Early EV Sales Match Prius's Start

By Editors

When compared to the initial response to two models of the Prius Hybrid, the sales of electric cars introduced onto the market over the last few years have not been all that bad.

That's the point made in figures introduced by market analyst Tali Trigg this week in Scientific American.

The graph illustrates the comparison. The horizontal axis is the time frame over the first 36 months while the vertical axis is sales per month from zero to 4,000. The original Prius is represented by the brown dotted line and the Prius Plug-In Hybrid, introduced in January 2012, in light blue. The Chevy Volt is represented in purple, the Nissan Leaf in blue and the Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle in green.

The first Prius HEV was introduced in December1997. It sold well the first year but then tailed off and hadn't made much progress after three years. The Prius Plug-In Hybrid, introduced in January 2012, sold a little better initially but has not fared much differently. 

Electric vehicles have followed a very similar pattern. The Volt did poorly at first but has actually exceeded all other models in the second year. The Leaf had a better start, then tailed off, but has surged of late. The Mitsubishi has done poorest of all but still had a big uptick in the 31st month.

Of course the graph could easily move the other way in the future. General Motors' EV1 was produced from 1996 to 1999 and by 2006 was the subject of the documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" The recent brouhaha over the Tesla Model S has raised the question over whether electric vehicles can ever be more than a niche car or an expensive toy.

Trigg argues that, with current subsidies, both EVs and plug-in hybrids could become cost-competitive conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2015. He notes that the Electric Vehicles Initiative, a coalition of 15 key countries, has set a target of over 20 million EVs on the road by 2020. Still, that would make up only 2 percent of the world fleet.

But recent events show there can be light at the end of the tunnel.  The Prius is now one of the world's top selling models and hybrids represented 16 percent of Toyota's total sales.

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