Plug-In Hybrids Will Outsell Battery Electric Cars: Analyst

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2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

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Electric cars that plug into wall sockets to charge batteries that store energy to power them are still an unknown quantity to most car buyers globally.

And the education task gets more complex when customers must understand the difference between battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids: those that have a gasoline engine, as well as a plug-in battery and electric motor(s).

In the U.S., overall plug-in sales will be made up of both kinds of vehicles.

But in the early years, says an industry analyst, one type will do better than the other.

According to John Gartner, of Pike Research, plug-in hybrids will outsell battery electrics in the U.S. for the first six or seven years.

That wasn't the case last year, when the Leaf beat the Volt to log 55 percent of the 17,000-plus plug-in vehicles sold in 2011.

But Pike's prediction looks considerably more accurate this year.

Projected U.S. sales of plug-in hybrid electrics (PHEVs) vs battery electrics (BEVs), Pike Research

Projected U.S. sales of plug-in hybrid electrics (PHEVs) vs battery electrics (BEVs), Pike Research

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In July, the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid made up roughly 84 percent of the 3,003 plug-in cars reported sold in the U.S. The 466 Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi 'i' deliveries represented just 16 percent of July sales.

For the year to date overall, the figures aren't much more favorable to battery electrics, which represented just 4,044 (or 20 percent) of total reported plug-in sales of 19,731 units through July.

It's possible that strong sales of the Tesla Model S in later months--if Tesla deigns to report them--could swing the totals back to a higher proportion of battery electrics.

For the purposes of the report, Pike categorized both plug-in hybrids--like the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid and two upcoming Energi models from Ford--and electric cars with gasoline range extenders, like the Chevrolet Volt, as "plug-in hybrids."

In the later years of this decade, Gartner's analysis suggests, battery electrics will start to catch up, reaching a 50-50 balance by 2020 (see graph of projected sales).

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model

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Gartner suggests that battery electrics will recoup some of their early deficits as range gradually extends.

At the moment, only the 2012 Tesla Model S has a range over 100 miles (the EPA rates the 85-kWh model at 265 miles).

By comparison, the Coda Sedan is rated at 88 miles, the Ford Focus Electric at 76 miles, the Nissan Leaf at 73 miles, and the Mitsubishi 'i' brings up the rear at just 62 miles.

What do you think?

Does the Pike analysis make sense--do you agree that plug-in hybrids will dominate in early years, but that battery electrics will regain ground by 2020?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (16)
  1. That makes perfect sense. Instead of "waiting" for battery technology to mature and public infrasture ready, Plugin hybrids and EREVs are perfect technologies to get us to the future.

    Why wait for another 10 to 20 years before technology is ready while you can own a plug-ins right now to save gas and experience what EV is about...

  2. I always love this stuff.

    Look at the graph. In 2017 there is a sharp decrease in slope of sales of BEV but it recovers in 2018.

    How on earth does anyone know that five years from now there will be an inflection in the curve.

  3. Maybe some of the tax incentives are projected to "expire" by then based on the numbers reached...

    It could just be a discrete chart issue with the spreadsheet plotting capabilities. I think the chart is based on the yearly assumptions. So, the lines are just being connected by the spreadsheet program... There might be more models projected to be on sales by 2018...

  4. Well, John, I'm guessing the unofficial response would be something like this:

    "Just trust us, we know about these things"... Even though they're just extrapolating and guessing like you or I could do. I think it makes sense for 3-4 years, for sure, and 6-8 is certainly possible, but too much depends on unknown factors, of course. Current capacity issues, battery cost, of course, and so many others, including incentives.

    I enjoy the various studies/predictions, but I don't take any of them too seriously. We'll see... Personally, I hope I'm in an EV when my Volt lease ends, but again, we'll see.

  5. Many people are willing to drive an electric but they want to be assured their range wont be limited. Range extended plug-ins make more sense for most car buyers at this time.

  6. I dont understand the graphic, because in 2012 the BEV sales are the double than the PHEVS, and the same in 2020, 400.000 BEV and 200.000 PHEV ¿?¿? where´s my mistake?

  7. Excellent point. I can't believe I missed that. The 2012 numbers should have the PHEV numbers higher than the BEV numbers.

  8. How are we going to get to 50,000 BEV sales in 2012 with the leaf selling only 500 a month and Tesla selling 50 Model S so far. Won't we be lucky to get to 20,000 BEV sales this year?

  9. @Foro: Each colored area in the graph represents sales, and they are added together to get total plug-in sales volume. So BEV sales sit on top of PHEV sales, they're not double.

  10. Thanks for the clarification.

  11. Range-extended electrics/hybrids are a great fit until opportunistic charging is much more prevalent and familiar. People are used to the large meal. Gas up and go for hundreds of miles. Electrics like small meals more often. Run an errand and charge a little while parked. Go to the next stop and charge a little there too. You may not charge back all that you used on these little top-offs, so you might still draw most of the power for charging at home. Which is good as it's probably the best rate and off-peak. But the opportunistic charge gets you farther than the rated range of your car, potentially unlimited. Until that becomes possible *and* a familiar habit (wireless charging will help) then having that generator really helps.

  12. I think the biggest issue emerging is those plugin hybrids like Prius Plugin, Fusion/C-MAX energi, Accord Plugin and EREVs like Volt taking up all the available public charging stations. It will impact the already lacking infrastructure for all EV users. Although it will add demand which might end up helpping EVs. But we will have to see.

    I already saw at least 2-3 different Prius plugin taking up EV charging spots all day (plugged in) while it only takes 3-4 hours to fully charge their batteries...

  13. PIP charges in about 1 hour on a L2, and about 3 hours on L1. Blocking a station for the entire day is an unspeakable waste.

  14. While I'm not a fan of half measures, and I consider hybrids to be a half measure, I think it's a no brainer that the general public is more ready to adopt what they consider the safer route, especially when it concerns one of their larger purchases.

  15. Range anxiety will make plug-ins the dominate choice as a primary car...


  16. i'd like to see how BEVs will compete with any car, regardless what it's called. the last time i saw an ad on TV for an electric car was about two years ago, during the Tour du France (Leaf). in fact they're not offered in all 50 states the way the Prius is and Volt will soon be. i have a hard time thinking they want to sell cars that they don't advertise.

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