One of the burning questions that always seems to be answered the same way – “Are electric vehicles (EVs) catching on with the buying public?” – is that they are indeed booming. The auto industry as a whole has performed remarkably well in the past couple of years, and so have EV sales, we’re told, a trend that flies in the face of falling gasoline prices.
Other pundits have pointed to a much bleaker picture, saying that EV sales don’t measure up, since pure EVs make up less than one percent of the auto sales annually.
Just recently, Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tesla Motors who also dabbles in SpaceX as a venture, tossed out the prediction that 50 percent – one of every two cars made and sold – would be EVs in two decades and perhaps sooner.
It may seem a glacial pace in the amount of time Musk’s prediction requires, since it’s a quarter of life for most of us, if it comes to pass, such a conversion in the marketplace would indicate a true sea change in the way Americans and the whole world drive, and likely forever: the internal combustion engine would be well on its way to a complete decline and forced obsolescence.
As the recepient of federal loan guarantees – Tesla has drawn down - Musk says the company sold out the initial production run of 6,500 and has a a backlog of more than 10,000 orders right now for the company’s just released Tesla Model S.
Since the Model S has a starting cost of $50,000 on the base model, and that’s after the $7,500 tax credit and runs all the way to $69,900 for the model with the largest battery pack, it’s not really a mainstream model and plays to a smaller set of buyers with plenty of money to spare.
But a couple of EVs are priced closer to a mass market level, such as the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf. They’re also hailed as being solutions for nearly all walks of drivers, pedestrian pun intended.
So the sales of these two entries into the EV field should give us some glance towards how EV sales are doing, at least in regards to typical American families. Let’s dive in and see what sort of sales prowess they’ve brought to market.
General Motors is quick to tout the improved stats on the 2013 Volt, but with recalls still fresh in the public’s mind, it has yet to meet the lofty sales projections originally forecast by GM. The electric Chevy was projected to sell 10,000 units minimum in 2011, but just 7,671 found buyers last year.
The Volt is performing much better in 2012, and has already sold more through June of this year than all twelve months in 2011. Chevrolet has sold 8,817 Volts thus far, and say they’re on track to move more than 17,000 this year. Thus far, GM says that’s a 221 percent increase year over year.
And some of you probably wonder if the Volt really qualifies as an EV, since it also has a gasoline engine. But with the Volt having just passed more than 100,000,000 miles driven, it comes to light that owners have driven more than 2/3rds of those miles in fully electric mode, meaning no gasoline at all was burned while the majority of those miles driven.
Pricing on the Chevrolet Volt starts right under $40,000, but that’s before the $7,500 maximum in tax credits available to buyers, making the actual purchase price range from $32,500 and upwards. The inclusion of a full gasoline power-train means there are no worries about range, since a driver can switch to and continue to burn gas with the only requirement being refilling the tank.
So while pundits crow that the Volt has surpassed the Chevrolet Corvette in sales, the fact remains they make up a very small niche of buyers. Chevrolet has sold a total of 638,815 vehicles this year through June, so the Volt is responsible for a scant 1.4 percent of the automaker’s total volume. Likewise, a new generation of Corvette is widely anticipated for the 2014 model year to be introduced in late 2013.
The Nissan Leaf may be a fully electric car, since it has no gasoline engine, but it is getting its clocked cleaned by the Volt month after month. With only 3,148 being sold, Nissan faces the grim reality that year over year sales are down by 19 percent in 2012. Half the year is over, so it’s unlikely Nissan can hit its stated goal of 20,000 units sold in 2012.
But thanks to the low sales volume, there may be no time like the present to jump into the driver’s seat of a Leaf if it’s a car that you could co-exist with. Nissan is now offering buyers a $5,000 rebate. Since the Leaf is also eligible for the same $7,500 tax credit the Volt gets, one can be had for as little as $25,600.
How About Other Players?
The Mitsubishi iMiEV has been called a “competitive…electric vehicle on the American market” but year to date sales are an underwhelming 333. Overall, the market for EVs has only increased by six percent in 2012 in total units sold, although hybrids have posted an impressive results, with Toyota’s Prius range alone gaining 380 percent year over year.
And while the sales gains of hybrids and mixed-mode cars like the Chevrolet Volt are on the rise, there are plenty of under-performers like the Leaf and the iMiEV. Overall, EVs represent just one percent of the automotive market, and are nowhere near mass-market acceptance.