As Tesla slips to fourth in sales many underestimate Toyota's impact on US electric car market
Very quietly Toyota has been regaining its substantial share of the US electrified car market. In 2013 Toyota’s cars with plugs, the RAV4 EV and Prius Plug-In, garnered about 13% of the market. Since the start of this year Toyota’s share of the market for of cars that can run on electric power either partially, or entirely, has risen to 19%.
In 2012, the year that electrified vehicles really became a viable option in the US, Toyota owned a quarter of the electrified car market. That year the Chevy Volt was the sales leader among electrified cars in the US. Nissan’s Leaf is now the leading seller in the electric car market having outpaced the Volt and Tesla Model S by almost a 2 to 1 margin. Only the Prius Plug-In rivals the Leaf in sales now.
What Happened to Tesla?
Tesla’s Model S gets most of the glory in the mainstream media coverage of EVs. One recent headline blared "Electric Vehicles Are Dead, Long Live Tesla." However, its US sales have dropped back to a distant fourth place in the electrified vehicle market. Tesla has shifted its focus to a more global distribution for its amazing sedans, which it can only produce in limited numbers despite frequent stories about its future expansion plans. Ford now sells more electrified cars in the US than does Tesla each month. In May Ford sold roughly twice as many as Tesla according to Inside EVs, one reliable source we use.
The Power of the Prius Hybrid’s Owner Loyalty
Part of Toyota’s success has been built upon its excellent Prius Hybrid family. The Prius hybrid (not the electrified one with the plug) has sold literally hundreds of thousands of units per year, for many years in the US, and is currently on a 325,000 unit per year pace. There is little doubt the Prius Plug-In has benefitted mightily from that green legacy. The RAV4 EV on the other hand is a compliance vehicle sold exclusively in the California market that Toyota restricts to low numbers by design. Yet, the RAV4 EV still outsells a bit less than half of the electrified models for sale in the US.
Prius Hybrid is a “Green Car Gateway Drug”
Subjectively, our discussions with Tesla owners and shoppers for the new BMW i3, seem to indicate that many green car buyers start with a Prius hybrid. Many buy a second, but some turn to a more “extreme” green car like the electric-only Nissan Leaf, looking to go further with their environmental commitment. The Prius Plug-In may fill that need for some buyers. However, those green car shoppers looking to step up the environmental commitment, and who also want more performance and luxury look to the Tesla Model S and new BMW i3. Toyota has not offered buyers a “step-up” car with a plug that goes further both environmentally and in performance. This may have been the reason Lexus, Toyota’s premium division, recently created an advertisement disparaging EVs and highlighting the company’s luxury hybrids.
Misconceptions About Toyota’s Commitment to Electrified Cars
There exists a perception in the EV blogosphere that Toyota does not have a focus on electrified vehicles. Toyota, Lexus, and Scion combined offer 18 car models in the US market. The Prius Plug-In outsells 10 of those models each month.
Toyota’s RAV4 EV and Prius Plug-In are rarely the models that get the attention of the press. They are not the fastest, don’t have the longest range, and do not enjoy the most active fan clubs. The company also seems to downplay its commitment to cars of the type. Despite this, the Toyota's market share continues to creep up on first place in the segment.
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