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There are an even dozen electric vehicles (EVs) offered in the U.S. and their sales range from quite respectable to so little as to give fodder to critics.
As a type of vehicle, EVs are a slim minority of the U.S. sales total at 0.40 percent but they have an outsized reputation and more EVs are pending, including the next generation of higher-range-for-the-buck models in a couple years.
The current crop has grown over the past four years and been the topic of many news reports, features, and while lots of people have heard of them, there remains not a little confusion over them as well in some quarters.
A lot of talk is made over their comparatively limited range and “range anxiety” but a substantial number of anecdotes attest to the truth that once some people dive in, the range worries take care of themselves and they adjust to live within limitations.
Even so, automakers themselves have not all been as gung ho as Tesla in proliferating this new kind of vehicle that could in time fully compete with their primary products.
Around half of the EVs sold are what are pejoratively called “compliance cars” to comply with California Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) rules under which automakers may accrue credits. This helps explain aforementioned very low sales, such as 253 units this year for the otherwise outstanding but limited-market Kia Soul EV – which to Kia’s credit is branching to new markets as we speak – but our list actually contains two compliance cars.
The ranking of Top 5 Best Selling Electric Cars has actually shifted since 2014 for the period of January 2015 through April 2015. Following is the latter, most-updated ordering with commentary. All prices are rough starting points and all cars are eligible for federal tax credits and state or other credits where applicable.
5. Chevrolet Spark EV – 1,276 sold
The converted Korean-originated subcompact with the American brand bowtie is sold in Oregon, California and this summer it’s coming to Maryland.
The Spark EV is a compliance car and makes the list this year due to a massive sales spike in April of 920 units following dealer incentives that gave 920 people a light bulb moment that the car could make sense for them. This was an 848.5 percent better April than April 2014.
For all of this year, it’s sold 1,276 meaning it had 356 sales accumulated from January to March, and for all of 2014, the Spark EV had but 1,145 sales. It ranked eighth last year but you can see it is doing much better.
And that would be easy to understand. The peppy little runabout could fill the bill for the needs and wants of more people, but this is GM’s decision to keep it limited market.
With an MSRP starting just over $25,000, the Spark EV is efficient with MPGe of 119 combined and 82 miles EPA-rated range.
Its 140-horsepower, 402-pound-feet electric motor propels it to 60 in an estimated 7.6 seconds and to a top speed of 90 mph.
The truck-like torque in a subcompact is a dead giveaway that this EV is also a trial run for EVs to come, such as the Chevy Bolt with 200 miles range due in 2017, and possibly other larger cars that actually need that big motor.
4. Fiat 500e – 1,889 sold
The stylized little car based on the gas model is moving up with 1,889 sales this year. Last year Fiat sold 2,148 units.
Starting at just over $32,000 the car has 111 horsepower, 147 pounds-feet torque, 87 miles rated range and 116 MPGe combined.
It’s also a fun little fashion statement which Fiat makes available for low lease of $169 per month with 1,999 down, or $2,000 cash allowance with 0 percent APR.
Up to $14,000 in incentives actually may be available for those who qualify taking the sting out.
Will Fiat make the car available to the rest of the country? This we don’t know but you could write your local congressman if you think that it should, or at least contact Fiat.
3. BMW i3 – 3,087 sold
Including the range-extended i3, BMW has moved 3,087 of its purpose-made EVs which was recently called by one engineering firm that deconstructed and analyzed one the “most advanced vehicle on the planet.”
Built with extensive use of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), BMW has brought Formula One materials science and advanced assembly techniques to its electric city car starting at just over $42,000 – or add another $4,000 for the two-cylinder scooter-derived range extender.
Efficiency for the 81-mile-rate EV is 124 MPGe, and the REx is rated 72 miles e-range and another 78 miles on gas with 117 MPGe and 39 MPG respectively.
The vehicle comes across as avant garde – to many, if not all, and for his part Tesla’s head designer Franz von Holzhausen in 2013 said it reminded him more of an Ikea level design.
That’s OK, because it’s nicer than Tesla’s $42,000 EV.
Er, actually, Tesla does not have one and its own entry level EV that von Holzhausen said in Summer 2012 we could see by 2015 is promised to be revealed some time next year in 2016.
However, when the 200-mile range Tesla Model 3 does get here in maybe a couple years or so, its lead designer may be proved right and there may be a shift toward it unless BMW updates its entry level EV to stay in step.
And this it may do, though we’ve heard nothing official to this effect.
2. Nissan Leaf – 5,638 sold
This is the upset of the list given that Nissan was swinging for the bleachers all last year and dominated the EV sales list in the number one position with a record 30,200 sold in 2014.
For the first third of this year, it is not on track at all, and its 5,638 units is down 22.5 percent.
The 84-mile range EV broke a streak of a year-and-a-half of sales records early this year. News of the 50-mile e-range gas-electric Chevy Volt may have had something to do with it, as could lower gas prices, though plug-in cars have been less hard hit than hybrids by cheap gas.
A rumor that Nissan may offer a 30 kwh battery in the SV and SL trim levels this fall to help its faltering sales has not been substantiated. The car was launched in December 2010 and will not be fully replaced until 2017 by a next-generation car with 180-200-plus miles range.
It remains the most popular in the sub-$45,000 price range and inexpensive leases and subsidies keep it competitive despite declines this year.
1. Tesla Model S – 6,800 estimated
The startup from California which makes EVs, only EVs and forever nothing but EVs – not counting its budding energy storage division – continues to defy the odds. Its sales are estimated because it does not report monthly sales but 6,800 may be pretty close to actual. Last year HybridCars.com was only off by 13 units in its estimate for the whole year.
That said, Tesla is all in with EVs, and so are many of its customers willing to pay $75,000 up to the low 140s for the various trim and configuration levels of the Model S.
Tesla actually again raised prices effectively by offering as its new base 70D – a nice deal in the form of an all-wheel drive version with bigger battery and extra traction over the former rear-wheel-drive 60-kwh model. And it raised its peak price with the over-achieving P85D all-wheel drive trim pushing 691 horsepower.
Efficiency when not sampling the potential to run with Lamborghinis and Ferraris in 0-60 contests ranges from 93 MPGe and 253 miles range for the P85D and 101 MPGe and 240 miles range for the 70D. The rear-wheel-drive P85 is rated 100 MPGe and 270 miles range.
Last year Tesla sold 16,563 and this year through April it’s already at an approximately 6,800, up 26 percent. Tesla is the sales leader and it’s doing it with a car that costs 2-4 times what other EVs do.
Perhaps there’s something to be said for commitment? Half measures by automakers merely complying with cars they make only to meet a minimum rule get middling results but Tesla is making desirable products and is being rewarded for the unambiguous focus.