Will 100,000 Electric Cars Be Sold In U.S. This Year Or Not?

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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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Technology market research firm Gartner announced yesterday that it forecasts plug-in car sales in the U.S. will top 100,000 vehicles during 2012. 

But with 2011 sales figures much totaling just over 17,000 fully electric and plug-in hybrids, is it conceivable that total plug-in car sales will more than quintuple in just one year?

Nationwide, Not Regional Availability

During 2011, consumers in areas deemed electric vehicle rollout states had a choice of two or maybe three highway-capable, production electric cars to choose from: the 2011 Nissan Leaf, 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and 2011 Tesla Roadster. 

But for customers in states not favored as being electric-car friendly, buying a production electric car proved almost impossible. 

This year however, the majority of plug-in cars on sale will become available to all 50 states, making it easier for those who want to buy an electric car to do so. 

That should help increase sales.

More Consumer Choice

With the introduction of cars like the 2012 Ford Focus Electric, 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, 2012 Coda Sedan, 2012 Fisker Karma and 2012 Tesla Model S -- not to mention limited numbers of the 2012 Toyota RAV4EV and 2012 Honda Fit EV -- there will be more plug-in car choice in 2012 than ever before. 

And the more cars there are, the higher the competition between automakers. 

The higher the competition, the more likely it is we’ll see sales wars develop, which should in turn improve sales.

2012 Ford Focus Electric

2012 Ford Focus Electric

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But don't mistake sales wars -- with service packages and extra incentives thrown in by dealers -- to equal reduced sticker prices. That is unlikely to happen until at least 2013. 

Higher Production Volumes?

Last year, Nissan missed out on its 2011 sales target by a few hundred cars, caused in part by a drop in production resulting from the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March. 

Chevrolet, on the other hand, kept 2011/12 Volt production figures low during its first year while it stocked dealers nationwide with demonstration cars.  Despite sensationalist headlines saying the Chevrolet Volt was a failure, General Motors recorded 7,761 sales during the year.

During 2012, Nissan says it will produce 50,000 Leafs worldwide with 20,000 Leafs destined for the U.S. Meanwhile, GM says global production figures for its Volt/Ampera plug-in hybrid will reach 60,000 vehicles, with 45,000 cars -- or as many as are needed -- destined for U.S. buyers. 

Add in manufacturer-claimed production volumes for the 2012 Ford Focus Electric, and 2012 Mitsubishi i -- not to mention commencement of U.S. volume production of both the 2013 Tesla Model S and and 2013 Nissan Leaf starting towards the end of 2012 -- and it becomes easy to see why Gartner predicts such a high figure for 2012. 

Production≠ Sales

However, production volume does not necessarily equal sales. 

Tesla Model S workshop - cars to be crash-tested are painted orange

Tesla Model S workshop - cars to be crash-tested are painted orange

Enlarge Photo

Without positive advertising and improved education, customers will continue to remain wary of plug-in vehicles for some time to come.

In addition, cost needs to come down, either through actual sticker-price reductions or through continued Federal and state-wide incentive programs. The former is unlikely to happen in 2012, while the latter is likely to become a political hot-potato in the up-coming presidential campaigns.

Until the cost of plug-in vehicles drop, many consumers will simply choose a more efficient gasoline-powered car the next time they buy a car. 

Naturally, private sales don't account for all vehicle sales in any one year: In fact, many plug-in cars during 2012 will be sold to Fleets willing and able to swallow the higher purchase cost in exchange for lower running costs. 

Without private buyers on board however, plug-in car sales will continue to remain low. 

We’re confident sales of electric and plug-in vehicles will increase during 2012, but unless we see the perfect storm of reduced price, better education, higher gas prices and improved reputation, we think 100,000 vehicles may be a little high. 

Do you agree or disagree? Will we really see 100,000 electric cars sold in 2012? Let us know in the Comments below. 


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Comments (14)
  1. I think there is a typo in this title. The second "will". Will 100,000 Electric Cars Will Be Sold In U.S. This Year Or Not?

  2. Thanks! I think perhaps we were all sweeping err... sleeping when this one got through!

  3. 100,000 depends on how soon other states come on-line in terms of not just sales availability, but also public charging infrastructure. If most states are up and running by summer, then I'd say we'll probably make it. But if most aren't ready until fall, then no way.

