Electric car sales have experienced a significant increase over the past few months. In December of 2016, almost 25,000 plug-in cars were sold, shattering the previous monthly record of almost 15,000 from August 2016. In the first three months of this year, over 40,000 cars were sold (10,597 in January, 12,025 in February, and 18,107 in March). While this may look like a slump, a quick comparison to the first three months of 2016 shows a marked increase; 27,841 were sold by this time a year ago (January 2016 saw 6,221 cars sold, February 2016 saw 7,763 electric cars sold, and March 2016 saw 13,857 cars hit the road).
So what explains this trend? Well first, the release of several new plug-in models, most notably the all-electric Chevy Bolt EV and the plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius Prime. The Prius Prime captured over 1,600 sales in its first month, and leveled out to almost 1,400 in January and February before shooting back up over 1,600 in March. It appears that this hasn’t been due to any sort of cannibalization of other vehicle sales – these are likely new plug-in buyers who have opted for the Prius Prime in lieu of a gas Prius. Likewise, the Chevy Bolt debuted to almost 600 sales in December, then almost doubled that in January. In February and March, the Bolt did 952 and 978 respectively, but keep in mind that the Bolt is only currently being sold in six states. As the nationwide roll out continues, expect the monthly sales number to increase. Concurrently, Chevy Volt sales have taken off as well, with a record 3,691 sold in December, and 1,611 and 1,820 sold in January and February, respectively. In March, the Volt shot up to 2,132 cars sold. It’s possible that newly released cars are also driving an increase in sales in other models. BMW has seen an uptick across the board in their plug-in sales, and with the release of the 530e iPerformance, will have an impressive six-car lineup of plug-in models (330e, 530e, 740e, X5 xDrive40e, i3, and i8). Meanwhile, Nissan and Tesla both consistently remain in the top five in monthly sales. The Ford Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi netted a combined 2,388 units in December, over 1,000 in January, almost 1,500 in February, and over 1,600 in March.
Overall, while this isn’t a massive sales increase, it is still worth noting. EV sales are certainly not stagnating. In fact, we’re seeing a steady growth. If these first three months of are indicative of the coming year, total EV sales may easily surpass 200,000 cars. Of course, the wildcard here is the Model 3. Should Tesla, “support volume deliveries in the second half of 2017” then we could see that number increase substantially, possibly past 250,000. It’s clear that the free market principle of consumer choice is contributing to the increase in sales; as more models hit showroom floors, consumers are given new reasons to choose a plug-in. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, which will be in dealerships within a month, will be the first plug-in minivan. For consumers who have been holding off making the switch to electric because they want or need a minivan, this may be the perfect vehicle.
Also hitting dealership floors this coming month are the Hyundai IONIQ Electric, an all-electric sedan with an EPA range of 124 miles, the Cadillac CT6 PHV plug-in hybrid luxury sedan with an electric range of 31 miles, and the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid with an electric range also of 31 miles. With the addition of these three, the total number of plug-in car models for sale reaches 36.
Overall, 2017 is shaping up to be a year of record plug-in car sales. After the first quarter’s nearly a 50% increase in sales over 2016, 200,000 units sold this year seems well within reach, even if the Model 3 is not sold in volume this year.
It’s well worth keeping an eye on this year’s sales. More and more models are launching, the groundbreaking Bolt EV will continue its fifty-state roll out, and Tesla has yet to throw its weight around with the Model 3.
What do you think? Will the coming nationwide availability of the Bolt usher in record sales? Will the Tesla be able to put tens of thousands of Model 3s on the road by the end of this year? Let us know what you think in the comments below!