As 2018 Nissan Leaf arrives, data on US electric-car market offers reality check

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2018 Nissan Leaf

2018 Nissan Leaf

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This evening, the 2018 Nissan Leaf electric car will make its long-awaited debut at events in Tokyo, Las Vegas, and elsewhere around the world.

The Leaf remains the world's highest-volume electric car, with more than 280,000 of the first-generation cars delivered since December 2011 (112,000 of those in the U.S.).

That number, however, is considerably lower than the rosy forecasts issued by Nissan's then-CEO Carlos Ghosn before the car was introduced.

DON'T MISS: 2018 Nissan Leaf teaser: electric car will 'amaze your senses'

The Leaf, in fact, points to the many deep challenges facing all automakers as they move more aggressively into battery-electric vehicles.

Those range from consumer education to battery durability, and extend even into areas like the need for nationwide DC fast-charging networks.

So a set of statistics from Edmunds on the state of electric cars in the U.S. provides a good reality check on the eve of the Leaf launch.

Teaser for 2018 Nissan Leaf debuting in 2017

Teaser for 2018 Nissan Leaf debuting in 2017

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Battery-electric vehicles, those with only a battery to power them, remain at less than 1 percent of the U.S. new-car market.

They represented 0.1 percent back in 2012; so far this year, they make up 0.6 percent of all new vehicles purchased.

But when you add in both conventional and plug-in hybrids, the share has stayed constant: 3.5 percent in 2012, 3.3 percent so far in 2017.

READ THIS: Plug-in electric car sales for Aug: Bolt EV leads Prime, Volt lower

That said, vehicles from one single manufacturer make up almost half the US market for electric cars from all makers.

That would be Tesla, whose Model S and Model X together represented 47.5 percent of the all-electric vehicles sold so far this year, according to Edmunds' data.

This year, the Chevrolet Bolt EV has displaced the Nissan Leaf as the third best-selling electric car; the 238-mile electric hatchback had its best-ever month in August, while the 107-mile Leaf dropped to fourth place.

Teaser for 2018 Nissan Leaf debuting on September 6, 2017

Teaser for 2018 Nissan Leaf debuting on September 6, 2017

Enlarge Photo

Tesla is located in California, which has led the U.S. for half a century—and sometimes the world—in reducing vehicle emissions and improving energy efficiency.

That state's buyers may have crossed a tipping point of sorts, as the state's share of overall U.S. electric-car sales has actually risen.

Five years ago, Californians bought 41 percent of the all-electric cars sold in the U.S. The total number of such sales is far higher now, but now 56 percent of them are sold in California.

CHECK OUT: 2018 Nissan Leaf caught without camouflage in ad shoot

Finally, electric cars continue to be purchased largely by men, although the share of female buyers is rising slightly.

Three of four EV buyers were men five years ago; now that proportion has fallen to 71 percent.

As for the 2018 Nissan Leaf itself, Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of industry analysis, believes it will benefit from this year's launch of the Tesla Model 3, as well as a longer-range BMW i3.

2018 Nissan Leaf spotted during photo shoot - Image via Broom

2018 Nissan Leaf spotted during photo shoot - Image via Broom

Enlarge Photo

And, she suggests, debuting Nissan's ProPilot Assist in the Leaf will give it a tech-forward image that shows what technologies will appear in more mainstream cars in years to come.

"The new Nissan Leaf will continue to offer one of the least expensive and practical ways to own a pure electric car," adds senior editor Ed Hellwig.

While the new 2018 Leaf may not match the 238-mile range of the Chevy Bolt EV, "if the Leaf delivers even a mdoest bump over its current range, it will be enough to get the attention of most mainstream EV shoppers."

Hellwig adds that the new Leaf's less-polarizing design should be a plus in appealing to those more mainstream buyers.

The 2018 Leaf will be unveiled tonight at 9 pm Eastern / 6 pm Pacific time.

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