    The problem is, I just don't see the weight and expense of current battery technology allowing widespread adoption of EV's. Until those are reduced by half, EV's will remain a niche market for the upper-middle class and rich. Which, unfortunately, won't be enough to make a dent in our pollution troubles.

    But if we do hit 100,000, it will be a very nice start.

  4. nikki,

    i think that all the cars built will be sold. so i think the real question is "will there be 100,000 cars available for sale this year".

    we are still at the beginning stages of that snowball. we do now have multiple companies starting to make their first model.

    but production protocol, etc. is still at its infancy.

  5. Good article. I think the issue is 100% price related. The early adopters are about out,particularly after a year. GM data says ave salary of Volt buyer is $170,000 a year. Not too many techie types left out there. Look at the prices:
    Volt is $40,000, Leaf is $32,500, Ford Focus EV is $39,200, Prius PHEV = $32,000 (w/ about a $3,000 Fed tax credit - 5kWh battery), Tesla will not be here in 2012, and Fisker is $103,000, and Coda is $39,200 for the 150 mile range, VIA the PHEV pickup truck for fleets is $78,000. I am sorry but that dog won't hunt. Infrastructure or not. Your last comments are critical, we need to get off tax credits, because prices are not coming down, we need a gas tax or war in Middle east to get us off gas.

  6. I would like to see you write an article on how U.S. sales of LEAF and Volt compare to Prius in their first full year (ie 2011 vs 2000). I have a LEAF now and I had a Prius back in 2000. I see a lot of negative press that electric cars sales are a failure (low sales), but, according to numbers I have seen, they are just as successful as Prius was in the early days. Most people now consider the Prius to have good/successful sales. If wikipedia is correct (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Prius), US sales were 5,600 in 2000 and 15,600 in 2001. I think LEAF sales were ~9,700 in 2011 (first full year). I think the CEO predicts/forecasts 20,000 for 2012.

  7. I think it's car wars out there and right now we're watching episode 2: the Big Oil empire strikes back using the GOP (guess the O stands for oil?) and low brow media like Fox to lead the assault on everything electric.

    It will still take quite some education, better batteries, better models and lower cost until the electric car gets it's revenge and sell in the sort of numbers the world so desperately needs to kick it's oil habit. So no 100K sales in 2012 I'm afraid.

  8. I doubt that 2012 will see 100,000 cars in the US. I don't even think that's a reasonable expectation. I have half a mind to think that number was made up specifically so that manufacturers would "Miss Analysts Expectations".

  9. it really depends on just how many companies will be selling how many cars ? as i said previously, i think we will sell what we make.

    if the leaf sells 20,000 - coda is supposed manufacture 10,000. how many focuses will ford be able to make ? and how many other competitors are there ?

    will the spark be out this year ?

  10. 100K? Sure, maybe. If you include all the non-cars in the mix. Smith trucks, GEM cars, a trickle from Tesla, Fisker, more units from Nissan and GM (Leaf,Volt). I'm thinking maybe 44K Sedans along with the various others. The GOP sure is fighting the trend with their hearings and other bashing. Just pray that nobody actually has one (and only one) car fire out there. Forget the 200,000 annual car fires in the gasoline vehicles...

  11. gas prices hit $4+ and stay there, we have a good chance of making it.

  12. Since you added hybrids in with the electrics; if 50 states cannot sell 2000 cars each, there is something seriously wrong with our automakers and the feds should start taking names and kicking some a**.

  13. @James: No, not regular hybrids (a la Prius). PLUG-IN hybrids, from the Volt to the upcoming Prius Plug-In and Ford C-Max and Fusion Energi models. Not regular old hybrids. You understand the difference, I trust.

  14. The big X factor is fleet sales, IMHO. Without fleet sales I think only 50,000 - 60,000 PEVs will be sold in the US in 2012. This is an unfounded guess, and highly dependent on the price of gas this summer.

    Fleet managers tend to be longer term total cost thinkers. In this old 2010 story GE said they are going to buy 25,000 EVs. http://goo.gl/nH53F

    If they (and others) start this year, that would go a long way to getting to the 100,000 units number.

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