First Volt, now Clarity - EVs are going away
John Goreham's picture

Honda Pulls Back 2019 Clarity PHEV & Chevy Kills Volt EREV - Tell Us Your Theories As To Why Popular EVs are Going Away

Manufacturers are putting the brakes on some of the most-loved electric vehicles in America. We can't get a straight answer why, so tell us your conspiracy theories.
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Last month, electric vehicle deliveries in America declined across the board. Even the Tesla Model 3 had a drop compared to last July, and also compared to its recent monthly highs. It's not just battery-electric vehicles with shrinking deliveries in America. The plug-in hybrids and extended-range EVs are also being sold in much lower numbers now than in recent years. First Chevy Killed the Volt EREV while it was a top-seller among affordable EVs, now Honda has pumped the brakes on the much-loved Clarity PHEV. What's going on?
- Here is the July EV sales drop in facts and figures

Chevy Volt Hybrid BEV

The Volt is an EV that owners just adore. There are multiple Facebook fan clubs, and our own Dean McManis is a Volt owner and advocate for the Volt and EVs in general. His recent story here, Why the Chevy Volt is Hands Down Better Than the Gen 1 Toyota Prius or the Nissan Leaf, puts into focus just how good the car that Chevy killed off was (or is killing, since Chevy's remaining inventory continues to trickle forth). This kind of writing only comes from the heart. Why in the world is GM killing a car that has won so many hearts?

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV in snow

In my own testing this past year, three affordable electric vehicles really stood out. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, for being the first practical and affordable crossover EV. The Kia Niro BEV for being not just the best EV overall in my opinion, but one of the best affordable cars of any type. And finally, the Honda Clarity PHEV. I loved the Clarity so much I wrote TWO reviews. One in which I tried to manage my bias and one in which I just let it flow. (As an explanation, I am an EV fan, and I am also a fan of Honda).

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Honda ramped up its Clarity PHEV to the point that it became the top-selling affordable EV in America. Funny, that was a title that the Volt long-held. Heck, the Volt was the top-selling EV in America overall for many years. If you have not already heard the news, Honda has decided to stop sending inventory of the Clarity PHEV to dealers outside of California. I live on the opposite coast and have friends who ran to buy the Clarity PHEV and love it. Clarity cars are frequently spotted in traffic, and subjectively, I see more of them here in the Commonwealth than I do Tesla Model 3 cars. The Clarity Facebook Club is thriving with happy, active members. So what happened?

Honda Clarity vs. Tesla Model 3

Rather than speculate, we asked Honda. We are fortunate to have super support from Honda. We communicated with a Honda spokesperson and asked if the change was due to demand, or if it was due to a lack of avaibale inventory due to production constraints. Here is what Honda told us (and to be clear, we made certain this was on the record and Ok to publish)

"The state of California is the largest market for plug-in hybrid vehicles. In order to meet customer demand we are currently prioritizing supply of the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid in California, rather than allocating units for dealer inventory in other markets. Dealers in all 50 states are able to order Clarity PHEV vehicles and customers can purchase or lease a Clarity PHEV in all markets outside of California. We are always monitoring the market and can make adjustments to supply accordingly, but Honda remains disciplined in our approach of matching supply and demand and, in this case, that means focusing sales of Clarity PHEV vehicles in the market with the strongest consumer demand."

So, the message seems to indicate that the demand is the issue, not the supply. Or perhaps, a combination of the two. Either way, the two leading affordable EVs in America have been pulled back by their manufacturers. So far, Toyota has kept after the Prius Plug-in, but its sales too have dropped back a bit.

This writer's opinion is that affordable electric vehicles using expensive, and hard to source lithium-ion batteries are a failed formula. Even with back-end ZEV mandates and forced trading among Mfgs, and even with massive consumer-facing federal, state, and local discounting, (the June incentives on new Leafs in Mass. before dealer discounting was $13K) affordable EV deliveries continue to shrink. We have carefully documented the peak battery situation, and feel that is the primary problem. But we are interested in what you think is the reason that the top two affordable EVs in the country have been pulled back. Tell us in the comments below.

You can reach and contact John Goreham on Twitter at @JohnGoreham and on Facebook at John.Goreham.


