Why do people keep saying electric car sales are slow?

Electric cars charging 8 state ZEV plan logo
CC BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia

The other day, I was listening to an NPR report about the auto industry's efforts to improve fuel economy.

Both the reporter and several industry figures stated that electric vehicle (EV) sales are still slow. Similarly, reporting on the launch of the new Chevy Volt and the concept Chevy Bolt, the Business Recorder seems almost astounded that car makers are still bothering with EVs at all.

Yet in the clean tech blog world, us TreeHuggers keep championing the fact that EV domination is just around the corner.

The fact is that there are several, competing dynamics going on. On the one hand, conventional hybrid sales have leveled off in recent years, and are likely to keep flatlining as gas prices make them a less attractive economic proposition and as early adopters see more interesting, innovative products on the market. On the other hand, plug-in electric car sales, while remaining a fraction of the market, are way ahead of where hybrids were at a similar phase in their market development.

Yet despite their fundamental differences, conventional hybrid sales and plug-in hybrid sales are often reported together under the generic "green car" category.

And one of those beasts is beginning to flex its muscles.

In the UK, plug-in car sales quadrupled last year alone. In Germany, sales are beginning to grow as the government puts its weight behind EVs. In the US, the Nissan Leaf keeps breaking sales records and 100% electric car sales were up 58% in 2014. (In what universe is a 58% rise in sales slow?!)

While markets ebb and flow somewhat depending on the state of government incentives, it's almost absurd to talk about EV sales being a fraction of mainstream car sales when they started from zero just a few years ago. When mobile phones first started appearing on our streets, it was pretty much just bankers and drug dealers who were using them. Sales inched up gradually and then at some point—woosh–you looked around and everyone had a Nokia.

Like many consumers living in a car-dependent locality, I am deeply interested in a plug-in vehicle. And I am watching intently as prices come down, as the range goes up, as charging infrastructure roles out, and as the availability of different models increases by the year. I am not likely to spring for a Tesla Model S anytime soon, but I am also reluctant to buy a conventional hybrid if an affordable plug-in is just a few years away. I am also listening closely to the few acquaintances who have already sprung for an EV or plug-in hybrid, and they are almost universally positive—even evangelical—about their experiences.

I suspect there may be a few pundits surprised by what is just around the corner.

Tags: Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles


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