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 Texas

2017 Chevrolet Volt, leased by Phil Ganz of Texas

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.

DON'T MISS: First 2017 Chevy Bolt EV electric cars sold Dec 13, in California

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 Leaf

2017 Nissan Leaf

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.

ALSO SEE: Tesla delivered 76,000 cars globally in 2016, missing its goal

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 S

2017 Tesla Model S

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 2012

2013 Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Marin County, CA, Nov 2012

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.

2017 Audi A3 e-tron Sportback

2017 Audi A3 e-tron Sportback

Finally, the Audi A3 e-tron had its best month to date in December, with sales of 589 giving it a total of 4,280 last year. The plug-in hybrid version now represents more than 10 percent of total A3 sales.

The BMW i3 saw deliveries of 791 units, for a yearly total of 7,625—considerably down on the 11,000 sold in 2015.

And the Volkswagen e-Golf, now awaiting the longer-range 2017 model, had sales of 443, for a 2016 total of 3,937, slightly lower than 2015's 4,200.

More than 1,000 units a year

The eleven vehicles named above represent by far the vast majority of plug-in electric sales in the U.S. last year.

Another 14 vehicles collectively added represented about 24,200 of the year's 160,000.

2016 BMW X5 xDrive 40e, Hudson Valley, NY, Dec 2015

2016 BMW X5 xDrive 40e, Hudson Valley, NY, Dec 2015

Among those with four-figure sales were the plug-in hybrid BMW X5 xDrive 40e, with a yearly total likely around 6,000 units—more, in fact, than the VW e-Golf hatchback.

(BMW stopped providing sales figures to this site midway through last year, claiming it did not have the staff to do so.)

Next in line was the Chevy Spark EV compliance car, which has now been phased out as the larger and longer-range Bolt EV replaces it in the Chevrolet lineup.

Still, Chevy delivered 3,035 Spark EVs last year, with its sales waning sharply in November and December.

The Porsche Cayenne S e-Hybrid moved a remarkable 2,111 units last year, an impressive showing for a plug-in hybrid luxury SUV with a price tag approaching $100,000.

And the Volvo XC90 T8 'Twin Engine' plug-in hybrid SUV logged about 2,000 sales (we're still waiting for Volvo's December figure).

2015 BMW i8, test drive in greater Los Angeles area, Apr 2014

2015 BMW i8, test drive in greater Los Angeles area, Apr 2014

The striking plug-in hybrid BMW i8 gull-wing sport coupe sold 1,594 units last year, down from its 2,265 the previous year, but notable for a car starting at $130,000.

The rest

Every other vehicle with a plug sold fewer than 1,000 units last year.

Those battery-electric cars include the Ford Focus Electric, Mercedes-Benz B-Class, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Smart ForTwo Electric Drive.

The plug-in hybrids are the BMW 330e, Mercedes-Benz 550e and GLE 550e, and Porsche Panamera S e-Hybrid.

As for the ill-fated Cadillac ELR, it sold another 3 units, bringing the full-year total to 534—only half as much as the lackluster 2015 total of 1,024—and largely ending its tenure on sales lots as well.

2016 Cadillac ELR

2016 Cadillac ELR

As is sadly customary, Fiat, Hyundai, and Kia refuse to release sales breakouts of their plug-in models, all adapted from regular gasoline vehicles.

Those are the Fiat 500e compliance car, the Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid, and the Kia Soul EV.


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