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Comments

My opinion is that it is due to a lack of marketing, and to a lesser extent the somewhat polarizing view people take of EVs and PHEVs (not to mention even simple hybrids). In California and some other coastal states, there are enough that people don't see them as unusual anymore and are therefore fine with buying one if it suits their driving needs. But elsewhere, IMO there is not yet a critical mass, and hybrids are often viewed (incorrectly) as 'complex'. (Technically, in a good series-hybrid you're just trading an automatic transmission in the transaxel for a simpler electric motor). I took the plunge and bought a Clarity and love it. The Clarity is a PHEV series-hybrid with about 50 miles of EV range, but it has a "backup plan" for when it runs out of electrons - like the Volt did. So I can drive my daily commute without any gas 90% of my time and the other 10% can go across country using gas fill-ups if I want. Aside from the usual (and perhaps over-stressed) advantages of "green" and "saves money at the pump", I have come to realize series-hybrid car technology like in the Volt and Clarity is mature and the driving experience is so highly refined (good smooth torque, super quiet, etc.) that I honestly don't think I can go back to driving an internal combustion engine. Marketing folks need to stress these advantages.
Outstanding analysis Bill. Toyota has promoted its green cars as assertively as possible including buying Super Bowl advert spots for its hybrids. I just don't hear a jingle in my head about the Volt or Clarity. The manufacturers don't seem as motivated to promote them. Meanwhile, the NSX adverts with Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno jump to mind and I have mentioned them in stories many times over the years. Over at GM the "All-electric future" is bright. Meanwhile, here's another V8 Corvette and four more imported crossovers made in low-cost markets without environmental controls or OSHA to worry about. And Mary Barra drives an Escalade. "Because, you know, Michigan in winter." as she said to an interviewer this year.
I've mentioned my opinions about why GM cut the Volt before. The Volt was still one of the top selling PHEVs in the country when Chevy announced dropping the Volt, and the Cruze was a good seller too, but both were cut in order to close several manufacturing plants in the U.S. and with the closures they are losing more American costly labor. GM's excuse was that they were moving to the future, cutting PHEVs and soon building a whole line up of BEVs. But now as we are approaching a year gone by Chevy still only has their Bolt EV, which has had no major updates even though it has renewed long range/lower cost BEVs to compete against. But still there are no new BEVs yet. I think that part of the problem is that the moment that GM actually announces any new BEV we will see the obvious question of when it is going to be built. And the answer will be China, with it's much lower labor force. But with U.S./Chinese import tariffs in place, it might not bring the profits that GM imagined. I had though that the Chevy Volt's market share would be taken up by the Prius Prime and Honda Clarity, but this latest move by Honda doesn't look good there. The Prius Prime is selling strong, but the Clarity sales have not jumped up as I expected. Honda's Clarity sales are still strong in California, and it is good that they didn't cut the Clarity altogether as they did the Volt, and you can still order and lease the Clarity PHEV in any state, so it looks like Honda doesn't want a lot of sitting Clarity inventory in dealership lots. Plus this announcement is no doubt related to Honda "pausing" production on Civics and Accords are the Marysville, Ohio plant. Supposedly to make room for increased CR-V production. At least Honda didn't just cut production of their economy models as Chevy, Ford, and Chrysler are doing.
Well said, Dean. I think the cost side and the failure of all but Mitsubishi to produce an affordable plug-in crossover are factors many are overlooking in the EV situation we have today.
Having just turned in my regular gas-burning Malibu LT lease I was looking hard at Hybrids (Malibu, Accord, Sonata, etc.) as I have a 56 mile round trip work commute (28 miles each way - hey, it's California, so I should say I have a 1 hour, 16 minute commute (38 minutes each way - but at least I am against traffic). While sitting at Honda having my wifes Accord tranny fluid changed, I happened to be looking up the dealerships inventory and spotted the Claritys. Honestly, I have never even heard of them before, even though I live in California. My only other PHEV was test driving a Volt (which was way too small for me). I test drove one the next day and was pretty impressed. The one thing that really jumps out about the Clarity is the bigger battery pack than other PHEVs, which makes it almost meet my commute needs (and for the time being, the company I work for lets the one Tesla EV owner here plug in during the day for free). The downsides I see with the Clarity is 1) that funky styling ; 2) the price tag (Li-On batteries do cost a lot); 3) the really limited gas range (7 gallon talk) for a combined range of 340 miles or so (assuming that the battery really delivers the 2.75 miles per KWh and that the gas really does deliver 42 mpg - both of which are doubtful in hilly California); and 4) San Diego has some of the most expensive electric rates in the nation, so if I do end up having to plug in at home I am looking at up to $0.54 per KWh on peak; $0.30 off peak and $0.25 super off-peak (so I'd be looking at between $9.18 and $4.25 to charge it). So basically, running on electric costs either the same per mile as a VW TDI or twice as much as a VW TDI per mile (depending on what time I charge it)
