The U.S. alternative energy car market had its ups and downs this year but several bright spots lit the way.
Our most popular stories by page-view ranking were about leading-edge cars expected on the near horizon.
This may sound normal, and it is – people always like what is new and perceived significant – but looking deeper it may also be an indicator of where the market is at this present time. Society is still mired in an oil-dependent way of life and many forward-thinking readers routinely search for developments promising to shift this state of affairs.
Factors that tempered the market this year – besides inexpensive gas that pulled consumers to trucks and SUVs – included that two of the top-three PEVs – the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf – were entering their fifth year, and sales were down in anticipation of new products.
Likewise the top-selling alternative energy vehicle, the Toyota Prius, is down nearly 14 percent year over year – not as substantially as the two top plug-ins, but a much-higher-volume car – and its 2016 replacement is due early next year.
A host of other factors also played a part, but here’s the positive news: next-generation vehicles do promise to pick up the stride. Battery costs have come down faster than predicted, and regulations continue to spur automakers while consumers in turn have had over a half decade to gain appreciation for advanced electrified technology.
Following are 2015’s highest-ranking topics with related stories linked in with each entry.
5. Next-Gen Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf has been a pioneer that’s plowed the way for EVs to follow, has sold over 200,000 worldwide since December 2010 but what was the top Leaf story in 2015?
Answer: One about the next generation Leaf that no one has seen yet! Our story titled What We Know about the 2017 Leaf outlined what is known without going out on a conjectural limb about the new Leaf.
Actually our 2013 Leaf review and video also attracted a fair number of eyeballs, but another popular story on the future Leaf was one of a few about a 250-mile range battery the Japanese automaker has waiting in the wings.
Short summary: CEO Carlos Ghosn has said range anxiety will no longer be an issue in just a little while.
Stylistically the new Leaf is supposed to veer toward mainstream, and for around the same price point, could yield 200-250 miles as a viable alternative to the 2017 Chevy Bolt – which will arrive first – and Tesla Model 3.
4. 2016 Chevy Volt
Arguably a story of the year, the first plug-in car to received a complete redesign was anticipated in 2014, shown January 2015 in Detroit, and interest has been strong all year.
It only went on sale in October in California and 10 other states following its emission rules, to the dismay of many, but stories leading to that included 6 Ways The 2016 Volt Has Been Improved.
Based on Volt-owner feedback, most wishes were granted and minor complaints were fixed – to a point. The four seater is now a five seater, if you count the middle back seating position atop the battery along with modest legroom. Electric range from an 18.4-kwh battery pack bumps 2015’s unofficial 40-miles electric range to 53, and the gas mpg in hybrid mode is now 42 on regular gas instead of 37 on premium.
Another Volt story of significance was How Much Does the 2016 Volt Cost and Why It Matters. And it still matters, as GM has said the 2017 model due this spring to the rest of the country won’t be officially any less.
A third popular Volt article, Is the 2016 Volt Worth Buying?, also hashed out pros and cons.
The Volt is significant for many reasons, not least being it along with the Leaf launched the major manufacturer plug-in electrified vehicle market. Its EV range is enough for more than 75 percent of all average driving needs to stay off gas, and it has gas backup.
Its return signifies a commitment by GM, and the new “drive unit” (transmission) was updated to enable GM to spin off hybrids at will, with the 47 mpg Malibu Hybrid being the first. A plug-in hybrid could just as well be made, and options are open.
3. Tesla Model X
Shown February 2012 as a seven-passenger prototype, the Model X has naturally had a huge following.
“Naturally,” we say, because it has accrued more than 40,000 paid reservations. We’ve never heard of any anticipated car from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Cadillac, Acura, Lexus, Infiniti, etc. that could claim that.
For a vehicle costing just north of $80,000 it’s a phenomenon even as the first few upper-level units began to trickle out in late September.
