It has been a half decade since the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf launched the major manufacturer plug-in car market and as other vehicles have followed more are pending.
The present list of U.S. alternative-energy vehicles covered by HybridCars.com’s monthly sales Dashboard reveals 11 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and 12 battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
At the end of last year the count was nine PHEVs, and 13 BEVs. Respective market share presently for PHEVs is 0.24 percent, whereas last year it was 0.34 percent. BEVs are now at 0.41 percent and last year they were 0.39 percent.
Noteworthy also is there are some models no longer for sale like the Honda Fit EV, and new ones like Tesla’s Model X and the 2016 Chevy Volt just now coming on the scene.
Before you get depressed over less than scintillating results, bare numbers do not reveal the whole picture for a market brewing with several positive factors.
The Leaf, Volt and others that came after have plowed tough and resistant traditional gas-car mentality ground. The worst of those days may be past as some antagonistic media have calmed down and consumers have gained greater familiarity with the idea of plug-ins.
That speaks to the demand side, even if many are still on the sidelines. As for the supply side, you can thank regulators around the world for holding carmakers’ feet to the fire.
Meanwhile the single-most daunting bottleneck – battery costs – appears to have dropped faster than expected, and this could mean more affordable cars sooner than later.
As people also ponder the slow road to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and the long-term prognosis for diesel after the September VW emissions scandal, there may be around a dozen new plug-in cars here in 2016 and this list will focus on half of them.
These six are ones closest to mainstream price or otherwise aiming for mass-market appeal. They may thus make the biggest dent in shifting the paradigm and that is why they matter though all plug-in cars offer some greater or less contribution to the market.
2016 Hyundai Sonata PHEV
Second in EV range only to the Chevy Volt, Hyundai’s plug-in version of its redesigned Sonata Hybrid is due soon and priced from $34,600.
Our local media fleet already has the Sonata PHEV for journalist loans, and we’ll be getting one to test mid January. Having already driven it in Southern California, we can tell you its 27-miles EV range is attainable and tops Ford Energi siblings’ 19-rated miles nicely.
Credit a larger battery for the midsized front-wheel-drive car that resorts to regular 40 mpg hybrid operation when the battery depletes to a low state of charge.
Power, roominess and comfort are all within the realm of the others in this competitive family sedan class. Of the midsized five-passenger cars out there, this one will have the highest EV range, and that is what it is all about.
2017 Chrysler Town & Country PHEV
Chrysler’s plug-in hybrid had been anticipated sooner than 2016 and while it may not get here till fall, and will likely be low volume and on the upper end of the price scale, its biggest significance is it breaks the ice.
No, not “ICE” as in internal combustion engine, though you might say that as well. We mean it dives into the family minivan market where even Toyota and its hybrids such as ones it sells in Japan have feared to tread.
Aside from the $81,200 and up Tesla Model X electric crossover, the minivan market boasts EPA numbers in the lower 20s, but this plug-in hybrid may help push that boundary higher.
If it goads other carmakers to follow, even if it is a tepid first attempt by a maker not known for hybrids or exceptional fleet fuel economy, it will have accomplished something more significant.
Plug-in fans can only hope.
Second-Generation Toyota Prius PHV
The plug-in version of Toyota’s all-new Prius is believed to be on track for 2016.
Unknown is the EV range, an Achilles heel for the outgoing model which ceased production June this year.
If it’s more than 11 miles, and indicators are it could be as high as low 20s, it will add that to a 52-56 mpg car known for reliability, utility, resale value, and could be a real winner if they price it right too.
The new Prius is about as quick as the old one with 0-60 mph maybe around 10 seconds give or take, but road manners have significantly tightened up with the Toyota New Global Architecture chassis and rear double wishbone suspension.
Toyota may also roll out wireless charging for this, though details on this and more are yet to be announced.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Another assumed-to-be hugely important vehicle is the all-wheel-drive true SUV with over 20-some miles range by Mitsubishi.
Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV has already been the most popular plug-in vehicle in Europe, leads in the top three cumulative best global sellers list without U.S. help, and like the Town & Country, introduces a new segment of vehicle to the plug-in fleet that Americans want.
Mitsubishi says it should have the redesigned vehicle here as soon as April or maybe by this summer.
The company has been on the rocks however, and its U.S. dealer network and market presence are weak. Those reasons contributed to stories that batteries were in short supply, but while there were days Mitsu may have wondered if it would not pull out of the U.S., this product is otherwise solid.
It’s part of broader plans the automaker says it will implement to electrify its models, and meanwhile it will represent the first quasi truck-based SUV when other automakers have let that market go by as they offered plug-in cars only.
The Mitsu thus could also along with more-certain regulations help to open up the oyster shell that is the U.S. market to more plug-in trucks.
2016 Kia Optima PHEV
A sister to the Hyundai Sonata PHEV, the Kia Optima is a plug-in version of its nicely redesigned Optima Hybrid.
With the same 9.8-kwh battery as the Hyundai, it will thus share honors tied at second-highest 27-mile EV range.
Due to go on sale after the second half of 2016 the car is part of a five-year plan with which Kia says by 2020 it aims to become the preeminent maker of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Similarly powered with a 2.0-liter hybrid powertrain, and midsized, the roomy Kia will slot in well within the class.
2017 Chevy Bolt
Will the Bolt be here this time next year? Maybe if hints by GM’s North American President Mark Reuss mean what they might.
At any rate, the company says its “200 mile” range EV priced around the upper 30s for a net price just a tick below $30,000 after $7,500 federal tax credit is due next year.
This vehicle’s price and specs make it arguably the most significant new plug-in car on the radar. Tesla is expected as soon as March to show what its Model 3 will look like, and Nissan does not have a next-gen Leaf known in the works so soon either.
Rhyming with the Volt, the Bolt addresses range anxiety another way – by giving more than double the range of other EVs in this present price point. Only Tesla’s 70-kwh Model S is in this ballpark, and that large luxury performance car is nearly twice the price.
While the Bolt still won’t meet the needs of some who demand yet more range, it presents a huge leap forward.
In two weeks at the CES in Las Vegas it will be revealed in pre-production form, just a year after its world debut last year in Detroit.
Plug-in electrification is one way for automakers to improve their fleet mpg and emission scores, and this fact has not been lost on numerous manufacturers.
Among models which may carve a niche into respective segments are plug-in hybrid BMW 3-Series and 7-Series, a Mercedes E-Class, Audi A4 PHEV, and maybe even a VW Passat assuming the diesel emission crisis does not slow plans, said Michigan analyst Alan Baum.
Possible also could be a Nissan eNV200 van, and a long shot might be the plug-in hybrid version of the Cadillac CT6, which is aimed first at China, and expected to get here eventually.
And while the 2016 Ford Fusion Energi is already in place, Ford has said in Detroit in January it will show the next-generation of this plug-in hybrid. Next to nothing is known about the next Fusion Energi including its launch date. The cars that we listed were there because more is known of them, but this is also one to keep an eye out for.
What’s more, we might also have just as well mentioned the Tesla Model X which for all intents and purposes won’t see the bulk of deliveries start until the new year. That vehicle delayed three times was on our list for 2014 and 2015 and has officially begun production.
It otherwise could prove to be a very important vehicle.