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U.S. buyers demonstrate consensus on electric vehicles

EV sales have been below prior year’s level for many months.

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Electric vehicle sales are declining even in light of an overall increase in total U.S. vehicle sales. For about six of the last nine months, EVs sales have been lower than 2014 sales. In August, EV sales were below 2013 levels. For this past month of September the Tesla Model S failed to demonstrate any growth. Sales of the affordable Volt and Leaf were about half of last year's September volume.

This, despite massive price supports direct to the consumer in the form of tax breaks of up to $7,500 and rebates of up to $2,500 from state government. Those rebates are coupled with price supports behind the scenes in the form of “Zero Emissions Credits.” Just in direct dollars affordable EVs are being subsidized by the U.S taxpayer to the tune of about 30% to 50%.

With electric vehicles now making up well less than 1% of over overall U.S. sales, an interesting consensus is forming against the cars. More than 99% of vehicle buyers don’t think they are necessary or will work for them. Otherwise, they would buy them (or lease them). Green car sales, in general, are slow, but not nearly as slow as EV sales. In September, the outgoing generation 2015 Prius outsold 16,011 units, a 13% increase over 2014. The aging Prius outsold the entire EV market in the U.S. and sells at more than six-times the rate of the top EV. Impressive given that Toyota announced a new 2016 model is coming soon which increases fuel economy by 10% across the board.

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Aaron Turpen    October 3, 2015 - 12:27AM

For almost a year now, the lowest trade-in values and resale value charts have all been dominated by plug-in cars. Once the incentives are used up, even fewer people are interested in buying. EVs have their place and will eventually become a market staple, but I think EVangelists are often the worst enemy of the cars' marketability.

ricegf (not verified)    October 3, 2015 - 1:18PM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

The "low" resale value can be primarily attributed to the incentives you mention.

When shopping in Feb 2015, I found that the after-incentive price in Texas was $21,000 to purchase a new 2015 Leaf, $19,000 total payments to lease a new 2015 Leaf, or $14,000 to buy a used 2012 Leaf. This is a 33% depreciation after 3 years.

According to Edmunds, the average depreciation for a gasoline car is 46% after 3 years.

Thus, the "high" rate of depreciation is mostly driven by the auto industry's determination to ignore the simple reality that buyers factor the incentives into their valuation of a used car - exactly as I did.

Aaron Turpen    October 3, 2015 - 9:40PM

In reply to by ricegf (not verified)

That is very unique. I do analysis at on cars selling below resale value and the last several months have had 7-8 of the top 10 on that list be plug-in cars. Usually the LEAF or the i-MiEV top the list. Both routinely sell for two or three thousand below KBB listing price. The data pulls from five model years over any given month. Right now, you can buy a Nissan LEAF in Colorado, new, for about the same price as a mid-trim Versa sedan.

Douglas Stansfield    October 3, 2015 - 5:07AM

Really? EVangelists are the worst enemy of the cars marketability? Do tell? Also, the EV market is trending down and SUVs are trending up because Americans have short attention spans and can't remember gasoline at $5/gallon. Should there be any turmoil back in the Oil market and the price spikes back up you can bet the public will migrate back to the EV market. Personally, I've been driving EV for close to 8 years now and don't ever want to go back. Once the 300+ miles range EV is here, I expect fewer people will use "Range" as an excuse because the car is full every morning.

John Goreham    October 4, 2015 - 3:12PM

In reply to by Douglas Stansfield

Gasoline has never had a daily average of $5.00 in the United States. It topped $4.00 in the US on average for a month or two before dropping back dramatically in 2008. In some markets, California for example, it has touched the $5.00 mark. If I am wrong, post your source. Over a six month span the highest ever average US gas price was about $3.60.

ricegf (not verified)    October 4, 2015 - 4:03PM

In reply to by John Goreham

While your claim is technically correct, the OP didn't reference "daily average price". S/he just said "Americans".

Your own source quotes $8 a gallon in Alaska, certainly part of America. Gas has reached $6 a gallon in parts of California.

