Electric car sales remain ahead of hybrids after five years

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Sales of plug-in electric cars vs hybrid cars in first 5 years [Consumer Federation of America]

Sales of plug-in electric cars vs hybrid cars in first 5 years [Consumer Federation of America]

Sometimes, it's all about a chart.

A recent survey of car buyers suggests that consumer interest in electric cars is rising, and is highest among young adults.

They're the car buyers of the future, so that would seem to be good news for the long-term prospects of plug-in cars.

DON'T MISS: Electric Car Sales? Doing Better Than The Prius Was, Thank You (Feb 2013)

The information came from the second annual survey on electric cars conducted by the Consumer Federation of America.

But the one chart contained in the CFA's September press release may have said more about the prospects for electric cars than the rest of the words.

It simply compared the sales of plug-in vehicles—both battery-electrics and plug-in hybrids combined—to those of hybrid cars over the first five years each were on sale.

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2001 Toyota Prius

2001 Toyota Prius

As you can see the from the graph, plug-ins are outdoing hybrids—and have done since they first went on sale in December 2010.

The lines got closer last year, and may well do the same again this year.

That's can be attributed to the issue of product cadence, with at least some buyers likely holding off on the current crop of electric cars with ranges of 75 to 110 miles.

ALSO SEE: Are Hybrids Being Supplanted By Electric, Plug-In Hybrid Cars? (Dec 2014)

That's due to the Osborn Effect: a fall in sales of current electronic products due to the knowledge of much better versions coming shortly.

In the case of electric cars, those would be mass-priced vehicles with 200 or more miles of range. The first of those is the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, expected to go on sale before the end of this year.

It will be followed next year by a second-generation Nissan Leaf, with at least one version capable of 200 miles. Production of the 200-mile Tesla Model 3 is scheduled to start before the end of 2017 as well.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

But the comparison to hybrid sales is an important one, given frequent media references to low sales of plug-in electric vehicles.

It's long been obvious that sales did not meet the rosy projections issued before the cars went on sale.

That may have been due to a lack of appreciation among carmakers of the sales challenges posed by plug-in cars at the dealership level.

CHECK OUT: Poll: Consumer Interest In Electric Vehicles Stagnating? (Aug 2015)

Just as we wrote three and a half years ago, back in Feburary 2013, electric-car sales have exceeded those of hybrids at the same period in their entry to the market.

Hybrids did not enjoy the array of incentives that plug-in cars do, granted, but they were also less expensive against conventional vehicles than early electrics were.

There was also no Tesla Motors to change perception of hybrid cars, which by the first 10 years may have solidified into a sort of "hybrid equals Prius" mentality.

Nevertheless, next time you read about electric-car sales, remember the graph above—for the long-term context.

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