U.S. car buyers took home about 17,500 plug-in electric cars in 2011
Last year, the numbers got better. A lot better.
In 2012, about 53,000 electric cars were likely sold–essentially triple the prior year’s number.
Not bad, huh?
We know that at least 50,000 sales of plug-in cars will have been reported by Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota.
We don’t have final sales figures from Tesla, and won’t until Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] releases its fourth-quarter financial results, most likely in early February.
We also don’t have data on electric-car sales from Fisker, Coda, or Wheego.
But here’s what we do have data on.
Hands down, the Volt has become the most popular plug-in electric car in the U.S.
Despite hostility to the car among certain sectors of the media, the Volt’s shaky start in 2011 has solidified into a sales lead for the range-extended electric car.
In December, Chevy sold 2,633 Volts, bringing its year’s total to 23,461. That’s three times the 7,671 sold in 2011, and it locks the Volt into the leading position among all plug-in cars on sale in the U.S.
Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid
It didn’t go on sale until February last year, but it logged steady sales and surged past the Nissan Leaf to become the second most-popular plug-in car on the market.
Last month, Toyota sold 1,361 plug-in Priuses, making the 2012 total a remarkable 12,750 units altogether.
Despite an EPA-rated electric range of 6 miles continuous and only 11 miles in total–the lowest of any plug-in car on the market–the plug-in Prius benefits from the reputation for reliability and excellent fuel economy of the entire Prius hybrid range.
It’s also eligible for a “green sticker” permit that allows it to use High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on California freeways with just one occupant. That’s a huge sales incentive.
And the Prius Plug-In Hybrid also has the highest fuel economy (50 mpg) of any plug-in hybrid when operating in its pure hybrid mode after the battery pack is discharged.
It was the very first modern plug-in car aside from the Tesla Roadster to go on sale in the U.S. But after racking up 9,674 sales in 2011, the Leaf battery-electric car stumbled last year.
Following a trend that started in October, December sales stayed strong, at 1,489 units, for a 2012 total of 9,819 Leafs sold–just squeaking past the 2011 total.
That lost the Leaf its 2011 sales lead last year, as it plummeted to third place in plug-in purchases.
With less controversy around the Volt, the new availability of a Prius with a plug, cautious buyers may have preferred those two cars’ lack of susceptibility to range anxiety versus the Leaf’s rated 73-mile electric range.
Issues around loss of battery capacity among some Phoenix owners didn’t help either.
Fords with plugs
While the Ford Focus Electric has technically been on sale since December 2011, its numbers are nothing for Ford to brag about.
Ford won’t release sales data til tomorrow, but through November, only 518 of the battery electric conversion were delivered in 2012.
But higher in the chart are surging sales of the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, which hit the market in October.
It logged November sales of 1,259, meaning its 2012 total could be 2,500 or more–after just three months on the market.
Ford will also have the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid sedan coming onto the market next year, so its 2013 plug-in hybrid sales should be substantial.
As for Mitsubishi, whose ‘i’ or i-MiEV was actually the fourth modern plug-in car to go on sale in the U.S. (in November 2011), it sold 77 of the tiny battery electric cars in December.
That brings its total for 2012 to 588 sold, making it a distant also-ran in the sales volume sweepstakes.
The Volt, Leaf, and Prius Plug-In make up by far the bulk of the electric-car market for 2012.
Other vehicles added during 2012 include a handful of so-called compliance cars, among them the Toyota RAV4 EV and Honda Fit EV.
Toyota sold 52 RAV4 EVs in December, bringing the year’s total since September to 192.
In December, 19 deliveries of the Honda Fit EV were made, for a yearly total of 93 units of the battery-electric conversion that can only be leased.
Unknowns: Tesla Model S, Fisker Karma
We won’t find out how many Tesla Model S electric luxury sport sedans were delivered until Tesla Motors submits its fourth-quarter results to the Securities & Exchange Commission, most likely in early February.
While it insists that it’s a fully competitive automaker, Tesla won’t discuss its monthly sales figures, saying that its owners and potential buyers don’t care about them, and its investors are content with quarterly reports.
Until then, we’re estimating that about 3,000 of the all-electric luxury sport sedan found buyers.
