PHOTO CAPTION: 2000 Honda Insight was first hybrid offered in North America.

Are Electric Car Sales Disappointing in First Year?

Ezra Klein reminds readers that in the first year hybrids became available in America, Honda and Toyota combined sold just 9,350 units.

Published: 11-Jan-2012

Lately, much of the press coverage of electric cars has implied that the technology has been a huge letdown. See, for instance, USA Today’s story: “Are electric cars losing their spark?” The angst mostly centers around sales: In 2011, the first year they were available, the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt sold just 17,345 units in the United States — slightly below expectations.

Placed in perspective, though, those weak sales don’t look all that apocalyptic. Over at the Rocky Mountain Institute, Randy Essex and Ben Holland point out that when gas-electric hybrids first rolled out in 2000, the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius had sales of just 9,350. Those figures looked anemic at the time, too. But in the ensuing years, the technology caught on and more than 2 million hybrids have been sold in the United States. If that’s any prologue, it could bode well for future plug-ins.

But is this comparison apt? On the one hand, the new generation of electric vehicles enjoy a few advantages that Priuses didn’t. Gasoline prices sat below $2 per gallon back in 2000, considerably lower than today. What’s more, the latest round of fuel-economy standards, under which carmakers have to get their fleet averages up to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, should give the big auto companies incentive to roll out more plug-in vehicles in the coming years.


Chevrolet Volt in front of Detroit Yacht Club. Photo: EV World

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2011 Honda Civic concept car.

Carnegie Mellon University professor Illah Nourbakhsh envisions $14,000 Honda Civic EV conversions.


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