Most people who use their Clarity on battery-only mode get ~ 60 miles per charge in warm weather and below freeway speeds. The Clarity also only needs a regular 120v line to charge, altho it can use a type-2 240v line. Even at 120v, if you plugged in at work, your commutes would then all be gas-free. Re the price tag - please know that the Clarity qualifies for the full $7500 Federal EV rebate, as well as full state and local rebates (Check your electric company). California is quite generous here IIRC, so the Clarity should actually have a lower final list price than the other hybrids you are considering. I have a Clarity, and even in our freezing Vermont winters and actual mountains not hills, we do get 42 mpg. Upstate summer freeway drive to Montreal we got over 50 mpg gas-only. Fill ups come at restroom-needed intervals, and only take a second - 5 or 6 gallons going in takes no time . Yes - I believe my Clarity is ugly on the outside. But I love it. Test drive one, you will fall in love too, perhaps. :)
I 2nd these comments based on driving our Clarity for over 20K miles with zero problems. It is actually pleasure when you have to fill the gas on long trips because it costs $20 and takes 3 min! Still gets you 340 miles.
I went with a Kia Niro PHEV. It is less expensive, has a 26 mile electric range but a 560 mile total range (11.3 gallon tank). I love it. It is quiet and in sport mode it is fast to accelerate on to the freeway. The smaller battery means it is easier to charge and I don't need a 220V charging system which one would with any longer range electric vehicle.
Current news reports that new car sales in general have softened - one possible reason. One sure reason is the expiration of the Federal Tax credit. I was only able to afford my Volt "pre-owned" as my tax status did not qualify me for the credit on a new model. Because the original owner could, the credit continued to reflect in the used price. Maybe our new Federal administration will revive the credit or if they're really serious, allow for a cash rebate (as was done several years ago to encourage replacement for whole house air conditioning and other appliances).
I have been driving Chevy Volts since they were introduced in 2011. My current MY 2018 gets up to 80 miles on a full charge. That's enough to never use gasoline. (Unless I go on a long distance trip) My solar panels produce over 8MWH per year so I never have to buy power from DTE. I do not understand why anybody would still drive gasoline powered vehicles. I was schocked to hear that GM will stop production of a car that makes so much sense. I believe that money is the main reason. The dealership earns less on a Volt compared to most other models. Most dealers discourage buyers and try to steer them to other models. GM is reportedly loosing money on every Volt they sell. Also, the general public is woefully uninformed. If more of us would drive PHEV and generate their power with solar panels, we would be well on our way to solve our most urgent problems. per year
As for the Model 3: In July 2018 these cars were only being sold in the US and Canada. Now a good chunk of their production is going onto ships and being delivered to owners in Europe, Asia, and soon Australia.
I own the 2018 Clarity PHEV and the primary issue is Honda lied about the gas mileage and their only response has been wait for warmer weather. Honda performed a software update which now only gives 30 MPG on gas. I've yet to see the 47 EV range. Never happened in 16 months. Average is closer to 40 EV. So on a 7 gallon tank, my effective range is only 240 miles at the most...not anywhere near what was told in the marketing. The marketing and ratings are very misleading and since California has the best EV programs its probably the only state that had significant sales. I believe Honda is in same position as Tesla with a potential class action suit for its misleading data on gas mileage and EV range. Why create more members for the suit. I also agree with Bryan that EV rates can cost more than fuel. Since my EV range averages 40 if i have to pay more than $10 for a charging session that is nearly triple what i would pay at the pump for equivalent HV miles. Whenever car companies reduce sales opportunities its all about the loss of potential income or to mitigate future liabilities so cut the losses early.
Tim - you should get you car checked. I’m 11 months into owning a Clarity and have easily exceeded both your ranges. I’m the winter my low was 36 and in the summer I’m getting 55 on the battery. Gas mileage with passengers and baggage is between 46 and 50 mpg on the highway. Marketing is THE issue here. People don’t understand how these cars work. Great discounts and a $7500 tax credit makes the Clarity an awesome deal. I’m sorry Honda is pulling back from the northeast market but I live my Clarity and don’t regret buying it at all. I charge at work for free, so pay nothing for my weekday commute. Batter is plenty for the weekend so maybe I charge up one day each week.
Thanks for your post, i am recently bought 2019 Honda Clarity ,I don't use for 2 weeks ,every drive was on EV ,it 's an awesome cars
My 2018 Clarity gets much better range than that. Very close to the 340. We are somewhat diligent about using HV mode when we are going faster than 55mph. Does anyone else do that?
Greetings, saw your post and I lease an 2018 Clarity. Winter range for me is 30 miles electric. Summer 61-70 consistent electric range. Perhaps battery is an issue. I get 350 mile range with gas and electric. Its a phenomenal car IMO.
