Electric Cars Sell Faster Than Hybrids Did At Same Point

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Electric Vehicle Sales vs Hybrid Electric Vehicle Sales, chart issued by U.S. Department of Energy

Electric Vehicle Sales vs Hybrid Electric Vehicle Sales, chart issued by U.S. Department of Energy

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Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Above is a graph comparing the relative sales volumes of hybrids (starting in 2000) to those of plug-in electric cars (starting in 2011).

It comes from the U.S. Department of Energy, which tweeted the image last Friday.

(We're not sure why the units on the vertical axis say "USD," which stands for U.S. Dollars--the data is clearly total sales.)

14 models, 9 makers

The cars include battery-electric, range-extended electric, and plug-in hybrid cars sold by all makers (14 different models from nine auto brands as of June). 

It's not the first such graph: Scientific American did a very similar image, which you can find here, as part of its article: Electric Vehicle Deployment: Where Should We Be Today?

But combined with the news that more than 61,000 Nissan Leafs have been sold--the bulk of 100,000 electric cars sold by Nissan and Renault--it counters the loudly-declaimed myth that "electric cars are a sales failure" and "no one wants them."

The 100,000th plug-in electric car sold in the U.S. was delivered sometime during May.

2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

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Sales triple, then double

As we note regularly on this site, in 2011, a total of 17,500 plug-in electric cars were sold in the U.S.

Then, last year, the sales total tripled to about 53,000. And this year, they're on track to double again--roughly--to more than 100,000 plug-in cars delivered.

But those are just numbers on a page. The graphic above tells the story much better.

You have to understand the intricacies of the market, however.

Know your electric cars

Car and Driver pulled a fast one when its pseudonymous author "Dave Mable" wrote about a similar graph that started with the first Tesla Roadster sales in 2008.

As we noted, the $109,000 Roadster may have been the first modern electric car built, but it was hardly--and never intended to be--a volume vehicle to be sold in great numbers.

Only 2,500 were built, and that was actually 100 more than the planned production total all along.

Next time someone tells you confidently that electric cars are doomed, smile. Then point them to this story.

[hat tip: Brian Henderson]


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Comments (23)
  1. A few things:

    In this case does EV include PHEVs?

    Here USD might stand for United States Domestic, or are these supposed to be worldwide sales?

    "Only 2,500 [Tesla Roadsters] were built, and that was actually 100 more than the planned production total all along."
    This is a bit of revisionist history. While the primary contract with Lotus was for 2400 gliders. Tesla originally hoped to sell about that many each year. Instead that contract ended up filling the demand for nearly the entire run.

  2. @Doug: These are U.S.-only sales, so perhaps "U.S. Domestic" might apply here.

    They include all cars with plugs, as noted in the article: BEVs, EREVs, PHEVs.

    Can you point me to a source for the notion that Tesla hoped to build and sell 2,400 Roadsters a year? Hadn't heard that, but if true, worth revising.

  3. Don't have time for an extensive search at the moment, but this thread covered the topic.

    In early presentations Martin Eberhard said "a few thousand a year". In print things seemed to converge on 2000 units a year. You may have to use the Wayback Machine to find them, but this is what was said back in 2008 or so. Elon had said they needed to sell 1000 Roadsters a year to be profitable. In the end, they only averaged about 500 Roadster sales a year.

    It wasn't until Tesla announced they were ending Roadster production that "this was always our plan" became the party line.

  4. I'm pretty sure that Elon talked about Tesla wanting to eventually build complete cars, quite some time before the Roadster end-of-production was announced. I think it is this part that was "always the plan". It implied that they would eventually at least replace the Roadster with something of their own.

    And as you know, Tesla is planning a "Roadster 2". Which, I think, may eventually sell in larger numbers than 2000/year.

  5. it was interesting the Roadster was a 2 seater but still sold fairly well.

  6. @John, thanks for catching the issue with our graph at the Energy Department. The vertical axis label had been incorrectly labeled as U.S. dollars but has since been corrected to cumulative sales in units.

