Global 10 Best-Selling Plug-In Cars Are Accelerating Forward

The global plug-in electrified vehicle (PEV) market is picking up steam, beginning to fire on all cylinders … or, rather, scratch those legacy tech metaphors.

Let’s just say it’s beginning to tap into the instant torque, humming forward now with increasing speed, and the top-10 best sellers are leading the way.

When last we checked in September 2015, the tally for all plug-in cars sold had just crested past 1 million units since the count began early last decade. This they did quicker than it required regular hybrids to do, and today they’re past 1.6 million units, with 2 million on the horizon by year’s end.

While that count is for a few dozen models, at this point, just the top 10 account for 886,000 out of 1,575,000 sold though June, or 56 percent of the total PEV market. (Now August, the actual numbers are marginally above this though not yet reported by automakers.)

Following is the rundown through June in ascending order. The split between tech type is about 55.6 percent battery electrics, and 44.4 percent plug-in hybrids – slightly different from the global total PEV split of 60/40.

10. BYD Tang – 37,509


No, Tang is not an orange-flavored powdered drink the Apollo astronauts pitched in the 70s; it’s a Chinese plug-in hybrid that’s otherwise as big a hit – in its home country.

Launched in June 2015, it soon bumped the Ford Fusion Energi which had been introduced in 2012 from the top-10 roster.

The BYD Tang is endowed with a couple of desirable attributes: Utility and power. It actually has more combined system power than a Corvette, but might save more fuel in an average daily drive than a Prius.

Warren-Buffett-backed BYD does have a U.S. corporate presence, with one car EPA certified for 2016, but to date it’s selling commercial vehicles, biding its time until it sees opportunity to set up shop for consumers on these shores.

9. Mitsubishi i-MiEV Family – Approx. 37,600

Mitsubishi i - Portland

About the opposite end of the spectrum is the venerable i-MiEV and re-badged French Peugeot and Citreon variants which since 2009 are still hanging in there as a top-10 best seller.

The i-MiEV started from nearly the ground-floor of the then-infant EV market, and was the first series production electric car available for retail sale.

It is actually a converted kei car from Japan that despite quirks of design – like the hood latch still on the right hand side in left-side drive U.S. versions – has done an admirable job of providing frugal electric wheels with 62 miles rated range.

8. BMW i3 (BEV and REx) – Around 49,500


BMW’s purpose-made EV launched in Germany in 2013 was one of the two that’s just passed 50,000 cumulative sales by July, and the U.S. accounts for 39 percent of that.

Though Tesla’s design chief once said the carbon-fiber reinforced plastic bodied creation was an “Ikea” level design, Detroit-based Munro & Associates declared it the “most advanced vehicle on the planet” after forensically tearing it down.

Numerous unique assembly techniques and innovative systems come along with a vehicle with 81 miles EV range or 150 total for the range-extended REx.

Sales have however slowed, and while we raised the question more than a year ago what BMW would do as new 200-mile BEVs are pending, its answer for now is a revised battery in the existing car good for 50-percent more range.

This news has seen a spate of new orders for consumers who can live with over 120 all-electric miles in this advanced example of electrified automotive engineering.

7. Renault Zoe – 51,193


The Zoe all-electric car is the other PEV which just crossed 50,000 and it has traded places with the i3 before.

Renault Zoe and BMW i3 Join The 50,000 Sales Club

It’s been relatively well-received in overseas markets as a product of the Renault-Nissan alliance – which is in process of enveloping ailing Mitsubishi with a tie-up due to consummate in October.

An alternative to the Leaf, the smaller car is smartly styled. NEDC range is estimated at 130 miles, with a real-world range of around 90 miles in temperate conditions or 60 in cold weather.

The Zoe was launched in late 2012, a couple years after the Leaf so its count is respectable considering it’s not sold in the U.S. which has given a big boost to the Leaf.

6. BYD Qin – 56,191


Didn’t we just read of an out-of-the-gate success story with another BYD car?

Well, before the Tang was the Qin and starting in 2013, it hit 50,000 sales in fewer months than did the Chevy Volt and variants on a global basis.

This feat was only aided by China’s heavily incentivizing domestic plug-in makers and buyers, and last year it became the world’s top PEV market, ahead of Europe and the U.S.

Though the Qin is not as quick as the Tang, it does boast a 0-60 time of less than 5.9 seconds.

The “super electric” Qin utilizes a 13-kWh battery which has been optimistically reported as capable of 43 miles range.

