Sales Of Hybrids & Electric Cars Surge 73% In 2012

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Eco-minded shoppers have seen environmental issues take up more space in the news, and they've known that it was simply a matter of time before those concerns began affecting the sorts of vehicles we drive. Now, mainstream consumers are beginning to see the light. 

The change hasn't come overnight. Though the first hybrids debuted in the late 1990s, it's taken the public a while to warm up to green vehicles. The delay can be attributed to the higher cost of those cars, fear of the technology, and dozens of other factors.

According to market research firm Mintel, however, a shift is underway. Mintel says that U.S. sales of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric cars should reach 440,000 units in 2012 -- a 73% improvement over 2011. 

That's in keeping with the strong sales figures we've noted here. Alternative-fuel vehicles are flying off the lots, and even with a dip in November sales, automakers stand to move 50,000 electric cars this year.

But of course, it's not just consumer interest that's keeping the alternative-fuel vehicle market humming. It's also a result of the increasing variety of hybrid and electric car options for consumers. As Mintel points out, the number of plug-in hybrids and electric cars has almost quadrupled in just one year, jumping from three models in 2011 to 11 on the lots today. 

According to Colin Bird, an automotive analyst at Mintel, "New midsize hybrid models, such as the Toyota Prius v and Chevrolet Malibu Eco, have proven popular with consumers, in particular families, who want to buy green without sacrificing other features that fit their lifestyles."

Bird expects demand for green cars to make more progress in the near future: "The segment will grow even further in 2013, with the launch of several new models, including the full Ford Fusion Hybrid series, and the Honda Accord Hybrid, which will fulfill a wider variety of needs than conventional compact hybrids. Midsize plug-in hybrids will also enter the mainstream in 2013, with the introduction of the Ford Fusion Energi and the Honda Accord Plug-in, which will further improve mainstream acceptance of this, still, fairly novel powertrain segment."

Particularly encouraging is the fact that younger people are especially inclined to purchase green vehicles. Mintel says that 34% consumers aged 25-34 believe that "it is easy to make back the extra money spent on a hybrid car in savings at the pump".

That said, there are still a number of obstacles that automakers need to overcome, specifically with regard to electric cars. A Mintel consumer survey found that 87% of shoppers worry about battery lifespan, while another 86% worry about finding a place to recharge their vehicle outside the home. And 85% are put off by the relatively long recharge times required for most plug-ins and electric cars.

And even though 440,000 sales sounds like a lot, it's still only about 3.3% of the U.S. car market. Even five years down the line, Mintel forecasts that hybrids and electric cars will account for  850,000 sales in 2017, or 5% of the U.S. auto market.

If you've got any bright ideas about how automakers can boost public confidence in (and sales of) alternative-fuel vehicles, feel free to share them in the comments below.


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Comments (15)
  1. More free charging stations at work, and more seat time in the car will definitly help...

    I believe charging at work and home will meet the majority need of daily commuters which make up majority of the miles driven by American motorist today.

  2. I agree, most apartment complexes don't have charging stations and they are hard to find in general.. so the work idea would help. Hopefully the speed of charging can be addressed as well.

  3. The Obama administration should pass an executive order that any Federal contractor getting more then $2 Million/year in federal business must install one public access EV level 2 charger for workers/customers/visitors as a way of stimulating supply and order the GSA that every federal building must have at least 10 EV Level 2 chargers for the workers to access.

  4. Anxiety about electric car's range? The Volt's range is only limited by the amount of gas in the tank when the initial charge in the battery is used up.

  5. I agree, but I would still like to drive in my EV mode where the max power is 149 and ICE max out at 80HP...

  6. It's not a problem but an opportunity for those who can provide quick replacement of batteries as and when the charge is in the 10%-20% range, the driver should not be bothered with recharging. Let me elaborate.

    Every EV should transmit it's location and remaining charge in the battery to a control room, the moment charge is below 25%, the control room alerts the nearest team of mobile battery replacement (MBR) Unit and informs the driver about the need for change and to halt and wait for the MBR Unit to do the needful. The MBR Unit dashes there in a pickup truck with a fully charge battery and changes the battery post haste and the driver is good for another 80 miles! Meanwhile MBR Unit is ready for another call!

  7. I'm going to assume you're being facetious here, since that sounds like a pretty unsustainable business model. It reminds me of that episode of *The Simpsons* where Homer runs for Sanitation Commissioner, promising that his garbagemen will take care of all kinds of nasty tasks, then bankrupts the department in a month:

  8. It's workable, and similar business models are in existence world over like those providing roadside assistance for car breakdown for an advance annual fee for eg. A direct comparison between a cost center like sanitation department and a profit center is not a fair comparison, of course it's a new market that has to evolve, can't have direct parallel with any of the existing business models.

  9. I'd suggest you try and figure out how many battery replacements can be done per 8 hour day, and the estimated fully loaded cost of getting a battery to a car, assuming 2 techincians a truck etc... I'd be surprised if a run isn't $300 per run...

    if a location needs one run per week, within 3 months you just paid for a Level 2 charger there.

    AAA road service works because on average less then 1% of the users actually need road service. If you call them more then 3 times in a year, they will drop your coverage.

  10. Sanjay: What concerns me is that your suggestion runs counter to the direction that technology is going these days. The trend is toward greater individual autonomy, greater automation of service. Relying on teams of service personnel to come to drivers and perform battery swaps seems quaint and a bit outdated.

  11. Point taken, as I said it's an evolving market and it would be a while before we reach a kind of stability, all depends on the progress of fuel cell & dynamic charging tech etc. But battery swapping like in Israel can be looked at. Also, Oil & Auto lobby would try to delay any change in status quo.

  12. The growth projections don't make any sense. If sales are up 72% this year doesn't it seem odd that Mintel would only project a roughly 12 to 13% compounded growth rate between 2012 and 2017? ( the rule of 6 and 12 says that at a 12% growth rate, the initial value doubles in 6 years and vice versa). Hmmm, 13 versus 72 seems a little out of whack unless 2012 is the year of the hybrid.

  13. Mike, 2012 really was the "year of the Hybrid," in a sense. Remember that there was one Prius to start the year, as there had been for a decade or so. Now, there's the PiP (Plug-in version), the smaller Aqua/c, the larger V and the original Prius. Add in the new, fast-selling hybrids by Ford and the Volt and it was truly a year of growth and change. With additional hybrids coming and increased EV/PHEV sales as well, expect a big increase in 2013-14, too, albeit perhaps not 72% again now that the base is higher. And, gas prices low again...

  14. I'm under the opinion that gas prices have fallen some in part because the Oil Corporations know that the uptake of EV's will be drastically lower with gas at $3.00 a gallon than at $5.50 a gallon. I'll bet they are lobbying like crazy and spewing misinformation as fast as they can to try and dissuade people from buying EV's. If they can crush the EV again, they are once again free to run rampant with fuel prices while they laugh at how stupid the populous is.

    It's up to us to see through it, and for most, that ain't easy.

  15. Gas prices are down due to lower crude prices, high inventory and soft demand.

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