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The Top 5 U.S. Plug-In Electric Vehicle Makers Might Surprise You, A Little

I’ve written up several predictions of which automotive brands will round out the top 5 plug-in electric sales spots (behind 1st place Tesla). Now that we are near the end of another year, we can pretty well see how those predictions turned out, but what does next year have in store for the U.S. plug-in electric vehicle market? Will the same 5 brands retain their lead spots next year too, or will we start to see some shifts?


First, by plug-in electric, I mean both plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and fully electric vehicles (EVs). For the sake of this article I am not going to focus on electrified vehicles (i.e. hybrids (HEVs)) that do not plug-in. Second, I am going to use sales figures and my own estimates through Q3 primarily, but will look at October sales too as an indicator of how the final quarter is going. Third, I am going to group brands by their “familial” relationships: as best I can, Ford and Lincoln will be counted together, Hyundai, Kia and Genesis will be as well, VW includes Audi and Porsche and Toyota will be counted with Lexus. I must point out here that GM missed the top 5 cut this year (Toyota bumped them out by almost 2k units to take the 5th spot). This is something GM should really be stewing about. They are the ones running all those EV ads on NFL commercial breaks aren’t they? They are also the ones who claim they’ll outsell Tesla the soonest. So there’s your first eye opening bit of news: GM, as far as traditional automakers go, is something of a laggard in the U.S. plug-in market space contrary to what their advertising suggests. So, while GM is still selling more plug-ins than all but the 5 brand families above it, it's quite premature for them to suggest their EVs are Everywhere. Perhaps we just chalk that up to the 40 somethings on the GM marketing team and their appreciation for the dulcet tones of Stevie Nicks? I am sure if you were to ask GM though, they would crow about the veritable flood of product they are about to hit us with, next year, and the year after, and… we’ll see if GM can deliver on all their promise, soon enough.

At the end of last year and beginning of this year I tried to forecast which of the 4 traditional automakers would be in what position compared to Tesla. It turned out that Toyota came in second, due to having sold over 52,000 PHEVs (the Rav 4 Prime and the Prius Prime), and the Korean brands came in third (with an estimate of just under 30k plug-ins sold) with Ford (a skosh over 27k) and GM (almost 25k) rounding out the top 5. With Toyota dropping to the number 5 spot, it looks like they are also falling behind, like GM (though who knows, if GM can push enough EV product through their year end sales channels, they might still retake the 5th spot). So far, Toyota has sold less than half the number of plug-ins they did all of last year, and had an embarrassing recall on their BZ4X to boot.

While many other traditional automakers are also making electric cars, and a few new start-ups are rapidly grabbing market share (Rivian seems poised to finish in the top ten for plug-in sales this year, with almost 12k units sold through Q3), the top 5 may be the real leaders in the push toward electrifying our rides. Another newcomer in the top 5 this year is the VW family of brands, sitting in 4th place after Q3 with almost 29k units sold (which means they have sold more than the Korean brands, Ford or GM did last year, with a quarter still to go). One of the first things I noticed when digging into sales numbers for the top 5 brands is that VW/Porsche/Audi and Toyota/Lexus are actually more like leaders of the second tier (the brand families that round out the top 10 best selling), both selling around 30k or fewer units by the end of September. I say around 30k because I haven’t found a good estimate for the number of PHEVs Audi and Porsche have sold so far, but it seems likely they have sold at least enough to push VW over the 30k threshold.

Ford has the best selling plug-in vehicle in the U.S. that doesn’t wear a Tesla badge, in the Mach-E. Through Q3, the Mach-E had almost 5% of all EV sales just to itself, and combined with the F-150 Lightning, E-Transit and some number of Escape PHEVs and Lincoln PHEVs, Ford likely had at least 43k plug-in sales through Q3, putting Ford/Lincoln into 3rd place. Note, that Ford’s October plug-in sales likely pushed them over the 50k threshold (with over 6.2k EV sales alone in October).

That means that Hyundai/Kia/Genesis occupies the 2nd place spot in U.S. plug-in sales for 2022, to date. Strong October plug-in sales for Hyundai, Genesis and Kia (to a lesser extent, due to slipping sales of the EV6 and an unknown number of PHEV sales), likely have them somewhere between at least 51 and 53k units sold through the end of October. That suggests they are maybe a thousand units or so ahead of Ford. I fully expect Ford to overtake the Korean brands, more likely next year if Ford vehicles are eligible for federal tax incentives and most of the Korean models are not, but it will continue to be a close fight between them for the duration of 2022 and beyond.

Of course Tesla is still far outpacing all other brands in the plug-in vehicle market and is in the number 1 spot, having sold more than double the next 4 best selling brand families, combined, and that surprises absolutely no one. I don’t think VW, Toyota, or even GM will be able to catch up to either of the brands in 2nd and 3rd place next year, no matter how many NFL adds they buy or broken wheel hub bolts they replace, but it will be interesting to see, in 2024 and beyond, whether Toyota can seriously compete for a top 5 sales spot and whether GM or VW will be able to catch up with Ford and the Korean brands. Barring some kind of catastrophic situation, I don’t think any of them will catch Tesla in the U.S. before the end of the decade, no matter what their CEO’s claim.

What do you think about this race? Does anything surprise you about the current standings? Do you have any different predictions for this year, or next? Please leave your questions or comments below.

Images courtesy of Kia, Ford, Tesla, Toyota, and VW.

Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 14 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 Twitter for daily KIA EV news coverage.