The one consistent truth in automotive sales forecasting is that all forecasts are wrong. The size of the market for emerging technologies, like hybrids and electric cars, is even trickier to forecast. That’s partly because car companies, governments, and environmentalists like to publish and promote rosy scenarios based on market goals, rather than concrete plans.
But when you take a hard look at concrete plans for specific electric-drive vehicles in the next five years, you see a burgeoning market with more than 50 conventional hybrids, more than 30 pure electric cars, nearly 20 plug-in hybrids, and a handful of fuel cell vehicles. Those numbers come from Alan Baum, a Michigan-based auto industry analyst who has been running auto market forecasts since the 1980s.
“My forecast is model-by-model and bottom up. Most of the other forecasts are based on assumptions, and work top down,” Baum said. “It’s not that I’m smarter. It’s an outgrowth of my work on the broad automotive market for a long time.” Baum, who recently left The Planning Edge to form his own market analysis firm, also looks at supplier orders, plant capacity, volume planning, and macroeconomic conditions such fuel prices, interest rates, and government regulations.
“In the past few years, major automakers have changed their strategy. They used to fight fuel efficiency regulations,” Baum said. “Now, as the numbers go up and time marches on, automakers are saying, ‘Look at the list of models. We’re doing our part. We’re bringing a raft of new vehicles and technologies.’”
We keep track of the growing list of electric cars and plug-in hybrids at our sister site. PluginCars.com also has news and community forums.
Baum is tracking a whopping 108 electric-drive vehicles by model year 2015. That’s up from 22 grid-free hybrids and one electric car, the Tesla Roadster, in production today. There will be 27 new model introductions for the model year 2011 alone—effectively doubling the number of hybrids and plug-ins in a single year. Baum indicates that the 2011 U.S. line-up will add 13 conventional hybrids, 3 plug-in hybrids, and 11 battery electric cars. By the model year 2015, the new car market will have 108 electric-drive models. Nearly half of them will be conventional hybrids, but there will also be 18 plug-in hybrids, 32 EVs, and 6 fuel-cell electric cars. Many of these models have been announced, but just as many have not yet been unveiled.
Baum acknowledges that the U.S. hybrid market has been flat—approximately 2.5 percent of the new car market—for the past couple of years. That’s largely due to a sluggish economy and low gas prices. But things are about to change, according to Baum.
When you combine government incentives, rising fuel economy requirements, and automakers eager to provide hybrids and EVs to a group of consumers “salivating for the product,” the market will grow. “We got ourselves an inflection point,” Baum said. “Getting out of the 2 percent market range, and into the 4s or 5s is a big deal. The planets are aligned for this.”
Growth of the U.S. market to 4 or 5 percent—as much as 900,00 hybrids and EVs per year by 2015—could pave the way for even bigger growth in a subsequent phase. In fact, fuel economy regulations expected for the period between 2017 to 2025 essentially will require a massive shift to hybrids, supported by a growing number of electric cars—which are likely to give carmakers extra credits to meet those higher standards.
Conventional Hybrids Will See Biggest Growth
Baum groups conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars into a single “electric vehicle forecast.” He sees the biggest growth in conventional hybrids, and believes that pure electric cars will only strengthen the market for standard hybrids. “Consumers will look at EVs and plug-in hybrids and say, ‘That’s kind of out there. If that works, then maybe it’s time for a conventional hybrid, available in many more models, and with no need to worry about range or infrastructure.’”
In addition, Baum believes that General Motors and Nissan will make sure that this year’s introduction of the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF will be a success—creating even more consumer confidence in the whole market for electric-drive vehicles.