First 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV buyers, Fremont, California: Bobby Edmonds, Bill Mattos, Steve HenryEnlarge Photo
As sales results trickled in from automakers earlier this month, industry analysts waited to see whether enough buyers signed on the line to make 2016 a new record sales year.
They did: a record total of 17.55 million new passenger cars and light trucks were sold last year, narrowly beating the 17.47 million sold in 2015.
And the surge was led almost exclusively by crossover utility vehicles and light trucks; passenger cars were stable or down across every segment.
2017 Chevrolet Volt, leased by Phil Ganz of TexasEnlarge Photo
That fact posed a challenge to sales of plug-in electric cars, whose volume entries remain almost entirely in sedans and hatchbacks rather than the SUV-like vehicles customers are snapping up.
And yet, among cars with plugs, the trend for 2016 was clearly up—with a December monthly total of almost 25,000 vehicles, and a 2016 total of close to 160,000.
That's a notable boost from 2015, when the total of 116,000 was actually down slightly from the 2014 number of 119,000.
Last year's total of 160,000 cars with plugs—both battery-electric and plug-in hybrid—still represents not quite 1 percent of total U.S. sales.
December also saw the very first sales of the long-awaited 238-mile 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric hatchback. Chevy sold 579 Bolt EVs last month, a decent start (if not the four-figure number advocates had secretly hoped for).
Comments and letters from Green Car Reports readers indicate that the Bolt EV launch in states outside California has been challenging, with frustrated dealers complaining of a lack of communication from the carmaker. The same applies to the Toyota Prius Prime, which went on sale in November.
Meanwhile, the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid logged a strong 3,691 sales in December, bringing its full-year 2016 total to 24,739.
2017 Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
That's roughly 60 percent higher than the previous year's 15,393, when the transition from first- to second-generation Volts was taking place.
With the arrival of the Bolt EV, sales of its predecessor, the Chevy Spark EV minicar fell further to 17, indicating that the car is now on cleanup status.
The Nissan Leaf, meanwhile, finished with a strong December, selling 1,899 units, a 40-percent boost over the previous December total.
Full-year 2016 sales for the Leaf, now entering its seventh model year, were 14,006, down on 2015's 17,469—and notably below the Volt's total.
Tesla Motors reported fourth-quarter sales of 22,230, giving it full-year global deliveries of 76,230, but as before it has refused to break out those sales by region.
The total of 76,200 Tesla deliveries last year fell short of the company's minimum goal of 80,000, which had itself been reduced from 90,000 to 100,000 in earlier months.
2017 Tesla Model SEnlarge Photo
Unverified reports from other sources put last year's Model S sales total at 29,400 and the Model X number at 18,200.
If those numbers are accurate, Tesla had the first and third best-selling plug-in vehicles in the U.S. and the Model S set a new individual model yearly sales record as well.
Other volume sellers
Coming in fifth in December sales was the Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid, which sold 1,641 units in its second month on the market for a 2016 total of 2,474.
(That number includes roughly 50 units of the Prime's predecessor, the previous-generation 2012-2015 Prius Plug-In Hybrid.)
The Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid mid-size sedan finished the year with December sales of 1,099, for a total year of 15,938, by far its best year ever.
2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012Enlarge Photo
Remarkably, Ford also delivered a whopping 1,289 C-Max Energi hatchbacks, the first time in more than two years that the plug-in hybrid C-Max outsold its Fusion counterpart.
C-Max Energi sales for the full year, however, were still well below those of its stablemate, at 7,957.