Stories that gained interest included a write-up of the secretive company’s pending car titled Tesla Model X Has Panoramic Windshield and Dual Rear Skylights. Info gleaned from the Tesla Motors Club forum was more than the automaker was willing to divulge as soon, and with all the pent up interest, news was welcome for the unique crossover.
Another story that ranked well was about the option Tesla hid on its online configuration screen for a higher-amperage on-board charger that affects recharge times. This was less flattering for the company, but vital info that was only being revealed by the buyers who’d discovered it.
2016 will be the year of the Model X’s actual major roll-out. We’ll see much more news and reviews on the second all-Tesla car that now out, lets Tesla focus on the car for “the masses,” its Model 3.
2. Tesla Model 3
One of our best-ranked stories this year was Countown: Eight Months to Tesla Model 3 Release Date.
This, the car “for the masses,” is supposed to cost from the same neighborhood as the approximately $38,000 Chevy Bolt. For that it is to offer similar “200” mile range and maybe more, Supercharger compatibility, and no doubt up-line trims will also be made available, including possibly other body types on the same platform.
However no image of the Model 3 aside from artists’ renditions have ever been seen, and our story focused on CEO Elon Musk’s statement that it should be shown March 2016.
Another Model 3 story that gained traction was Is Tesla Model 3 Affecting Us as Profoundly as Did Ford’s Model 3?
The short answer is probably. It did after all push that 200,000-plus employee multinational corporation known as General Motors to begin work in 2013 on a Model 3 alternative and is goading many others as well.
Tesla’s Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada is also hoped to help decrease the market price for batteries, not just enabling Tesla to profitably build its Model 3 but also to help other automakers follow it into the plug-in market.
Implied is Model 3’s design will feature much more curb appeal than offerings by Chevrolet or Nissan.
Check back in March when we may know a good bit more.
1. 2016 Toyota Prius
If Tesla or some other advanced product had attracted the most readers we would tell you, but fact is the hybrid with an 11-year head start on Volt and Leaf – launched 2000 in the U.S., and 1997 in Japan – topped this year’s news by a wide margin.
This could be ironic to plug-in fans, as the Prius yet defines alternative energy transport to many “mainstream” consumers and it comes from a company that avoids battery electrification. Toyota on the other hand says fuel cell vehicles are to be the next big thing – eventually – and this has also irked those who side with battery electrification.
That said, our story What Can We Expect for the 2016 Prius? was the number one article about any make or model of vehicle in 2015.
Another one, Is the 2016 Toyota Prius Worth Waiting For? also ranked well.
The new Prius continues the formula forward with 52 mpg for five trim levels, 56 mpg for the Two Eco, and Toyota said it submitted to tougher tests than the 50 mpg 2015 model. It’s also a much better handler, now in its fourth generation, and can boast things like good resale value, reliability, decent cost of ownership and utility.
Not to be forgotten, another top story was the Chevy Bolt, co-introduced with the 2016 Volt in Detroit nearly one year ago and due to be shown early this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in pre-production guise.
This is probably the most significant vehicle in existence now threatening to take mass-market-ish EVs to the next level. With 200-miles range being touted at about $30,000 after federal tax credit. combined with state credits and eventual discounting, this EV could sell for a Prius-like mid-to-upper 20s while offering double the range of all other similarly priced all-electric competitors.
On the flip side, another pivotal story centered around the September disclosure of Volkswagen AG’s diesel emission cheating scandal. It broke in the U.S., was then confessed in Europe, and the on-going crisis has stripped the U.S. diesel market of most sales as VW was the only mass marketer for diesel cars.
The backlash has sent VW and its Audi and Porsche divisions into damage-control mode. The companies are also announcing electrified vehicles and officials in government and industry have speculated the silver lining may be electrified tech will get a boost by Volkswagen’s failure.
In all 2015 saw mixed news, and most of the best stories have greater implications for 2016 and beyond. We’ll be sure to bring you those as they happen.