But in any case, the OP simply pointed out that gas prices are down, and the next time they go up, interest in EVs are likely to follow.

ricegf (not verified)    October 3, 2015 - 8:36AM

Or perhaps it's because the 3 major brands are in major product line transitions simultaneously? The Volt has been in short supply awaiting shipments of the 2016 model, now with 53 mile electric-only range, the 2016 Leaf has been announced with a 25% range boost, and the Tesla Model X launched just this week after 2 years of hype and anticipation.

wolrah (not verified)    October 3, 2015 - 10:40PM

In reply to by ricegf (not verified)

And/or at least right now as far as pure EVs go due to the range issue there's basically Tesla and everyone else. If initial purchase price was not a concern, a 90kWh Tesla would be a perfectly viable primary or sole vehicle for the majority of people. All the others with their 100-ish mile ideal ranges are usable to a lot of people but would be limiting or impossible for many others.

Obviously purchase price is a concern for most people which is a major reason why they're not that common (outside of certain wealthy areas) but I think if 200+ mile EVs were affordable to normal people you'd see them everywhere. Cheap fuel, relatively no maintenance, and the kind of torque that makes a vehicle fun to drive in day-to-day circumstances.

John Goreham    October 4, 2015 - 3:20PM

In reply to by wolrah (not verified)

The fuel for EVs where I live, Mass., one of the 12 states that share CARB's mandates and incentives, is about $0.22 per kWh if you purchase from a deregulated supplier. It is $.26 otherwise. Gasoline is about $2.25. The cost per mile of an all electric Leaf is higher than an all-gasoline Prius or any other 50 MPG hybrid. (Accord, Ford etc). This is not a new trend.

Brian Keez (not verified)    October 3, 2015 - 9:34AM

There are many many more dynamics to review proir to making a conclusion about our 'consensus' on EV's. Product education is likely the biggest hurdle. Most people still think that EV's are weird little two seaters with a max speed of 50 mph.
Also anyone who is thinking about an EV purchase knows that a 200 mile range car (Bolt) is on the horizon and are waiting for it.

Aaron Turpen    October 4, 2015 - 6:25PM

In reply to by Douglas Stansfield

Not only is that poorly written, but you draw non-conclusions based on little fact. First, you say that the EV sales rate is dropping and then say that this is indicative of a good market? Then you use a chart showing only sales up to the end of last year as your header. Finally, you use the phrase "Although small compared to the USA total car market, 82,404 vehicles is not a small market." which is self-contradictory.

Douglas Stansfield    October 4, 2015 - 8:48PM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

You're obviously having trouble reading the trend line on the chart. Let me help you as this market is relatively new. You can choose to ignore the trendline on the chart or you can blame the messenger but it doesn't change the simple fact that up until this year, this market has been only going in one direction and that is up. I would call this a HEALTHY trend!

Aaron Turpen    October 4, 2015 - 10:24PM

In reply to by Douglas Stansfield

I can show you charts that show the same for automotive in general. The same trends held true of Mazda's rotary engine back in the day. Same with the iPhone 6. The fact that the trend changed this year could be indicative of a lot of things. Most likely it's indicative of the plug-in market having saturated as-is. Nevermind that the chart is counting from zero. Versus the automotive market as a whole, which John pointed out, plug-ins are not growing in terms of percentage of total market. They haven't been for some time. They barely keep up with market growth. THAT, friend, is an actual trend that matters. Only hybrids with no plug can claim to be growing in rates of purchase commensurate with market growth for the automotive sector. Both of these facts would indicate that the plug-in market has reached a saturation point.

Charlotte Omoto (not verified)    October 7, 2015 - 12:31AM

It seems that certain brands like Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt have had their sales drop, but if you look at Tesla, BMW i3 and i8, their sales have increased. So perhaps it is a complicated situation and it may be misleading to lump all plug-ins, PHEV and BEV together?

John Goreham    October 7, 2015 - 9:36AM

In reply to by Charlotte Omoto (not verified)

Very true. Tesla looks to have a growth of about 20% this year compared to last and the new X will help the bottom line. The i3 is also selling better than its rate from last year when it launched. Of course, the i3 has a battery version and also a battery/gasoline engine version. I love the i8 and had a chance to test it for 5 days this summer. However with sales in the 200 per month range on a good month it is hard to call it a production car.