5. Toyota Prius PHV – Over 75,400


The plug-in Prius has been out of production for over a year, as the replacement 2017 Prius Prime is due later this year. Though launched in 2012, it has ranked as high as third in the world PEV sales roster.

Can we say “brand recognition” anyone? Building on the Prius Liftback hybrid, we alternately hear of the car as a bit of a flop with underwhelming 6-11 miles EV range from its 4.4-kWh battery depending on who’s estimating how.

Be that as it may, its flurry of prior global sales may keep it in fifth place long enough for the 8.8-kWh Prime with 22 miles range to come in and start the sales counter again.

4. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV – About 107,400


Another talked-about car, the plug-in Outlander has been Europe’s best selling PEV, providing a synergy of SUV utility, electric range, AWD, and relatively OK subsidized price.

In the U.S. only four European upscale SUVs are sold as plug-in hybrid variants, but sadly the Outlander was postponed by about the sixth time last month as Mitsubishi awaits fortification from Nissan.

As it is, the vehicle has sold only 10,000 fewer units than the Volt though it was launched more than two years later.

This, plus American’s known preference for SUVs has plug-in advocates saying they’d dearly like to see not only the Outlander with 12-kWh battery finally get here, but other automakers jump into this space, ideally with more competitive models.

Certainly the technology exists, but the will to make it so has not been.

3. Volt/Ampera Family – About 117,300


The originator of the class, General Motors’ superbly engineered “extended-range electric vehicle” was launched in December 2010. It has been sold in Australia as the Holden Volt, and Europe as the Opel Ampera and UK as the Vauxhall Ampera, and Chevrolet Volts were sold in Europe as well.

Ampera orders were initially reported as high, but then tapered off badly. Only 10,000 were sold.

Ampera orders were initially reported as high, but then tapered off badly. A bit more than 10,000 were sold.

Those markets are now not receiving the second-generation 2016 Volt released last year in 11 California ZEV states and Canada, and this year to the rest of the U.S.

Its 53-mile EV range and ability to run in all-electric mode at all speeds without the gas engine kicking on separate it from lower-range blended PHEVs with 20-some miles EV range.

Its powertrain was also redesigned in 2016 so as to enable GM to rapidly develop more hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants as its management sees fit.

A potential Equinox SUV PHEV has come to mind for PEV advocates, but to date the 46 mpg Malibu Hybrid is the first Volt spin-off, being co-developed with the Volt.

2. Tesla Model S – 129,393


Launched mid 2012, little needs to be said about the Model S as it has been the darling of (most) media and Tesla fans propelling its maker from being an aspiring hopeful with outstanding $465 million federal loan, to stock-market upsetter, paying the loan off early with increased TSLA valuation, and further fame through to today.

Despite costing 2-4 times more depending on specifications than the other top-3 best sellers, the Model S has held its own.

Tesla has along the way updated it over the air, and added innovations like AWD, more power, Autopilot, and shifted around other things as well.

A facelift recently added to updates significant enough to keep the model still relevant and sales are still increasing, having already passed the Volt/Ampera despite starting two-and-a-half years after General Motors’ Volt variants.

1. Nissan Leaf – Over 228,000


Launched December 2010, the same month as the Volt, the Leaf is Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s top seller in his early on bullish push to be a leader in PEV technology.

Sold around the world including, of course, tech-loving Japan where other non-Japanese brands are nearly closed out, the Leaf is the quintessential EV.

Early models did suffer battery degradation issues, and the vehicle does save production costs by not liquid cooling its battery. Resale values have also plummeted from subsidized leases filling the market with clean used examples.

The car is also due to be replaced, and Nissan has only increased range a second time, now up to 106 EPA-rated miles while GM has jumped ahead with its 2017 Bolt due this year with 200-plus miles, and Tesla has over 400,000 intenders for its 215-plus mile Model 3.

Nissan is understandably quiet as it needs to sell product on hand. As its number one standing here shows, it has been successful at that before, and while sales have tapered off markedly since last year, it is expected to be more successful again.

The automaker has shown that it is planning a competitive replacement and has said bullish things in the past couple of years including range worries will disappear by decade’s end. The new Leaf might get here by 2018, but this has not been announced officially.

Meanwhile the twice-revised generation-one Leaf has a 100,000-unit lead over the second-place Model S, and remains a solid competitor in its class.

Thanks to Mario R. Duran with help in compiling data.