EV Market Failure? Let the Facts Speak for Themselves
Luskin School of Public Affairs' Dr. Brett Williams talks about electric-drive vehicle sale trends in this exclusive MP3 audio interview with EV World.Com.
It took five years for sales of conventional gasoline-electric hybrids like the original, two-seat Honda Insight and Toyota Prius to hit combined sales of 50,000 units. Sales of Plug-In Electric Vehicles or PEVs blew past that milestone in less than two years since their initial launch in late 2010.
Today, by Dr. Brett William's count there are now an estimated 81,0000 electric hybrids and pure battery electric cars on United States roads as of the end of February 2013. Williams is the EV & Alt Fuels Program Director at UCLA's Luskin School for Public Affairs. He's also an assistant adjunct profession at the University. Given the rate of adoption of E-drive vehicles in California, the University was asked to begin tracking EV sales using statistics available mainly through HybridCars.com, as well as paid data acquired from other source including Wards and R.L. Polk.
Williams definition of a PEV is largely limited to automobiles that can derive some of their motive energy off the power grid by plugging in to recharge its traction battery. The two leading sellers are the Chevrolet Volt, classified as a PHEV; and the Nissan LEAF, a BEV or battery electric vehicle. At present, there are some dozen of both types of vehicles on the market in the USA. Along with the Volt is the Fisker Karma, for which no public sales numbers are available since it is a privately held corporation; the Toyota Prius PHV, the Ford C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi plug-ins. Besides the LEAF, on the pure EV side there is the Tesla Roadster, Model S, Mitsubishi i, Ford Focus EV, Coda (again, a privately held entity that doesn't report sales); with others on the way, including the Cadillac ELR pictured above, which is based on the Volt's plug-in drive system.
Dr. William's research on EV sales are focused exclusively on the US market due mainly to the limited data that is available and the resources the University devote to the topic.
Perhaps the most intriguing finding, after the fact that sales of EVs today are way ahead of hybrid sales a decade ago, is the three-to-one split in sales between PHEVs and BEVs, with 2012 seeing an explosive growth in sales of both the Volt and the Prius PHV. Williams believes part of the reason has to do with early adopters, who initially went with the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Roadster, being succeeded by a slightly more conservative type of buyer who wants the reassurance of being able to drive beyond the 80-100 mile range of the typical EV.
"If they forgot to plug in overnight, they can still drive the car the next morning," Williams theorizes.
As to the criticism that EV sales have been a 'flop', Williams says that the numbers speak for themselves. The real issue is managing expectations. Critics cite relatively low volume sales -- 'a rounding error in the scheme of things', as Williams puts it -- as evidence that there's no market for these cars.
"It took ten years for hybrids to reach a million," he points out, while estimating that at the current pace, PEVs will reach that milestone in another four, or sometime around 2017; not the 2015 set by President Obama, but certainly faster than hybrids.
Originally published: 11 Mar 2013
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