Despite a slower-than-expected start, plug-in electric cars are gaining momentum on the North American market.

Not only are sales rising, so is consumer interest: according to a survey by AAA, shoppers’ interest in electric and plug-in hybrid cars is now neck to neck with that of pickup trucks.

In fact, 15 percent of the interviewed participants showed interest in the purchase of an electric car, versus 16 percent for pick-up trucks.

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Now, the Consumer Federation of America has projected that for 2017, sales of plug-in electric vehicles will increase by more than 100 percent against the 2016 numbers.

Among other things, the launch of the 238-mile Chevrolet Bolt EV late last year is expected to have a tangible impact on the sales.

The model has sold almost 5,000 units in the United States since it went on sale in mid-December.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, owned by Brian Ro, Columbia, Maryland

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car, owned by Brian Ro, Columbia, Maryland

The CFA’s analysis also projects that the Bolt EV and the Tesla Model 3 are expected to lead the market, followed closely by the Chevy Volt.

Already last year, the number of plug-in electric car sales grew 37 percent over the 2015 total, which was slightly lower than the 2014 number.

“With batteries becoming more efficient, an increasing variety of market choices, and prices becoming more affordable, there is no question that EVs are poised to disrupt the automotive marketplace.” said Jack Gillis, CFA’s director of public affairs.

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Despite the optimistic picture, sales have yet to reflect the enthusiasm shoppers have expressed for electric vehicles in some surveys.

Plug-in electric cars still only account for 1 percent of total sales in the U.S. The rate increases to 2 percent for conventional hybrid models without plugs.

In comparison, pickup truck sales remain strong and well within the millions of units sold yearly.

2017 Nissan Leaf

2017 Nissan Leaf

Range anxiety remains the technology’s mains challenge, regardless of improving battery life.

Almost seven out of 10 people interviewed for AAA’s survey said they are afraid of running out of battery power before reaching their destination.

Unlike gas stations that are easy to find and only require a few minutes a the pump, charging stations are not as widespread and a decent charge still requires at least half an hour.

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According to the same survey, 69 percent of participants commented that not enough charging stations exist.

The absence of plug-in electric models with all-wheel drive or in the hugely popular crossover utility vehicle format most likely factors in as well.

The compact crossovers segment is thriving, at the expense of passenger cars, and the lack of affordable plug-in hybrid and electric options is a lost opportunity.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

The CFA and the automakers remain, however, optimistic.

Tesla will launch its Model 3 this year, though debate remains over how widely available it will be and how many it can deliver by December 31.

On GM’s side, the company will likely sell at least 30,000 Bolt EVs—and perhaps considerably more once the car is available throughout the country and dealers are up to speed.

In total, the CFA forecast estimates that close to 350,000 new plug-in electric cars will find a home next year.

— Sabrina Giacomini


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