    We updated the graph and added an Editor's Note to the article to reflect this correction. www.energy.gov/eGallon

  7. @Becky: Thanks for the comment. At some point I'll grab your new graphic and replace the one in the piece. Honored to know someone at DoE reads Green Car Reports!

  8. Some people know how to do math. Despite the more significant cost premium paid for the plug-in vehicles, the massive increase in fuel efficiency can more than offset that up front price. This is of course for some specific use patterns. In particular, there are now several electric vehicles that can save you money if used correctly. I know many people do not want to think about these qualifiers, preferring to remain ignorant of specifics and trusting the "experts" from the car companies to tell them what to think and buy, but it's also apparent from the comparison made in this article, that there are a few people out there that think for themselves.

  9. Well change is hard for people. I have had a Prius since 2006 (not exactly an early adopter), but it was hard to convince myself that the technology was mature, made sense, and I would not regret it. With nearly 100,000 miles on the Prius, and no problems, I am convinced it works.

    The more people see EVs on the roads and talk to EV owners, the more the tide will turn.

  10. at this point, the Hybrid is a proven platform, with millions sold
    and a few hundred billion miles driven.

    With knowledge gained from Hybrids, the EV is just a scale up.

  11. Your last sentence is critical and I could not agree more, John. I've let at least 20-30 people drive my Volt, many of them complete haters at the time and the reaction has been positive. But if I can afford a Model S, I'm not so sure I'll be feeling as generous... It will cost, be it beer, a free meal, etc...

  12. Well said. The director of my lab is an M3 owner and has not had much patience for the idea of EVs. However, he got to drive a Volt and was very impressed and came to work and said that "I" should buy one :)

    We will have really won when he says that "HE" should buy one.

  13. As a M3 owner, he can easily buy a Tesla S that matches the M3 in performance, price and the look.

  14. Exactly, Chris and well stated, IMHO. My Volt costs $371/month for the lease and about $22/month for electricity and $18 for gas. All figures based on my monthly averages since I've tracked every expense since day one.

    So basically $411 a month including fuels. But I averaged $185 in 2011 in gas costs for my last year before my Volt. Subtracting that and I'm at roughly $226/month for a Volt, which is no more than a Corolla or Civic, for example, and that's not even including lower repair and maintenance costs.

    Yes, specific driving patterns matter a great deal, of course. For me, a daily 38-mile commute can be done completely on electricity and I have a reduced rate at home for charging the Volt, which is common.

    People will learn...

  15. Oops, posted in the wrong place... Sorry.

  16. This data in this graph is skewed it should be taking the quantity of vehicles sold not sales in $USD, after all the Tesla does cost more.

  17. @George: I noted the discrepancy in the article, if you read it. See also the note from Becky Matulka at DoE acknowledging the error.

  18. Very positive news- thanks John!

  19. This is great data to rebuff all the junks that you hear from Fox News. I am glad it is the case and it will continue to improve from here.

    But to be fair that there are few things to point out:
    1. "Hybrids" had fewer choices back in the days. It was mostly Prius and Insights at the beginning. Today, there are over 15 plugin choices. Even back in 2011, there were 4 choices alone and 2012 had at least 8 choices. By 2013, there are over 15 choices.
    2. The tax incentives weren't as large as they are today toward plugin cars. Many states level incentives are greater than the federal incentives back in the days for hybrids.
    3. Gas price was cheaper than it is today.

  20. I agree. Perhaps the graph should start at 2010. When there were two plug-ins available from major OEM's. I had always assumed that when this data was published it would start at 2010. 2000 vs, 2010 has a grab bag full of symmetry. Oh well, you know what you get when you assume.

  21. Is there a similar graph that shows market share instead of number of vehicles? I wonder if the results are skewed at all by changes in overall vehicle sales volume.

  22. Thanks for that useful information. It only confirms my desire to buy myself a new car.

  23. USD can be dollars resulting from sales of the car! As when sales happens dollars do come and the sales are measured in terms of dolalrs. got it?

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