That’s lower than Tesla’s original goal of 5,000, but enough to put the Model S into fourth place in the plug-in sales chart.
Production of the Fisker Karma has been halted for several months, since its lithium-ion cell supplier A123 Systems declared bankruptcy.
The company has never commented on production or sales figures–always a bad sign–but we estimate that more than 2,000 Karmas had been built by last summer.
If so, and netting out the 300-plus destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, we figure perhaps 1,500 have been sold in the U.S. market.
Coda and Wheego each have likely sold only a few hundred cars apiece, if that, and aren’t a major factor in the market.
Positive signs for the future
While U.S. Department of Energy loans to Tesla, Fisker, and other green-energy companies came up during the presidential and vice-presidential debates last fall, modern plug-in electric cars are here to stay.
As we have said before: It’s started. It’s going to be slow, and the cars cost more than gasoline cars of similar performance. Plug-ins may not reach even 1 percent of global production (or 1 million vehicles of 100 million built worldwide) until the end of the decade.
But they’re here to stay.
Mark our words: This time … it’s real. 2013 Should be Exciting for the EV Industry.
Have you driven one yet?
EV Update for 2013
The US electric vehicle industry came in for some pretty sharp criticism during 2012, especially during the Presidential campaign when candidate Mitt Romney called thriving start-up Tesla “a loser” – lumping it in with some of the other failed investments that the Obama administration has made in advancing the industry. Interesting take – someone forgot to tell Mr. Romney that the company’s Model S hatchback (pictured below) sold out for this model year, with 5,000 cars made to order.
So, what’s the reality? To be sure, there are nowhere near as many electric-powered cars being used in the United States as was hoped just one year ago – research from Mintel estimates shipments for this year at around 50,000 units. President Obama had hoped to have 1 million on the road by 2015, which looks like an incredibly unrealistic goal at this point.
2012 also began with a high-profiles series of recalls related to battery technology, leaving both Fisker and Chevrolet with a bit of a black eye.
Still, the outlook is relatively optimistic for the next 12 months, with probably 400,000 electric vehicles (which includes bicycles, by the way) expected to be on the road by the end of 2013.
Hey, as we reported previously, Washington state feels there are enough electric vehicles on the road now in order to introduce a brand-new EV highway tax, you know mainstream adoption must be accelerating.
So what’s around the corner? Cleantech market research firm Pike Research has issued its set of predictions for the year ahead, implying that the “industry will be racing ahead in second gear.”
Here are some highlights:
#1: The e-bicycle market will explode. Pike predicts that North American sales will grow by 50 percent to about 158,000, as component costs decline and the number of brands offering models multiplies. The market for e-motorcycles will remain relatively custom, though.
#2: Higher capacity, 48-volt batteries will charge up the market for stop-start and micro-hybrid vehicles. Right now, the predominant technology is 12 volts, which has seriously limited the applications. This class of teeny vehicles, which is particularly popular in Europe, shuts down at red lights or during stop-and-go traffic, helping to reduce fuel emissions.
#3: Fuel cell vehicles will gain more prominence. This technology uses hydrogen and oxygen from the air to produce enough energy to run the car, but its commercial potential is still relatively limited. Pike predicts that about 3,500 units will be shipped from the likes of Toyota, Daimler, Hyundai and Honda – primarily to companies that manage public and private fleets.
#4: Germany will lead growth in Europe. If you think electric vehicle adoption has been slow in the United States, you’ll be surprised to hear that things across the Atlantic Ocean have been even slower. That will change next year, with the emergence of at least seven models optimized for the European market, according to the Pike Research predictions. The most dominant player (at least for the next 12 months) will be Volkswagen, which has six different models in the pipeline that have an electric twist. The company’s home market in Germany will emerge as the single biggest market on the continent, with about 14,000 vehicles by the end of 2013. One thing that could help charge up the European market will be the emergence of IBM technology that helps drivers travel regionally, without having to worry about whether or not there is a place to refuel their battery.
#5: A larger diversity of public charging infrastructure will be in place. There are several forces as work here. First off, we’ll finally see some activity around a new fast-charging standard, which should make for more installations. Most of the equipment currently in place takes woefully long to charge up a vehicle – an average of four to eight hours, which is fine if you’re parked somewhere for the whole day but not-so-fine if you are traveling outside of your immediate community. Another thing to watch will be deployments of wireless charging infrastructure that don’t require plugs at all. Sales should reach 283,000 units annually by 2020, according to a separate Pike Research report.
