Electric Car Sales Doing Just Fine (If You Don't Count Hybrids)

By · September 04, 2014

Tesla Model S

Sales of the Tesla Model S were up in August, as were those of nearly every other plug-in car (except the Prius Plug-In and Chevy Spark EV). (Jim Motavalli photo)

It’s common knowledge that statistics can tell a variety of stories, sometimes quite contradictory. For instance, Edmunds.com sent this over my transom:

“Lost in the euphoria of this summer’s strong car sales is that sales of electric and hybrid cars have surprisingly stalled. Sales of electric drive vehicles (including EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids) have made up 3.6 percent of all new car sales so far in 2014, which is a tick below the 3.7 percent market share for the full year last year. ” (Boldface in the original.)

Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell said, “With the success of the auto market this year, this is a story that’s flying under the radar. Everyone reasonably assumes that the electric drive market will continue to grow incrementally, but we're just not seeing any growth this year.”

Cars With Plugs Hitting New Highs

She’s right—as long as you lump hybrids in with plug-ins as “the green car market.” Look at cars with plugs separately, and there’s a whole different story. In July, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, 11,433 plug-in electrics were sold (InsideEVs says 10,533). And, EDTA says, the first six months of 2014—with 66,406 cars sold in the period—is 37 percent ahead of the same period in 2013. Compare July 2013 to July 2014 and sales are up even more, 54 percent.

Look at the chart below, and we’re in a pretty good year for plugs, and certainly ahead of 2013’s pace (which led to approximately 100,000 cars sold nationally). In August, the Nissan LEAF added about 1,000 sales compared to July, bringing the number to a new record of 3,186 units. The Volt added about 500 for a monthly tally of 2,511. The BMW i3 practically tripled from July to hit 1,025 sales. Taking a plunge was the Prius Plug-In (down about 500 to 818) and the Chevy Spark EV (from 128 in July to 80 in August). Everything else was up, including Tesla.

EDTA Sales Chart

Sales look robust if we're looking only at cars with plugs. (EDTA graphic)

Not a Stand-Alone Market?

I asked Caldwell about this, and she admitted that I had a good point about separating plug-in sales, but she dissed the idea of electric cars as a stand-alone phenomenon. “It’s such a small market with, what, 11,000 cars sold in July?” she said. “There were 1.5 million cars sold in the U.S. in August. I don’t know how much smaller a market we could be talking about.”

Yes, it’s definitely small—but still growing. Most of the growth—and sheer numbers—are in California, which has the best incentives, the best plug-in network…and the most cars for sale. Only the Tesla Model S and the Nissan LEAF are available nationally, but nearly 20 models are available in California (which now claims nearly 40 percent of the EV market nationally).

According to Christine Kehoe, executive director of the California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative, “Electric vehicle sales in California are strong, and they have momentum. Consumers want clean cars, and plug-in electrics are mile-by-mile cheaper than gas cars. They’re an opportunity to take green driving to the next level.”

So why are hybrid sales suffering? The Toyota Prius is down 10 percent this year, and that reflects the stardust rubbing off. Because there are so many around, it’s hard to claim that you’re driving a green car status symbol. In that sense, the Prius is a victim of its own success. In August, Toyota sold more than 23,000 Prii, putting the model in the top ten of all passenger vehicles for the month.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
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  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
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