Technology market research firm Gartner announced yesterday that it forecasts plug-in car sales in the U.S. will top 100,000 vehicles during 2012. 

But with 2011 sales figures much totaling just over 17,000 fully electric and plug-in hybrids, is it conceivable that total plug-in car sales will more than quintuple in just one year?

Nationwide, Not Regional Availability

During 2011, consumers in areas deemed electric vehicle rollout states had a choice of two or maybe three highway-capable, production electric cars to choose from: the 2011 Nissan Leaf, 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and 2011 Tesla Roadster. 

But for customers in states not favored as being electric-car friendly, buying a production electric car proved almost impossible. 

This year however, the majority of plug-in cars on sale will become available to all 50 states, making it easier for those who want to buy an electric car to do so. 

That should help increase sales.

More Consumer Choice

With the introduction of cars like the 2012 Ford Focus Electric, 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, 2012 Coda Sedan, 2012 Fisker Karma and 2012 Tesla Model S -- not to mention limited numbers of the 2012 Toyota RAV4EV and 2012 Honda Fit EV -- there will be more plug-in car choice in 2012 than ever before. 

And the more cars there are, the higher the competition between automakers. 

The higher the competition, the more likely it is we’ll see sales wars develop, which should in turn improve sales.

2012 Ford Focus Electric

2012 Ford Focus Electric

But don't mistake sales wars -- with service packages and extra incentives thrown in by dealers -- to equal reduced sticker prices. That is unlikely to happen until at least 2013. 

Higher Production Volumes?

Last year, Nissan missed out on its 2011 sales target by a few hundred cars, caused in part by a drop in production resulting from the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March. 

Chevrolet, on the other hand, kept 2011/12 Volt production figures low during its first year while it stocked dealers nationwide with demonstration cars.  Despite sensationalist headlines saying the Chevrolet Volt was a failure, General Motors recorded 7,761 sales during the year.

During 2012, Nissan says it will produce 50,000 Leafs worldwide with 20,000 Leafs destined for the U.S. Meanwhile, GM says global production figures for its Volt/Ampera plug-in hybrid will reach 60,000 vehicles, with 45,000 cars -- or as many as are needed -- destined for U.S. buyers. 

Add in manufacturer-claimed production volumes for the 2012 Ford Focus Electric, and 2012 Mitsubishi i -- not to mention commencement of U.S. volume production of both the 2013 Tesla Model S and and 2013 Nissan Leaf starting towards the end of 2012 -- and it becomes easy to see why Gartner predicts such a high figure for 2012. 

Production≠ Sales

However, production volume does not necessarily equal sales. 

Tesla Model S workshop - cars to be crash-tested are painted orange

Tesla Model S workshop - cars to be crash-tested are painted orange

Without positive advertising and improved education, customers will continue to remain wary of plug-in vehicles for some time to come.

In addition, cost needs to come down, either through actual sticker-price reductions or through continued Federal and state-wide incentive programs. The former is unlikely to happen in 2012, while the latter is likely to become a political hot-potato in the up-coming presidential campaigns.

Until the cost of plug-in vehicles drop, many consumers will simply choose a more efficient gasoline-powered car the next time they buy a car. 

Naturally, private sales don't account for all vehicle sales in any one year: In fact, many plug-in cars during 2012 will be sold to Fleets willing and able to swallow the higher purchase cost in exchange for lower running costs. 

Without private buyers on board however, plug-in car sales will continue to remain low. 

We’re confident sales of electric and plug-in vehicles will increase during 2012, but unless we see the perfect storm of reduced price, better education, higher gas prices and improved reputation, we think 100,000 vehicles may be a little high. 

Do you agree or disagree? Will we really see 100,000 electric cars sold in 2012? Let us know in the Comments below. 


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