America’s 5 Most Popular Plug-in Cars Through Q1 – Video

In a time when “plug-in cars” are being treated like “compliance cars” to California zero emission rules, America’s five best sellers have an especially heavy weight on their shoulders.

Sales progress from almost nil at the beginning of this decade has seen a proliferation of as many plug-ins as hybrids, but their 1.01 percent market share is about half that of hybrids, as the pendulum is predicted to swing past to that paradigm.

Today there are 16 plug-in hybrids and 13 battery electric passenger vehicles tracked by the HybridCars.com Dashboard, and through the first quarter, a modest 40,703 sales were reported. Of these, the top five carried more than half, with an estimated 23,496 sales.

SEE ALSO: March 2017 Dashboard

Both segments are otherwise up year over year – PHEVs rose 56 percent and BEVs rose 40.2 percent – and this is the nature of the game when starting from a mere trickle of sales: every bit counts, and the percentages move upwards faster.

As automakers report record sales for trucks, crossovers, and SUVs, the entire U.S. purchased 4,013,949 passenger vehicles through March.

Things are accelerating however for plug-ins on the global level, and several carmakers needing to comply with regulations well beyond only California are making aggressive forward-looking statements for their plug-in market share into next decade.

The U.S. market cars now leading the way are all sold nationally unlike others available only in California and some states that follow its rules. That indicates a greater commitment, and these therefore are doing the most to pave the way.

No. 5 – Nissan Leaf – 3,287

People may grouse that after being launched with bullish statements in December 2010, the Nissan Leaf is still being nursed-along as updated but essentially still first-generation, but it did hold down fifth place.

The newly launched 238-mile range Chevy Bolt, still rolling out to all states, came close to the Leaf’s 3,287 sales from January through March, and is nipping at its heels with 3,092.

Nissan is actually up this year by 12 percent however, as dealers have been pricing them to sell as they prepare also for the all-new 2018 Leaf expected by this fall.

The Leaf has been the world’s cumulative best-selling EV with more than a quarter million delivered since launch.

No. 4 – Tesla Model X – 4,300 estimated

Tesla’s luxurious crossover “SUV” has settled into a stride behind the Model S sedan but is holding on quite well for a vehicle in its price category twice what mainstream EVs sell for.

After more teething issues than Tesla would have liked, the fast vehicle with “falcon wing” doors some have said they’d just as soon do without, remains in a class by itself.

Interior volume is actually the same as for the Model S, roof racks are not an option, and the seats lack folding functionality that mainstream crossovers take for granted.

But it’s all-electric, well appointed, and a sleek statement from the American automaker, and sales are up 79 percent over last year.

No. 3 – Toyota Prius Prime – 4,346

Also just rolling out, the Prius with a plug was revealed last year as the upscale version of the fourth-generation Liftback.

Now with twice the battery – 8.8 kWh – and 25 miles EV range, it’s a viable choice next to other plug-in hybrids with similar range, and as an extra added bonus, it’s priced to sell.

Stickered within the midst of the Liftback’s mid-20s to lower 30s pricing scheme, the subsidy eligible Prime actually boasts 2 mpg better in hybrid mode than the 52 mpg non-plug hybrid it’s based on.

That 54 mpg estimate and slightly more eye-catching style perceived than the Liftback have added to reasons why the Prime is shining better than the 2012-2015 Prius PHV ever did.

No. 2 Chevrolet Volt – 5,563

The Rodney Dangerfield of plug-in cars amongst the party of the sitting president deserves respect for being in a league of its own.

Its 53 miles range is around double what other “blended plug-in hybrids” offer, and that EV power is accessible all the way to its 98 mph top speed. Further, a floored accelerator pedal will not induce the engine to come on as it will with the blended competitors.

General Motors has been lambasted over the extended-range EV’s alleged production expense, and market viability, while other automakers got a pass, but fact is, it’s the best-selling plug-in hybrid in America, and has been since its December 2010 launch.

Its better reliability than what some diehard memories normally imagine when thinking of a Chevrolet product from decades past has also helped. People who actually drive the Volt have been very vocal about how much they like them although a mixed-feeling relationship exists even among the fans.

As a compact, it gives up back seat space to efforts from Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, etc., and its manufacturer seems also to have a mixed-feeling relationship in marketing the car above the trucks it loves to sell.

Even so, it was up 39.5 percent through March, last year it squeaked out an annual sales record, and for now it’s still selling above its all-electric Bolt sibling, though priced in the same ballpark.

No. 1 – Tesla Model S – 6,000 Estimated

The perennial upset in the plug-in arena is Tesla’s Model S with an estimated 6,000 sales.

Actually down from 2016 by 3.2 percent, the S has been heavily refreshed with more power, AWD, Autopilot, and new fascia along the way as it is essentially the same underlying car as was launched in summer 2012.

Priced from the mid 70s to more than twice that, its popularity attests to the gaping void in this market space, and the brand appeal the aspiring EV maker basks in for so many tangible and intangible reasons.

The Model S was a grand slam home run since the less than 2,500 Roadsters that were built and sold from 2008-2012.

It has – with help from the detour in Tesla’s “Master Plan” represented by the Model X – bridged a gap until the Model 3 can get here and become the “volume” seller.

That car, priced around half of an S is to begin production in July, and assuming things go to plan, will be the new number one best seller this time next year.

Meanwhile the S will remain distinguished as larger, more upmarket, and Tesla has kept its sales funnel of aspiring customers full, making the Model S the best seller it has, for now.


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