Don't Be Fooled: Only Three Electric Cars Are Sold Nationwide Today Page 2

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2015 Nissan Leaf

2015 Nissan Leaf

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Worse, the company and its sales people routinely talk the Focus Electric down, saying there's little market for the car--and Ford clearly prefers to sell its hybrids and the associated Energi plug-in hybrids instead.

The Focus Electric is similar to the high-selling Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, in fact: While it's nominally available in many areas, the reality may be that even if dealers are certified to sell the cars, they may not be available.

They may sit at the back of the lot, the salespeople may not know anything about the car, or the dealer may not have sold one for months--meaning that determined buyers may have to travel far away from their nearest dealer to buy one.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

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More worrisome than you'd think

All of this concerns electric-car advocates, who suggest that happy talk about the many plug-in cars available obscures the on-the-ground reality: For huge numbers of buyers who don't live in California or the Northeast, there are only three electric-car options available.

Of those, one carries a base price of $69,900: more than twice the $32,000 price of the average car sold today.

MORE: New 2017 Nissan Leaf: More Details On New Styling, Range--And Infiniti Electric Too

And the challenge with having only the Leaf and the Volt is that not everyone wants a compact hatchback.

"I've been harping on this point and its ramifications publicly since 2011 at least," said advocate and consultant Chelsea Sexton: "As long as there are only three volume carmakers in the game, the market will inherently be limited."

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: consulting producer Chelsea Sexton

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: consulting producer Chelsea Sexton

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No one single plug-in car

"Just as there is no single gas car for everyone, neither will there be a single plug-in--and for now, there are literally only one battery-electric vehicle (the Nissan Leaf) and one range-extended electric car (the Chevy Volt) under $50,000 available throughout the U.S."

The downsides to that reality are many: Analyst conclusions about market desire for, and viability of, plug-in electric cars is based largely on the sales of just two models. Which means they could be making their decisions based on bad, or at least insufficient, data.

"While Leaf sales say a lot about the market appetite for the Leaf--or even perhaps for a compact electric car with 80 miles of range--the numbers say far less about the viability of electric cars in general," Sexton cautions.

 

2014 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car owned by Tom Moloughney - after delivery

2014 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car owned by Tom Moloughney - after delivery

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More heads nodding

"We're nearly four years into this generation of electric cars, and the same three makers are offering cars as we saw in December 2010"--when the Leaf and Volt went on sale within days of each other, joining the then-current Tesla Roadster.

"And even that leaves out that in many places in the U.S.," she noted, "you'd have to buy a Tesla Model S sight unseen" unless you traveled hundreds of miles to the nearest Tesla Store."

"BMW may make the official fourth in time, but it's too soon to say," she added.

But Sexton suggests that industry and buyers alike are starting to recognize this limited reality.

"I see a lot more heads nod when I make such remarks these days," she said.

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