2015 was a disappointing, but not unexpectedly so, year for sales of electric vehicles.
In the U.S., according to InsideEVs, electric vehicle (EV) sales actually declined 5.3% to 116,548 compared to 123,409 in 2014. Worldwide, however, EV sales increased 39.6% to 447,617 from 320,713 in 2014.
Why the drop off in the United States?
With global sales increasing nearly 40%, why did EV sales in the United States take a backward step in 2015? I think there were 5 primary reasons:
1. No new mainstream models. Unlike 2014, which saw the introduction of the BMW i3 (11,024 units sold in 2015), 2015 didn’t see any major new entrants into the EV market. The Tesla Model X (expensive and not mainstream) didn’t launch until December.
2. Leaf and Volt getting a bit stale. Ranked at #2 and #3 in EV sales for 2015, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt both declined in sales versus 2014. Each are a few years old now and are not generating any excitement among consumers. The updated 2016 Chevy Volt, a very nice refresh that is getting very positive reviews, didn’t hit dealers until the end of the year and so didn’t have an impact on sales.
3. Decline in gas prices. According to GasBuddy, the average price of gasoline in the U.S. for 2015 was $2.40. This compares to a national average in 2014 of $3.34 according to AAA. With gas prices going down instead of up, there was little incentive for U.S. consumers to trade in their gas guzzler for a plug-in car.
The gas-price decline likely had the biggest negative impact on sales of Ford’s Fusion Energi and C-MAX Energi PHEVs and the Toyota Prius PHV. When comparing the extra cost of these 3 plug-in hybrids, many would-be purchasers probably opted for the regular hybrid versions instead.
4. Dwindling supply of early adopters.The decline in sales of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt are a clear sign that the first wave of early adopter buyers of EVs has peaked. The Nissan Leaf is a highly praised car, but one that many consumers find unattractive and not practical with a range of around 100 miles.
Chevy Volt, the highly regarded PHEV (plug-in hybrid), likely can attribute a decline in sales to the fact that Chevrolet was launching an entirely new version at the end of 2015. When combined with declining gas prices, no new models to get people excited – the second wave of early adopters simply never materialized.
5. Buyers are waiting for the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Many interested EV buyers sat out 2015 as they await the next generation of 200-mile range “affordable” EVs. The 200-mile range, $35,000 Chevy Bolt may launch at the end of 2016 or early 2017. The much-hyped Tesla Model 3, also with an expected range of 200 miles and base pricing in the $35,000 to $40,000 range, could go into production sometime in 2017, but more likely 2018.
While these cars will be more expensive than alternatives like the Leaf, Volt, Fiat 500e and in the same ballpark as the BMW i3, the expected range of around 200 miles will be key to attracting a new, and larger class of EV buyers.
What Will Happen in 2016 and 2017?
With gas prices expected to remain low this year and no new mainstream EVs being introduced (the Chevy Bolt will reach production at the end of 2016 at the earliest), 2016 will likely be another disappointing year for EV sales in the U.S. I expect global sales, however to see another strong year of growth of at least 25%.
2017 should see a return to solid growth in the U.S. with an updated Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Bolt reaching dealers and the possible launch of Tesla’s Model 3. Hopefully, we will see some other new models or updates from the likes of Ford, BMW, Audi, Mercedes and others. But beyond the supply of new models, the impact of gas prices is a huge wildcard.
In future posts, I’ll go out on a limb with my predictions for when sales of EVs in the U.S. will finally start to take off.