US electric car sales had another record month in December and also again reached a record market share in the country. Fully electric and plug-in hybrid electric car sales reached 19,133 in December (and 144,455 sales for 2016 as a whole), which put EV market share among all passenger cars at a record 1.13% (and 0.82% for 2016 as a whole)*.
The EV market as a whole saw 30% growth for 2016 (compared to 2016) and 51% for December 2016 (compared to December 2015), which would be great for normal cars but may seem a bit weak on the surface for those of us who know how fast EV sales should and could be growing. But remember that 2016 was more of a prep year than a breakout year. This year (2017) and next (2018) are likely to be the big breakout years, thanks to the real arrival of the Chevy Bolt and the expected arrival of the Tesla Model 3.
Also worth noting, as Loren McDonald highlighted the other day, is that EV model choice is still extremely limited. “As of January 2017, there are 30 PHEV and BEVs on the market in the United States out of more than 300 car models.” Furthermore, only a handful of those models are available outside of a few “compliance car” or “ZEV mandate” states. Don’t live in California or Oregon? Well, then, good luck getting a test drive with even 10 of these EV models — highly unlikely. We couldn’t even get a test drive for the Ford Fusion Energi or Ford C-Max Energi (two of the most widely available EV models) in Florida, which is actually one of the top-selling EV states. The dealer said California was getting them all.
As it turns out, a handful of models dominated US electric car sales:
- 5 models accounted for ~69% of EV sales in December 2016.
- 5 models accounted for ~64% of EV sales in 2016 as a whole.
- 7 models accounted for ~81% of EV sales in December 2016 and in 2016 as a whole (though, there was a change in one of the models for December vs 2016 as a whole).
Next time someone tells you there just isn’t market demand for electric cars, perhaps point to the fact that only a handful of models are available nationwide — none in some of the most popular car classes — and there are ~400,000 reservations (globally) for the Tesla Model 3.
But enough with the broader context — let’s jump into the individual model and brand numbers.
The dominant models in 2016 and their EV market shares, as you can see in the chart at the top or the tables at the bottom, were:
- Tesla Model S* — 20%
- Chevy Volt — 17%
- Tesla Model X* — 12%
- Ford Fusion Energi — 11%
- Nissan LEAF — 10%
- Ford C-Max Energi — 6%
- BMW i3 — 5%
Things are changing, as the Toyota Prius Prime has quickly risen into the top ranks and the Chevy Bolt is sure to occupy a high spot there once production and deliveries ramp up. Here were the top 7 models in December:
- Tesla Model S* — 21%
- Chevy Volt — 19%
- Tesla Model X* — 10%
- Nissan LEAF — 10%
- Toyota Prius Prime — 9%
- Ford C-Max Energi — 7%
- Ford Fusion Energi — 6%
No, it’s not surprising at all that these are basically the electric car models available “nationwide” (I think the other BMW models and the Porsche models are as well, but they’re rather niche models due to their high price tags … not that high prices keep Tesla’s models to such a niche level).
Here are some more specific model highlights:
The Chevy Bolt had a decent opening month, especially considering that Bolts weren’t really getting delivered till the very end of December.
The Chevy Volt had a banner month in December with a record-crushing number of sales. Word is surely getting out there that this is an attractive car that is hard to beat (can you beat it?) in its market segment.
The Tesla Model S almost definitely crushed all competitors in the large luxury/premium car market. (Check out our long-term review of the Model S for more owner details.)
The Nissan LEAF has kept up sales (despite the surging competition) via attractive group buys or deep discounts. It is still a top model in its class — electric or otherwise. (Check out our long-term review of the LEAF — with no home charging — for more details on this model.)
The Toyota Prius Prime has had a fairly strong arrival and I expect that to continue and even grow. Toyota is still enjoying the benefits of first-mover advantage for its leadership on conventional hybrids, and the Prius Prime is quite competitively priced and attractive for people not quite ready for a fully electric car like the LEAF or Bolt.
The Ford Energi models and BMW i3 continue pushing through at a moderate pace — due largely to wider availability than most other compliance car offerings. Though, the i3 seems to have been hit a bit harder by the Bolt and Model 3 (and perhaps expectations for updated versions of the i3) than the Energi models were hit by the new Volt and Prius Prime.
Sales of fully electric cars (because of Tesla) continue to inch out sales of plug-in hybrids (PHEV), but it’s a pretty even split. The Volt with its 53 miles of electric range does carry the PHEV market, of course. I think the overall split makes the case that there are still a lot of consumers who want an EV that also has a gas backup for those rare (or in some cases perhaps frequent) cases when they need to drive long distances in a single day. However, I’m curious to see what happens to that market by the time the Tesla Model 3 is in full production.
Check out the tables below for more details and let us know your thoughts!
*As before, it’s worth noting that Tesla’s figures are estimates, but it’s also worth noting that these estimates are based on various statements from Tesla (mostly Elon Musk) and I didn’t have to change my October–December estimates at all after seeing Tesla’s official figures for the quarter (published a few days ago).
Also note that a handful of EV models are not included since their manufacturers don’t report details sales figures and they are compliance cars.