Americans Buy Their Half-Millionth Plug-in Car

Last month the 500,000th plug-in electrified vehicle was sold in the United States.

Counting all plug-in hybrid and battery electric passenger vehicles back to 2008, the tally of leased and purchased PEVs through the end of August now make the U.S. the second major market after Europe to have crossed this milestone.

Europe, which last year surpassed U.S. PEV sales, recorded its 500,000th unit in May this year; China is on track to do it soon also with 462,000 in hand and a higher sales monthly rate now than anyone, and the world total is approaching 1.7 million.

In the U.S., believe it or not, there have been more than 30 plug-in electrified models sold, some of which are household names, and others came and went which many people have never heard of. That’s quite a few considering today there are just 38 regular hybrids for sale in the U.S. and they’ve had since 2000 to develop, though today the market share for hybrids is 1.95 percent, and for PEVs it’s 0.81 percent.

Chart by Mario R. Duran.

Since 2010, cumulative sales have been 499,199 units. Since 2008, including low-volume models not regularly reported, the total is 506,450 – comprised of 52.8 percent battery electrics, and 47.2 percent PHEVs. The Volt leads the pack, and today is the second-best-selling in the U.S. after the Model S. Pictured top, its 53-miles EPA-rated range make it arguably the most effective transitional vehicle bridging the gap between gas and electric, enabling EV use day to day, and hybrid operation on long drives. Charts by Mario R. Duran. Recent Tesla sales are estimated.

The lion’s share of the half-million U.S. PEV sales come from the top models – the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, released in December 2010, and Tesla’s Model S, launched June 2012. Together these models account for 281,000.

Today our sales Dashboard keeps tabs on 28 PEVs – and counting – as automakers have been adding more models to the total of a confrontational and controversial market that is just warming up.

Key drivers to its creation and existence are well-documented regulations, particularly from California, to a lesser extend the U.S. EPA, and global markets also have tightening regulations for automakers who look at the entire world as their selling field.

Top selling PEV manufacturers US Aug 2016

Since the powers that be thought last decade to coax automakers toward electrified vehicles in the interests of energy independence and cleaner air, there have however been many bumps in the road.

Followers of sound-bite journalism will be quick to note President Obama’s famous 1-milliion PEVs on U.S. roads by 2015 goal came and went unmet. It may be achieved by 2018, but growth has taken place in spite of unforeseen events.

Annual US sales PEVs Aug 2016

Overall, there’s been pushback from consumers, automakers, auto dealers, and the press on too many factors to fully document. Some of these include concerns over costs, questions about carbon footprint, and not helping things has been the need for “education,” or lack of clear understanding of PEVs’ features, advantages, and benefits.

Cheap gas has seen Americans purchasing many more trucks and SUVs, with sales of these up 10.3 percent through June, while passenger car sales are down by 7.4 percent. Automakers have meanwhile not introduced plug-in truck and SUV variants at mainstream or even close to mainstream prices, so the current state of affairs is what it is.

Factors

The weight of California as the leading market cannot be underestimated. It’s by itself responsible for around half the sales credited to the entire country due to its zero emissions laws, and arcane credit system inducing automakers to create cars just for it.

California is also the country’s biggest passenger car market period, and last year bought more than 2 million of the U.S.’ record 17.4 million passenger vehicles. Big as it is, there are 4.68 PEVs registered per 1,000 people in California, with four more states seeing 2-point-something per 1,000 people.

The Nissan Leaf is the worlds best selling plug-in car on a cumulative total basis with over 230,000 units. It's presently lagging now despite two upgrades to its battery specs along the way, and a new model with range competitive with the Bolt EV and Model 3 may get here by 2018, if not sooner.

The Nissan Leaf is the world’s best selling plug-in car on a cumulative total basis with over 230,000 units. It’s presently lagging now despite two upgrades to its battery specs along the way, and a new model with range competitive with the Bolt EV and Model 3 may get here by 2018, if not sooner.

Of course this does not compare to the poster child of PEV adoption, Norway, whose 5.1 million souls have given a collective hug to extremely well subsidized PEVs, as internal combustion cars are penalized effectively by policymakers. Today they buy about one PEV for every four cars registered.

Obviously;y Norway is an outlier, and is just here for the sake of trivia, and to show what is possible. And, that is that PEVs are technologically feasible, even in a Nordic country, and even though these are first-generation vehicles.

California leads the U.S. Obviously Norway is an outlier, and is included just for the sake of trivia as the world’s ultimate market, and to show what is possible. Norway is showing that PEVs are technologically feasible, even in a Nordic country, and although these are first-generation vehicles.

