica directly, the segment saw 31% growth in 2018 compared to 2017.
BMW’s plug-in hybrid models had 28% sales growth and the Toyota Prius Prime had 33% sales growth. The other plug-in hybrid models I am able to track either had declining sales or were new to the market in 2018.
In other words, there’s actually not a ton to write home about in this segment.
Then I noticed the total 2018 sales of these 11 plug-in hybrids — 95,909. That’s far lower than the nearly 140,000 Tesla Model 3 sales in the US in 2018. Even if you add in another 20,000–30,000 sales for plug-in hybrids for which I don’t have sales numbers, the Tesla Model 3 wins easily — despite its challenging journey through production hell in 2017 and 2018.
Don’t get me wrong — sales of nearly 30,000 Toyota Prius Primes, nearly 20,000 BMW plug-in hybrids, nearly 20,000 Honda Clarity PHEVs, and nearly 20,000 Chevy Volts is much better than if those customers had bought pure gasmobiles. Though, as far as net impact for reducing toxic pollution, Tesla is clearly outperforming most other auto brands combined in the USA. #ThanksTesla
The question that has been discussed for years is what place plug-in hybrids have on the market. Even their staunchest supporters typically acknowledge that they are stepping stones to fully electric cars, and 100,000+ of them a year do seem to be serving that role.
In 2019, we now have a $44,000 fully electric car on the market that can conveniently go on a road trip and can be packed with a ton of shit. (That’s the Tesla Model 3, of course.) That’s a healthy chunk of change above some of these cars (the Chevy Volt, which is going out of production this year, costs $33,520; the Prius Prime $27,300; and the Clarity PHEV $33,400). However, once the Model 3 price gets cut to $35,000 — well, once the Model 3 Standard Range is available — it will be hard to justify buying one of those models, especially if you account for expected gasoline savings and lower long-term maintenance costs.
Some people prefer to be followers, of course. Even with hundreds of thousands of Tesla vehicles on the road, it is a young, new company and not that many consumers are closely familiar with it or its offerings. Additionally, many buyers feel more comfortable with long-existing brands or just prefer to blend in. For those who simply aren’t ready for a Tesla, they still have a bit longer to wait before they can get a fully electric car with a superfast or ultrafast charging network. I’ve long argued you don’t really need one to go electric (especially if the electric car isn’t the sole car in the family or you don’t frequently drive long distances), and we are living with a 2 year old + a 4 year old and only one electric car with moderate range, but people who aren’t ready to buy a Tesla generally aren’t going to be inclined to take that adventurous step. So, for the coming few years, these plug-in hybrids remain a useful stepping stone for this population of buyers.
There are also plenty of buyers out there who couldn’t tell you the difference between a fully electric Tesla and an electrified conventional hybrid, like the typical Toyota Prius. However, these buyers are generally now comfortable with the idea of a hybrid — it is a vehicle that has good fuel economy because of some kind of electric magic under the hood. Such buyers might follow a typical pattern of walking into an auto dealership when they want a new car — every few years or so. With battery costs dropping and plug-in hybrids presumably becoming more cost competitive, it may be easy (and helpful) to sell such buyers a plug-in hybrid with a body style they like without much effort. Just note the high fuel economy and the federal tax credit, ignore everything else, and make the sale.
Naturally, I do think it would be better if all the automakers had a Tesla Model 3 of their own, but since they aren’t capable of that, perhaps more plug-in customer choice is ideal. Hyundai and Kia play this game — offering compelling fully electric and plug-hybrid versions of the Kona, Niro, and Ioniq. Though, the companies could certainly do so with more models, including their most popular vehicles.
How will plug-in hybrid sales turn out in 2019 in the US? Will they again grow 30%? Perhaps 70%? Maybe only 1%?
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