Plug-In Sales Crest To All-Time Record In September

Gas in the U.S. may be cheap, certain leading electrified cars sales may be down, but that did not stop the world from buying a record 47,000-plus plug-in electrified vehicles (PEVs) in September.

It was an all-time record, and the U.S. still cumulatively leads the global roster of highest consuming countries with over 363,000 through August 2015 out of just over one-million PEVs, but China and Europe have already surpassed it for sales during calendar year 2015.

In all, while the market for plug-in passenger vehicles is still very small, September’s benchmark knocking on the back door of 50,000 shows progress is happening globally.

The more-than 47,000 PEVs sold just in the month of September 2015 compares quite favorably to around 45,000 worldwide in all of 2011 when things were just beginning for major-manufacturer PEVs. In 2012 the U.S. alone ramped up to 53,394 sales.

September’s worldwide number also surpasses that of September 2014 by 52 percent, and tops the next-best all-time record sales month of last June by 13 percent.


But the numbers are being propped up largely by marked increases in cumulatively number-two China which has bought more than 250,000 from 2011-Sept. 2015. Just this year it has bought more than half of this total, or more than 136,000 counting also heavy-duty commercial vehicles such as buses and sanitation trucks. At its present sales rate, it is on track to have bought in excess of 200,000 “new energy vehicles” as it calls plug-in vehicles.

While some sales figures in China have been elusive, it’s estimated through September passenger PEVs this year tallied to around 93,000.

By contrast – and counting just passenger vehicles – the U.S. through September saw its total sitting at 81,675. In just September, the U.S. bought 9,742, so assuming roughly 10,000 per month for the rest of the year, it might buy another 30,000 give or take or possibly in the neighborhood of 110,000 – though this could be lower or higher, we shall see.

As for China, it has since 2009 set policies subsidizing both buyers and sellers of NEVs that initially did not see much growth, but 2015 has been the year of the electrified car in that market.

A PHEV the U.S. does not get, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV ranks as third  best seller this year behind Leaf and Model S.

A PHEV the U.S. does not get, the Mitsubishi Outlander ranks as third best seller this year behind Leaf and Model S.

This is really quite the turnabout, as we reported as recently as early this year that for 2014 just the state of California purchased more PEVs than all of China.

Now all of China will surpass the U.S. in PEV sales as domestic manufacturers increase their sales, and incentivized consumers take the offer.

In June 2015 we also noted Europe had surpassed the U.S. for the first time for the period of January through April 2015. It was ahead by 60 percent, is also adding to this month’s 47,000-plus total, and the U.S. is slipping.

U.S. Outlook

Why is the U.S. slipping? Though we opened with the gas-price angle, the actual reasons for why U.S. sales are down go beyond gas prices.

Actually, among electrified vehicles, it has been more-established regular hybrids, not the plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars, that have suffered more because of gas prices.

PEVs attract a demographic with overlapping desires in a vehicle, but they go one step further. PEVs let people drive without gas, so when that is seen as the case, gas prices are less of a deciding factor because they matter less for some PEV drivers.

If your goal is to not use gas, then other factors also come into play than just the possibility of buying a cheaper gas car and saving on fill-ups.

So what else might be happening? The U.S. has been the cumulative sales leader, still is, but the leader board is top heavy with the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla Model S being the three best sellers.


Of these, the Volt has been down significantly as consumers wait for gen 2 which is now rolling out in California and 10 other states that follow California’s zero emission vehicle rules. It’s due in the rest of the country as a 2017 model in spring 2016.

The Leaf also is down, and of the three, only the Model S is holding strong – and a new leader has risen, the BMW i3, which has ascended with increased supply to 1,710 sales last month, up 67.3 percent compared to a year prior.

We will have a full October sales report this week, but looking for now at September, the Volt is down nearly 32 percent from a year prior. If that is not bad enough, the Volt in September 2014 was down 21.1 percent from September 2013, so its decline has been long.

The Leaf also however is finally feeling the effect of a future model known to be better. September saw 1,247 sales, down a sizable 56.7 percent from September 2014.

A 2016 Leaf has been announced with 107-miles range compared to the 2015’s 84 miles. Dealers are cutting prices, but sales are still down.

Also unknown is the effect of other future cars in the U.S., such as three 200-mile range battery electric cars pending.

Chevy Bolt mule.

Chevy Bolt mule.

First is the 2017 Chevy Bolt, another is the next-gen Nissan Leaf which has been reported due for 2017, but that is strictly a rumor, not ever stated by Nissan. It may not get here till 2018 according to a report from Japan last week.

The third of course is the Tesla Model 3. It may be shown by March 2016, tweeted CEO Elon Musk, and may go on sale by 2017, though Tesla has missed production deadlines for its previous cars. The Model 3 is actually already not on target for a 2012 projection in which Tesla said it hoped to have shown it by early this year.

As it is, these factors are overlaid on top of a plethora of others that have traditionally affected the U.S. PEV market.

The good news for plug-in supporters of course is worldwide emission regulations are tightening and making automakers see electrification as a means to an end, and choices keep increasing and getting better.

With over one million PEVs now on the road worldwide, the market is now firmly underway, if still finding its way as well. Consumers are catching on, it’s been nearly half a decade since the Volt and Leaf hit the scene December 2010, and synergies are happening.