If you follow mainstream media’s coverage of electric vehicle sales in the US, there has been a lot of negativity recently. Reuters proclaimed that “More alarm bells sound on slowing demand for electric vehicles” just last week. This week a Barron’s headline reads “EVs were supposed to be the answer. Now they’re the problem… [as] Investors are reeling, wondering if there is a growth problem for the disruptive tech that auto makers worldwide have embraced”. These are just two examples of recent negative stories, however if you read beyond the headlines you may realize that the headlines don’t necessarily align with the analysis that follows (suggesting that if one only pays attention to the headlines, you could miss what’s really going on). For example, the Reuters piece reveals more subtlety, some of which is counter to the headline luring the reader’s attention: “Electric vehicle sales are still growing strongly, but that demand is not keeping up with the expectations of carmakers and other companies that have invested billions of dollars in the EV space. Expectations for persistently higher interest rates has led companies to alter plans as they eye 2024 warily” (emphasis added). These 3 sentences capture the whole situation in brief; EV sales are not slowing down, across the board (and by extension we can say that demand is not slowing across the board either), they are still growing and in Kia’s case, they are growing significantly, year-over-year. However, it is the expectations of carmakers and other companies (i.e. those investing in the industry or those who supply the industry with components like batteries from Panasonic) that are coming up short, and therein lies the real problem: people’s expectations. What are people expecting from EV sales? Nothing short of exponential growth, according to a recent article in CleanTechnica. But that seems an unrealistic expectation.
I will save for later an analysis of whether 2023 EV sales have essentially kept to an exponential path, compared to past years, and perhaps consider the outlook for 2024 as well. I want to return to the focus on Kia’s sales, of EV’s in particular, as they show us some of the minutiae we’ll need to consider in the context of EV sales generally. This week Kia announced that sales of their EV6 are up 30%, year-over-year, and their entire lineup of EV models (which through the end of October only represents one other model, the Niro EV) is up 83%, year-over-year. That sounds like a very healthy, if not quite exponential, growth curve for one of the most highly regarded electric can manufacturers. What’s more, sometime this month, or next, we should see Kia’s 3rd EV model begin deliveries to US customers, the eagerly anticipated EV9. Thus it is highly likely that Kia will finish out the year with its strongest annual EV sales figures ever. How many US EV sales might Kia have by the close of 2023? If last year’s number of somewhere around 30,000 EVs (I am not including plug-in hybrids in that figure) is accurate, and Kia ends up with 80-100% greater EV sales this year, then Kia would see somewhere between 54,000 - 60,000 total EV sales in the US this year. But I don’t think that is actually what Kia is saying and I am not willing to be that optimistic. Since it is very difficult to know exactly how many EVs Kia has sold (they don’t break out sales of the Niro EV specifically, from its hybrid variants), the best I can do is a little convoluted guesswork from information Kia does share. We know that the EV6 has sold 16,340 units so far this year (2,410 less than the first 10 months of last year), remember that 30% year-over-year increase is comparing October 2022 sales to October 2023 sales, not the cumulative year to date totals. We also know that Kia sold 31,493 Niros in the US this year compared to 21,877 last year (a healthy increase of about 44%), but we don’t know how many of those Niro sales were of the EV model. I have previously estimated the Niro EV to make up roughly 33% of all Niro sales and Forbes has conveniently published the total number of Kia Niro EVs sold in California through September (California being the leading state for EV sales by a huge margin) at 3,395 units, and if my 33% estimate is accurate that means about one of every three Niro EVs sold in the US are sold in California. Honestly that math seems reasonably accurate by this somewhat arbitrary measure since California represents about 37% of the entire country’s EV registrations, according to the US Department of Energy. Thus it may be reasonably safe to say that this year Kia has sold somewhere around 11,000 Niro EVs in the US through the end of October. Combine those with EV6 sales and we are possibly over 27,000 EVs sold with two months left to go. I think Kia is going to end up selling between 30,000 - 32,000 EVs in the US this year, or somewhere between about 2% - 6% more EVs for calendar year 2023 compared to 2022. Definitely not exponential growth, but growth nonetheless.
Kia is not alone, either. Hyundai’s EV sales are up too, and Tesla had already surpassed its entire 2022 sales figures by the end of September, and is sticking to its estimates for 1.8 million total vehicle sales for 2023. In fact, Ford’s EV sales are up 12.6% through October, according to elektrek. Chevrolet’s EV sales were also up 8% year-over-year according to InsideEVs. Collectively these 5 brands represent the vast majority of all EV sales in the US at present. And since every single one of them is showing positive EV sales growth, this is why we can safely say that it is expectations that are the real problem, not actual EV sales. Expectations are souring because not as many EVs are selling as certain people expect so we may end by asking: why are sales cooling off, a bit? The number one reason is perhaps the most obvious: prices. High interest rates, combined with dealerships adding significant markups and the typically higher starting price of EVs in the first place are cooling off EV sales more than anything. Why am I saying this when outlets like Forbes place this at the bottom of their top five? Because while familiarity with the product, range anxiety, charging network and tougher sales trajectories now that early adopters have gotten their EVs all impacts sales too, none of those things was really any different late last year through the start of this year, when the mood was more optimistic, yet EV sales were growing fast then. No, the main reason EV sales are growing, but not as fast as investors and manufacturers might like is how much it costs to buy one now. And thus, the simple answer to selling more EVs and keeping a healthy growth rate is to keep the prices down (something that is certainly easier said than done).
Do you agree? Please leave your thoughts and questions below.
Images courtesy of Kia.
Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Torque News Kia or X for regular electric and hybrid news coverage.