California is doing alright though, and only narrowly trails the Netherlands’ 5.83 PEVs per 1,000 people while also being the second biggest market next to the Peoples Republic of China.

As for the rest of the country, states offer varying consumer purchase subsidies over and above a federal tax credit available for $2,500-$7,500 depending on battery size. Actually California’s state incentives up to $2,500 are not as handsome as those of places like Connecticut offering up to $3,000 cash on the hood for qualified PEVs, or Colorado offering as high as $6,000.

A Rising Tide …

… Lifts all boats, goes the saying. In this case the rising tide is worldwide concerns over climate change which is causing policymakers in Europe, as well as California, to look ahead to a zero-emission goal by 2050.

Automakers wishing to do business in these rapidly expanding markets are having to toe the line. The new world’s largest car market, China, is also just waking up and pulling automakers into its frantic effort to clean the air in its cities where people may wear gas masks at times to protect their lungs.

Want a sense of urgency? OK, here's one: The International Energy Agency, citing a dir eneed from cliamate change, and goals set said much more than today's 1.7 million PEVs are needed. "The wide global deployment of EVs [i.e., PEVs] across all modes is necessary to meet sustainability targets," said the agency. "The EVI [Electric Vehicles Initiative] 20 by 20 target calls for an electric car fleet of 20 million by 2020 globally. The Paris Declaration on Electro-Mobility and Climate Change and Call to Action sets a global deployment target of 100 million electric cars and 400 million electric 2- and 3-wheelers in 2030."

Want a sense of urgency? OK, here’s one: The International Energy Agency, citing a dire need to curb rising temperatures from climate change, and goals set, said much more than today’s 1.7 million PEVs are needed.
“The wide global deployment of EVs [i.e., PEVs] across all modes is necessary to meet sustainability targets,” said the agency. “The EVI [Electric Vehicles Initiative] 20 by 20 target calls for an electric car fleet of 20 million by 2020 globally. The Paris Declaration on Electro-Mobility and Climate Change and Call to Action sets a global deployment target of 100 million electric cars and 400 million electric 2- and 3-wheelers in 2030.”

Products developed even for particular markets – like China, Europe, or California – are then intellectual property the automakers may apply elsewhere, and meanwhile consumer demand has begun.

Probably the biggest indicator of this was Tesla’s announcement of its $35,000 Model 3. What was shown were models that would likely spec out for above the minimal price point, and much has to be seen with skeptics poking at Tesla on many fronts, but the takeaway was it motivated 400,000 people to plunk down $1,000 refundable deposits.

Volkswagen said this year it would introduce three new battery electric vehicles annually through 2025, along with PHEVs. It and all other automakers are moving in this direction.

Volkswagen said this year it would introduce three new battery electric vehicles annually through 2025, along with PHEVs. It and all other automakers are moving in this direction.

That signals intent, and demand, and Tesla’s Model S has also shown what a properly positioned product can do in the face of the “entrenched” legacy automakers.

This year, General Motors will be first to release its $37,500 Bolt EV which is intended to net down to $30,000 with the federal credit – while it lasts, assuming it’s not extended, which advocates have said could be possible.

The 200-plus mile range Chevy Bolt EV will be on sale by end of year.

The 200-plus mile range Chevy Bolt EV will be on sale by end of year.

Enabling these things is of course batteries. Costs per kilowatt-hour have plummeted enabling major automakers to follow others – like GM, Nissan and Tesla – with promised products in the next half decade projected to keep growth trending upward, barring further unforeseen events.

After six years of rhetoric alternately lauding and criticizing plug-in cars from every conceivable angle, today mainstream media frequently intone a new truism that ”the future” of transportation is electric, or at least that it will hold a much-more significant place, and sooner than some think.

As for the near term, Michigan-based analyst Alan Baum projects 152,000 PEVs will be sold by year’s end in the U.S., setting a new record, and a market share of 0.88 percent.

Tesla Model 3 prototype. Projected for release as soon as 2017. Copmpany CEO Elon Musk said it wants to sell half a million Tesla models by 2018. Analysts do not believe this is more than a stretch goal that won't be reached, though anything is possible. More certain is it is a goad to others.

Tesla Model 3 prototype. Projected for release as soon as late 2017. Company CEO Elon Musk said it wants to sell half a million Tesla models by 2018. Analysts have said they do not believe this is more than a stretch goal that won’t be reached, though anything is possible. More certain is it is a goad to others.

This would mean PEVs would likely surpass passenger diesels and with the next green car sub-category in their sites being regular hybrids which hold 2 percent today.

Capping off today’s news is August PEV sales were 14,973 units – the best monthly plug-in sales volume on record.

Special thanks to global sales tracker Mario R. Duran with help in compiling data and creating charts.