2018 Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
Of the 90 million or so new vehicles sold globally last year, plug-in electric cars made up only a tiny proportion, roughly 1 percent.
But the auto industry works on long product cycles and buyers tend to be conservative, only changing the types of cars they buy if life circumstances change or there's a compelling financial reason to do so.
Nonetheless, it's now abundantly clear that the 2020s will see vastly more cars with plugs on the world's roads than we have today.
With that as context, Nissan and its allied automaking partner companies are likely in a good position to enter the next decade as leaders in electric cars.
Last year, the combined Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance delivered 91,000 fully electric vehicles, a rise of 11 percent against the similar 2016 number.
Of those, by far the top two are the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe, which have sold more than 300,000 and likely more than 130,000 over their respective lives.
2016 Renault Zoe electric carEnlarge Photo
The combined worldwide total for battery-electric vehicles sold by the three companies since the first Nissan Leaf went on sale in December 2010 is 540,623, the companies said in a press release on Monday.
That's more than Tesla (now at roughly 300,000) and General Motors, whose sales since December 2010 have been dominated by the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt.
Tesla's 2017 deliveries of more than 100,000 electric cars outpaced Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi's total of 91,000, though the Chinese firm BYD is said to have sold roughly 180,000 plug-in cars last year, the majority of them battery-electric.
Sales of the Renault Zoe surged 44 percent last year after the car's battery capacity was increased from 23 to 41 kilowatt-hours, boosting its range to between 150 and 250 miles in real-world use.
The new 2018 Nissan Leaf, a thoroughly updated and redesigned second generation of the world's highest-selling electric car, went on sale in the U.S. on January 23.
It has been on sale in Japan since October, and Nissan said more than 40,000 of the new Leafs were pre-ordered ahead of its debuts in Japan, Europe, and the U.S.
With the addition of Mitsubishi to the Renault-Nissan Alliance in the fall of 2016, the group has added expertise in plug-in hybrids.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, finally on sale in the U.S. as of early this year, is the world's highest-selling plug-in hybrid SUV.
The three-company alliance also emerged as the second-largest carmaker in the world, slightly behind Volkswagen Group but ahead of Toyota.
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Starting in roughly 2020, all three brands will share a newly designed set of common underpinnings for battery-electric vehicles that should produce greater economies of scale and many more electric-car offerings for buyers.
The next EV the company is expected to launch globally will be a compact electric crossover utility vehicle, though its timing remains somewhat unclear.