Electric vehicles are only getting started. This Chevrolet Bolt EV everyone’s been fogging the windows over just went on sale in December 2016. Meanwhile, Tesla is still figuring out how to crank out all the cars people want while bringing out its next game-changer in 2017. Things are happening fast, but the beginning was incredibly slow for this segment.
Nonetheless, U.S. consumers bought over 530,000 EVs and plug-in hybrids through November 2016. We’ve come a long way from ridiculous early models like Coda and Think City. These days, Jaguar and every other luxury brand are preparing their electrified performance vehicles to compete with Model S and Model X. So 2017 will be an interesting year for the segment.
Before we start detailing the race between Bolt and other future models, we’ll take a look at the scoreboard as it stands at the end of the first generation of EVs. Here are the 10 best-selling electric cars and plug-in hybrids since the U.S. market kicked off in 2010. Sales stats come from the ever-reliable InsideEVs.
10. Volkswagen e-Golf
Though Volkswagen has big, big plans for electric vehicles, the best the automaker’s done so far is stick a battery inside the Golf. In a 2015 test, we found the e-Golf a solid city EV but not ready for prime time as a family’s only car. American consumers haven’t gone wild for the e-Golf by any means. After two full years on the market, it sold 8,083 units — weak, but still good enough for 10th all-time.
9. Tesla Model X
“Fast and furious” is the best way to describe how Tesla Model X crashed this top 10 list. In only 12 production-constrained months, the all-electric SUV posted 14,562 sales. That performance allowed Model X to leapfrog many of the compliance cars and other also-rans that appeared over the years. Once the official results are in for 2016, X will jump up another few places.
8. Fiat 500e
When Fiat recalled the many thousands of electric cars it sold in the U.S. in 2016, it led us to realize what a success the car was in spite of itself. Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is on the record saying the car is a money-loser, yet consumers like the zip and look of 500e anyway. Its 17,816 sales crushed compliance cars like Ford Focus Electric and Chevy Spark EV, and 500e did so on the market in just two states.
7. BMW i3
Instead of taking the compliance car route, BMW invested serious money in a brand-new platform for the i3 electric car. In fact, it offered this suicide-doored compact as both pure EV and plug-in hybrid. The latter introduced a novel concept to the U.S. market: Its gas-engine range is nearly equal its EV range. Drivers use the weaker gas engine until they can charge rather than leaning on the more polluting option. American consumers bought 23,950 models since it launched in May 2014.
6. Ford C-Max Energi
Though Ford has been mostly absent in the plug-in space since 2014, the automaker came out strong in 2012 with the Focus Electric and C-Max Energi. The latter, a plug-in hybrid capable of 19 miles on electric power before switching to gasoline power, instantly became a top seller on the U.S. market. After placing fifth in 2013, it held a place in the top seven every year since. All told, C-Max Energi posted 32,220 sales since its debut.
5. Ford Fusion Energi
The appeal of Ford Fusion Energi is obvious. You get about everything you do in the regular midsize sedan plus 19 miles of pure electric driving range. Like C-Max Energi, this model grabbed a bunch of plug-in market share early and never let go. In fact, Fusion only got stronger in 2016, when Ford offered a mix of refreshed models and outgoing cars together on the same lots. Altogether, it has sold 42,228 units since 2013.
4. Toyota Prius Plug-in
Even though it ended production in June 2015, the original Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid remains one of the industry’s all-time top sellers. Unlike the red-hot Prime, this Prius was more of an undercover hit. It offered under 10 miles of electric range and the previous-gen hybrid’s 50 MPG. Nonetheless, it was a huge success. Buyers snatched up 42,345 models in about three years on the market. We expect Prius Prime to surpass that total by the second quarter of 2018.
3. Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is a revolution on wheels. As the most talked-about car of the decade, S is the symbol of the best the segment ever offered. A decade back, Tesla CEO Elon Musk set about to change the perception people had about EVs, and we’d say he succeeded. Without Model S, electric cars might have slipped into oblivion. Case in point: As the most expensive all-electric model on the market, it will soon become the all-time sales leader. Through November 2016, it sold 85,762 units.
2. Nissan Leaf
For years, no electric car could top the Nissan Leaf for range, performance, and price point. It represented the best option for first-gen EV buyers. In 2014, it set the all-time annual sales record with 30,200 units, and that mark has stood ever since. (When Tesla’s 2016 results come in, it may end its reign.) Among pure EVs, its 101,679 sales rank is the best of all time. Leaf is still the king.
1. Chevrolet Volt
You can call Chevrolet Volt an EV with range extender like we do, but the fact remains this car has a gas engine and drivers use it. Nonetheless, Volt owners drive more in EV range than Leaf owners do, so criticizing this car is difficult (the internet’s best efforts notwithstanding). But we’re just here to quote the stats. With 109,472 sales, no plug-in car ever sold as much in America. Volt reigns above all.
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