March of the Electric Cars

By Jonathan Spira on 1 January 2014
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BMW's i3 in London

BMW’s i3 in London

While hybrid vehicle sales have remained somewhat steady in the past two years, the number of battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles sold in the U.S. nearly doubled in 2013.

Figures released by the Electric Drive Transportation Association, an industry group, show that, while sales of hybrids increased 61% from 2011 to 2012, they are on track to increase only 22% from 2012 to 2013.

Still, the number of battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles sold  in 2013 – close to  100,000 – is insignificant compared to overall sales of 15 million automobiles.

Leading the market, both in terms of competitive sales and headlines, was the Tesla S, which, unlike other electric vehicles, has a waiting list.  Tesla expects to sell 20,000 S’s in 2013, a record for the premium segment, but its success was tempered by continued headline reports of three Model S sedans catching fire, two after hitting objects in the road, one after a crash. In November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced an investigation into the occurrences.

Manufacturers are offering many new models, hoping that buyers will want to plug in their cars at night, and a total of 16 are now or are soon to be available in the U.S. (albeit in limited markets, including California) from automakers such as BMW, Chevrolet, Fiat, Ford, Honda, and Porsche.

Fueled by sharp discounts, Chevrolet is selling roughly 2,000 Volts a month, and the Nissan Leaf is hitting similar figures. Toyota, which enjoys the greatest mindshare in the hybrid vehicle market, sells around 1,000 plug-in Priuses, and Ford sells a total of 2,000 of its Enegi plug-in hybrids, which are offered on the Fusion and C-Max platforms.

Despite these successes, plug-ins face tremendous competition both from diesels, which are appearing in ever-increasing numbers (BMW introduced six new models in 2013, including the 45-mpg (5.22 l/100 km) 328d sedan, Mercedes added several including the 45-mpg (5.22 l/100 km) E250 BlueTec sedan, and Volkswagen’s diesel fleet, with the exception of the Touareg SUV, gets between 41-43 mpg (5.73 to 5.46 l/100 km) on the highway as well), as well as surprisingly efficient gasoline-powered models that achieve similar figures.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)