Electric Cars A Failure? Ha! They've Driven 35 Million Miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

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If you read only certain subsections of the "news," you might be forgiven for thinking that plug-in electric cars have been a sales disaster.

They haven't.

The Tesla Roadster, Nissan Leaf, and Chevrolet Volt are all built in quite small numbers, and their sales have been commensurately low, totaling slightly more than 15,000 by the end of this month.

That means they register barely a blip against the 11 or 12 million vehicles sold annually in the U.S., or the 1 billion vehicles on the world's roads.

We wanted to get a sense, though, of just how much use those cars are getting. We wondered: How many miles have these new electric cars driven since the Tesla Roadster entered production in late 2008?

So we asked.

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport. Photo by Joe Nuxoll.

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport. Photo by Joe Nuxoll.

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"We love answering this question!," said the company's Camille Ricketts. "We keep a real-time counter of electric miles driven on our website."

As of today, the total is at 15.5 million miles around the world. Those were logged by about 1,850 Tesla Roadsters, out of a total planned production of just 2,600.

John Duncan takes delivery of one of the first 2011 Nissan LEAF EVs, near Portland OR, 12/15/2010

John Duncan takes delivery of one of the first 2011 Nissan LEAF EVs, near Portland OR, 12/15/2010

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As of Oct 14, the total distance covered worldwide by Nissan Leaf electric cars was 18 million kilometers. By our math, that's 11.1 million miles.

Those miles have been accumulated by more than 10,000 Nissan Leafs built since late last year and shipped to North America, Europe, and of course Asia.

2011 Chevrolet Volt Production Line

2011 Chevrolet Volt Production Line

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About 80 percent of Chevy Volt owners sign up for OnStar Vehicle Diagnostic reports, according to GM's Rob Peterson, which lets the company track the distance their cars cover.

Through Sept 30,  those drivers have traveled more than 10.5 million miles, with 7 million of them all-electric (the precise split for battery-powered miles is 65.5 percent). Scaling that up to account for the unrecorded 20 percent, Volts en masse have covered roughly 8.6 million miles on grid power.


So there you have it. Collectively, just the three highest-volume electric cars have covered more than 35 million miles.

And that's not including miles covered by a few hundred MINI E drivers, or those racked up by another few hundred drivers of Toyota RAV4 EV models from early in the last decade.

Failure? Hardly.


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Comments (12)
  1. I personally am convinced that electric cars will prevail, just as soon as a practical and affordable battery arrives. But to claim that they are currently a "success" is a big mistake. No matter how one measures success, electric cars have not yet made even the slightest dent in our personal transportation - that 35 million miles may sound impressive, much like Fearless Leader Obama's dream of a million EVs on the road in 5 years. The actuality is that 35 million miles is a drop in the ocean and 1 million EVs on the road will not produce any measurable difference - in anything - either emissions or oil dependencies. Making such grandiose and unsupported claims leaves one open to ridicule. Enthusiasm is overstepping reality.

  2. You forgot to say who said that EVs and hybrids are a failure. The first electric car in 1912 was a great success and the electric cars in 2012 are a great success. It sounds like the oil companies are trying to pull out all the stops. They know their time on this Earth is limited.

  3. The tell miles driven are likely to be much higher as implied by the author. Many Leaf owners have opted out of monitoring plus many other EVs are not mentioned.
    All innovation starts somewhere and this is simply took right to fail. Remember its not supposed too be a 100% solution but will easily cover hundreds of millions of peoples transportation needs

  4. John, When I was at the BMW ActiveE Press Drive, we were told the 612 MINI-E's made have accumulated well over eight million miles so far in the 28 months they have been in service. I can account for 67,000 of those miles with mine alone!

  5. In addition to 35m miles driven by owners of 2nd gen EVs you can add the 100m+ miles by Reva G-Wiz EV owners.

  6. @Keith: 100 million is quite a lot of miles for fewer than 10,000 cars. Can you provide me a link to verify that number, please?

  7. I love the stats on the miles driven. We have another EV built here in the USA that you never have any coverage on. Maybe no one has heard of this car that was purchased off of Fords EV project in Europe. They already have 30 million miles in Europe. That would double the 30 million in the article. wwww.thinkev-usa.com

  8. The RAV4-EV is still in use, with some 300 in private hands and 500 or 600 or so in fleets. For cars that are 9 years old, 50,000 miles each would seem a conservative estimate. Ours has a little over 65,000 miles on it. That's at least enough to double the figure for the modern cars.

    As has been pointed out, this is a drop in the bucket compared to total miles driven, but it shows that electric cars are practical and reliable. The RAV's more so than the larger numbers of newer cars show that electric cars can deliver years of steady use with significantly less maintenance than gas cars. That's success for the concept. The next step is market acceptance, and the new mass market electric cars are finally opening that door.

  9. @Lori: Thanks for your note. We've covered Think USA a number of times, here for example:

    However, the parent company in Europe declared bankruptcy for the fourth time in June:

    And while the U.S. operation continues, they're facing a tough row to hoe in offering a two-seat car from an unknown maker that costs about as much as a 2012 Nissan Leaf--which has five doors, five seats, and comes from a known auto brand.

  10. Ohh how quickly we forget the lowly iMiev, its been in production for a while now.

  11. I thought GM reported 25m+ miles on the Volt already a month or two ago? I don't remember where I read it, but I thought GM said so around the time of the battery investigation.

  12. BMW bets the company on ... copying the Chevrolet Volt, hiring its product manager: http://www.thestreet.com/story/11451833/1/how-the-chevy-volt-became-a-bmw.html So should be many more EV miles in 2014 and beyond!

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