Enthusiasm surrounding all-electric vehicles appears to be getting infectious, because more and more Americans are opting go green than ever before. According to figures compiled by EV Obsession, sales of fully electric cars spiked by 58% in 2014, led once again by the Nissan Leaf. The Chevy Volt came in second place, and both Ford and BMW made ripples in the market, as well.
Possibly even more impressive than the 58% yearly jump are the electric-only sales reported for the month of December. EV Obsession reports that those numbers increased 79% during the final month of 2014, leaving the year on an excellent note and giving the auto industry a preview of what consumers may be buying throughout 2015. Though the models in terms of sales were not much of a surprise, there were a few cars that barely got any traction at all, much to the disappointment of EV Obsession writer Zach Shahan.
“I’m quite disappointed at initial Kia Soul EV, Mercedes B-Class Electric, and Volkswagen e-Golf sales,” Shahan writes. “Hopefully the companies behind those cars will be pushing them a lot more in 2015. Each of them could be a contender for a medal.”
Though there were some disappointments, it’s hard to deny the numbers: a 58% bump in overall sales for the market as a whole. But it’s important to keep in mind that the all-electric segment is still incredibly small. To illustrate, Nissan sold 30,200 Leaf models over 2014 in its entirety. In comparison, Ford sold nearly 754,000 F-150 pickup trucks. Granted, the F-150 is the best-selling car in America, but when you hold the Leaf’s numbers up against what the F-150 is able to do on the market, it’s clear just how far electric cars have to go.
Despite the relatively small size of the electric market, we have to give credit where credit is due. Autos Cheat Sheet previously unveiled the best-selling all-electric cars from 2014 with a top 10 list, and if there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that the Nissan Leaf is carrying a big portion of the segment on its back.
The Leaf, as mentioned before sold more than 30,000 units in 2014 by Inside EVs’ numbers, vastly more than any other all-electric model. We previously wrote of the Leaf, “Not only did that represent a 33.57% increase over 2013 and the first time an EV sold 30K units; it also represented a sales record for every month of the year and a record for EV sales in the United States.”
Nissan’s all-electric car set another high-water mark for itself in December, making it the 23rd straight month in a row that it had broken its own sales record. Behind the Leaf was the Chevy Volt, which sold 18,805 units. The Volt has not been the big seller that Chevy was hoping for, but a 2016 redesign — featuring a fifth-seat and an augmented powertrain — should help it going forward.
Hot on the heels of those two models, we estimate that Tesla’s Model S was able to keep pace. Because Tesla doesn’t actually report monthly sales numbers, analysts are stuck more or less estimating what the company is shipping, and Inside EVs pegs that number at 17,300 for the year. The only other all-electric models that sold more than 10,000 units in 2014 were the Toyota Prius PHV and the Ford Fusion Energi.
While it’s clear that the Leaf is shouldering the load in terms of sales at this point for the all-electric segment, there are signs that others will pick up the pace. Again, Chevy’s redesigned and cheaper Volt is due out next year, and Tesla has a few projects in the works that should garner plenty of consumer attention. BMW’s i3 just spent its first year on the market and will likely see more sales in 2015. There are also a slew of new electrics from a number of automakers that have yet to be released.
While all-electric sales surged last year, green cars as a whole didn’t do so well. Hybrids, electrics, and diesel vehicle sales fell a total of 6.5% during 2014, much to the dismay of many green car advocates. There are several reasons that may have happened, and a lot of it likely has to do with the dramatic drop in the price of gas, which pushed many consumers to choose bigger, less-efficient models instead of hybrids or diesels.
SUV sales saw a spike as the price of gasoline dropped, but as NPR reports, automakers aren’t close to throwing in the towel on green cars, instead opting to take a long-term approach when conceiving their strategies going forward. “There’s no doubt that when you have these kinds of fundamentals in place that you open the door to bad behavior,” Scott Painter, CEO of TrueCar, told NPR. “When gasoline falls below $3, consumer interest in low-mile- or lower-mile-per-gallon vehicles, bigger vehicles, picks up.”
Cheap gasoline won’t be around forever, but there are some other threats that could steal some of the all-electric segment’s thunder. Notably, the introduction of fuel-cell vehicles like the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Tucson Fuel-Cell could sway some consumers away from all-electric vehicles and toward hydrogen power. The issue surrounding those vehicles, however, is that the infrastructure to support them, like refueling stations, are in limited supply and only in certain cities. Electric cars, on the other hand, can be recharged at home, or even incorporate solar cells (like Ford’s C-Max Energi Solar concept) to get back to 100%.
So in the face of incredibly cheap gasoline and fuel-cell technology, there’s reason to believe that electric car sales should only continue to increase, driven by the substantial momentum the segment gained in 2014. While it’s true that it still makes up a small fraction of the overall auto market, it’s clear that automakers seem to think electrics are where consumer tastes are shifting, and they are willing to invest to meet that rising demand.
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