Plug-ins now outselling electric-only vehicles in green car buying shift
Electric vehicles that run only on their batteries (BEVs) are being outsold in the US market by vehicles that have the ability to run on electricity alone, but also have an on-board gasoline engine. For this story we are going to call all of those “plug-ins.” We examined two sources who carefully compile all manner of electrified vehicles’ sales. Plug-ins have come from behind and now the sales are clearly in favor of the plug-in electrics.
The Past Three Electric Vehicle Years
Modern electric vehicles have now been in the US market for more than 3 full years. The Leaf went on sale in 2010. Concurrently, the Volt, a vehicle that is basically electric, but also has a gasoline engine that can charge the battery, also went on sale that year. Both have been near the top of the US sales for electrified vehicles since. The Leaf has emerged as the number one vehicle of both BEVs and also all electrified vehicles.
Shortly after these two cars were launched the market began to be peppered with many new entries. Most notably, the Tesla Model S. The Model S is hugely important. It was a breakthrough vehicle that redefined everyone’s expectations of what an electric vehicle can be. Its sales climbed more or less in keeping with the company’s promises to the top of the EV charts. Tesla's sales peaked in 2014, plateaued, and have now come down significantly in the US as Tesla culls its limited production for sales to other markets (Europe, China et.). Tesla has dropped to about 4rth in US EV sales now. That is an important thing to note.
The Power of Prius
The Prius is the world’s dominant green car in its hybrid form. By that we mean the gasoline hybrid Prius we all know, which does not charge up with a plug. It outsells the electric car market – The whole market combined. Toyota was begged by owners to create a plug-in version that could run for a short distance on just electricity. It created that car, called the Prius Plug-in, and that vehicle is now number two overall for 2014 YTD after the Leaf. We would have called that simply the power of Toyota’s green branding of the Prius. However, then another plug-in, the Ford Fusion Energi rose up and this month was number two behind the Leaf for the month of June. Now in the top 6 electrified vehicles, we see four plug-ins and just two BEVs. Behind the five we have spoken about already is the Ford C-Max Energi, another plug-in. There are no other electrified cars that even approach these six in monthly sales.
Plug-ins Pull Ahead
Looking back over the past 12 months we see that since July 2013 the plug-ins have begun to pull ahead steadily. One month it was close, but all other months the plug-ins outsold the BEVs. Over the past 5 months it has been a widening gap. In June of 2014, this past month, the plug-ins put up 6,511 units and the BEVs just 4,982. The plug-ins were ahead by 23%. This is the result of many months of the plug-ins gaining on the BEVs. It is not just one unusual month.
Why Are Plug-Ins Outselling Full Electrics?
Many people assume that range is the simple answer to why green car buyers chose the cars with some form of range extender. Whether it be the BMW i3’s very limited gasoline range adder, or the Volt’s ability to go roughly 40 miles on electricity, but always on gas if the driver chooses, or in the form of a mostly gasoline powered car like the Prius Plug-in, which can go about 5 to 10 miles on electricity alone, buyers seem to prefer the option of being able to fall back on gasoline. Others say that the drivers of the plug-ins realize that any of these choices are very green, are doing the math, and are finding that the savings are maximized for them with a car that can go electric sometimes, but also drive on gasoline if need be. We won’t pretend there is just one answer.
Toyota Breaks From the Conventional Wisdom
Toyota recently kicked the electric car bee hive a few ways. First, Toyota made a video for its website that promoted its hybrids and implied BEVs took too long to charge up. The all-electric faction was enraged and the forums were full of nasty grams and lots of fact-checking. Then in a few different speeches top Toyota USA officials made no secret that they think full-electric BEVs don’t work, and won’t work, for most of the American public. They are betting on fuel cell electric vehicles, while building every form of electrified vehicle and also dominating the global green car market with their Prius.
Toyota may have made a ham-fisted attempt to explain why BEVs are not working the way many had hoped, and Toyota may be wrong about fuel cells. However, a look at the sales numbers shows that Americans aren’t buying more fully-electric vehicles now than they were a year ago as a percentage of total US vehicle sales. With the huge government support and taxpayer subsidies provided to these BEVs shouldn't we be seeing steadier progress?
The real fly in the ointment for the plan to go all-electric is the fact that those who do want some kind of electric car are buying one with a gasoline motor included more often than they buy a BEV, and the gap is getting bigger.
UPDATE: Shortly after publication we were alerted to George Betak's excellent report on the BMW i3's production numbers comparing the Range Extended vs BEV i3. The upshot is that it jives exactly with the premise of this article in that the split seems to be about 3:2 now in favor of the i3 with an on-board gasoline range extender. It should be noted that the i3 is only in its second month of US production.
Thanks to Torque News Alum, Nick Zart for his recent post which inspired this story.
Source one – Inside EVs’ monthly sale charts of all EVs
Source two – EDTA’s similar numbers courtesy of electricnick.com