#6: Natural gas will cut into the electric truck market. The interest in manufacturing or purchasing natural gas trucks has grown along with the abundant supply of natural gas. Cost factors will help the market grow to more than 47,000 vehicles sold in 2013. One limiting factor will be the dearth of places to refuel them.
Reporting with assistance from ZdNet:
The U.S. Energy Department will not give A123 Systems the balance of a $249 million grant
The news comes a day after the bankrupt battery maker was bought by a Chinese company.
Alex Molinari, president of Johnson Controls Power Solutions, said he expected the sale to be approved by the Delaware Bankruptcy Court on Tuesday.
Republicans lawmakers, meanwhile, renewed criticisms that the White House’s clean energy grant to the maker of lithium ion batteries for electric cars had wasted taxpayer money.
The company had received about $133 million of its $249 million grant when it filed for bankruptcy protection in October.
A123 declined to comment.
Wanxiang, which bid $256.6 million for A123, did not request the grant money and did not anticipate receiving it, according to a person familiar with Wanxiang’s bid.
The department official said that the conditions of the grant require taxpayer-funded equipment and facilities to remain in the United States.
The department has the right to demand compensation if it does not approve of the buyer of A123.
Pin Ni, president of Wanxiang America, said his company would respect the decisions made by the DOE.
However, the person familiar with Wanxiang’s bid did not anticipate such a demand because the Chinese company plans to use the taxpayer-funded equipment in the United States, as originally intended by A123.
More than a dozen lawmakers have raised concerns regarding Wanxiang’s takeover of A123, which will need approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
CFIUS, an inter-agency panel that vets foreign deals for security concerns, is headed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Critics have argued that A123’s technology should not be allowed to pass into Chinese hands after the company received government funding.
“The review process at the Treasury Department is the last hope for ensuring some regard for U.S. interests,” Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said in a statement on Monday.
Grassley and Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota have repeatedly raised concerns about Wanxiang’s pursuit of A123 and the government’s grant to the battery maker.
If Wanxiang fails to get government approval, A123 would be put back on the auction block.
Johnson Controls would be very interested in bidding again, Molinari said, adding that his company’s runner-up bid, made jointly with NEC Corp of Japan, was worth about $251 million.
Wanxiang did not purchase A123’s politically sensitive business that works with the U.S. Defense Department, which lawmakers had said would pose a threat to national security. That was sold instead to Navitas Systems for $2.25 million.
Once heralded by the Obama administration as a success story for U.S. manufacturing, A123 faltered this year after several technical missteps and amid weak demand for electric cars.
A123 received its grant as a part of the Obama administration’s $2 billion stimulus initiative to promote domestic battery manufacturing. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu visited one the company’s plants in 2010.
Reporting from Reuters,
According to analyst Aaron Chew of the Maxim Group, dealers sold 7,600 electric cars in November, bringing total sales for 2012 to 47,500 to date. Chew expects the year to end with sales of 56,000 electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
That of course is but a rounding error for most carmakers. Ford, for instance, sold 177,673 cars in November alone and electric vehicle sales are just .4% of total U.S. automotive sales for the year to date.
And while the slow but steady trend in electric car sales depends in part on various incentives – Nissan Leaf sales jumped after the automaker offered $199 leases and $5,000 price breaks – the introduction of new models has helped boost sales.
Ford sold 1,259 of its C-Max Energi in November just a month after the plug-in electric hybrid was introduced. That came close to the Chevrolet Volt, which recorded sales of 1,519 for the month and was not far behind the Toyota Prius plug-in, which had sales of 1,766 in November, according to Maxim.
Chew also offered some Tesla tidbits, reporting that the Silicon Valley electric carmaker delivered an estimated 1,150 of its Model S sports sedans in November.
“Despite just launching in late June 2012, this would propel Tesla to No. 5 in U.S. EV deliveries in November 2012,” Chew wrote.
published in Forbes:
Lithium-ion battery maker A123 Systems Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware and said Johnson Controls Inc. has agreed to acquire its automotive battery business.