You should get your car checked unless you are doing mostly highway driving where all EVs even Teslas get much less EV miles. We get 60 EV miles driving locally.
I bought a 1018 Chevrolet Volt. WOW! Perfect urban car. 62 bucks in 10 months for gas. Goes zoom zoom too!
I have a 2017 Volt and a new Tesla Model 3. I love the Volt but it's a transitional vehicle just as the Palm Treo, which I also loved in it's day, was a trasitional phone that sat between the flip phone and the smartphone. The Volt sits between the between the old ICE cars and BEVs. The Volt served its purpose, its a real EV for local use and it's an effecient hybrid for long trips but the Tesla Model 3 has obsolesed it just as the IPhone obsolesed the Treo and the Blackberry. A base RWD Model 3 is the same price as a Volt Premier and it's a much better car, for 10K more you can get the long range AWD Model 3, a car so good it's outselling the BMW, Audi and Mercedes small ICE sedans combined. GM has acknowledged this, they've said that the future is pure EVs and that's where they are putting their resources. Tesla Supercharger network is 3 to 5 years ahead of the CCS network so today it's very difficult for anyone to sell an EV against Tesla but that won't be true in a few years when the CCS network is suffiently built out. I think GM has factored this in too which is why they are waiting several years before introducing their next BEVs. In 3 years the two big barriers will be gone, an inadequate charging network and high battery costs, that's what GM is waiting for.
Don’t agree the Volt has “served its purpose”. No model vehicle can serve everyone’s needs. The vast majority of consumer driving is less than 50 miles per day and the vehicle can charge at home overnight (or at work) so, a 200+ mile EV battery is overkill for most everyday driving needs. The Volt and Clarity make more sense for most people than an EV. When superchargers can fill an EV battery as quickly as an ICE vehicle can gas up and at the same cost as charging at home, then long range PHEV’s could be phased out. GM jumped the gun on this. Seems most people are more interested in their smart phones than cars and, unfortunately, most consumers just don’t “get it.” Dealers just want easy, quick sales and couldn’t care less.
I agree with George. I do think that the PHEVs are transition cars, I just think that we are only halfway through the 20-year transition period. BEVs are still under 2% of new cars sold even with Tesla's growing sales. I think that there is enough demand for regular hybrids and PHEVs to be around 10% of new cars sold, and by that time BEVs would make up say 20% of new car sales as long as the technology moves forward and prices drop. I do not see hybrids and PHEVs in competition with BEVS, I see ALL electrified vehicles in competition with the 97% gas/diesel cars that dominate the market today. The very best sales pitches of BEVs come from the owners of all kinds of EVs, who can speak about the benefits of electrification firsthand.
I own the 2018 Clarity PHEV and the primary issue is Honda lied about the gas mileage and their only response has been wait for warmer weather. Honda performed a software update which now only gives 30 MPG on gas. I've yet to see the 47 EV range. Never happened in 16 months. Average is closer to 40 EV. So on a 7 gallon tank, my effective range is only 240 miles at the most...not anywhere near what was told in the marketing. The marketing and ratings are very misleading and since California has the best EV programs its probably the only state that had significant sales. I believe Honda is in same position as Tesla with a potential class action suit for its misleading data on gas mileage and EV range. Why create more members for the suit. I also agree with Bryan that EV rates can cost more than fuel. Since my EV range averages 40 if i have to pay more than $10 for a charging session that is nearly triple what i would pay at the pump for equivalent HV miles. Whenever car companies reduce sales opportunities its all about the loss of potential income or to mitigate future liabilities so cut the losses early.
I am a Volt owner and could not be happier. The reason GM (in particular) is killing the Volt is that they never even tried to market it. Can you name the last time you saw an ad for the Volt on TV. I know my answer is "none". When I purchased mine I knew more about the car than anyone at the dealership. They were unable to answer any question so I had to research on the internet. They are also unable to have qualified techs in their dealerships. I had to wait 2 weeks to get mine in when the check engine light came on. They said that since they only have one tech he is really backed up. When I went to pickup my car I asked about how many Volts the dealership services. The answer was 2. If Chevy is truly wanting to be an electric car company they better get at it as they just continue to fall farther and farther behind.
I am a very happy Clarity owner. I don't know how Tim could get so little range from his car, I live in hilly CT and usually get 60 or more miles of EV range (my record is 82) and in summer at least I've gotten 50 mpg on gas only over and over. Yes in winter it went down to the mid thirties on my ski trips to VT but all cars go down a lot in winter temps and with snow tires. My point in writing though is another, one reason I see for lack of promotion of PHEVs is that they are very expensive to make and my guess as an engineer is that at this point the companies lose money on every one they make. Batteries, motors, engine, complex development, and all the interconnections are not cheap. At this point they are just "science projects". Smart consumers should take advantage of this and buy them!