If critics and skeptics of alternative fuel vehicles were looking for some ammunition, they got plenty in August. Sales of electric vehicles (i.e., any automobile allowing for plug-in power) officially hit the skids in the U.S. to the tune of a 25% drop compared to last year.
So maybe it’s time to scrap those EV plans and get the public back on 100% gasoline cars, right? Not so fast. Since we like to look on the bright side, we’ll remind the doubters how three key vehicles are in refresh or full-redesign mode as we cruise into the fourth quarter of 2015. Likewise, several new plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs) are about to make their debuts or expand their presence on the U.S. market.
In other words, the darkest hour for electric vehicle sales is arriving just before dawn. Come September of next year, you might find the market shaken and predictions for death to the oil industry starting to come true.
For now, we acknowledge that the EV sales market took a major hit in August, its worst month of the year compared to last year’s data. Here were five scary things about the sales charts. The data comes from InsideEV’s always reliable monthly plug-in report card.
1. Tesla had its worst month since February.
Though it seems like every month for Tesla, August was a best-of-times, worst-of-times type run on the calendar. On one hand, company stock went charging head on the strength of an overwhelmingly positive review from Consumer Reports, adding about $4 billion in value over the course of a few days. On the other hand, Tesla sales volumes appeared to hit a seven-month low.
According to to Inside EVs, sales of the Model S in all its glorious variations amounted to 1,300 cars in August, the worst month since the EV maker sold 1,150 units in February. Reports of a power outage and shifts in production to accommodate the Model X and new Model S P90D make sense re: explaining the downturn. And that’s probably why Tesla doesn’t report monthly sales. Sometimes, things happen.
2. The departing Volt nearly stole the show.
If you had a choice between an outgoing PHEV with 38 miles of range or a fully redesigned model with more power and 53 miles of electric range for the same price, which would you pick? Of course, you would wait a few months and go for the 2016 Chevy Volt, but the soon-to-be-obsolete model took second place on the August sales charts (1,380 units), just barely behind the Nissan Leaf (1,393 units).
Incentives appear to be working for the 2015 Volt as the new model arrives in California and other markets for the fall season. Volt sales were nearly half what they were in August 2014 (2,511 units), so calling this car a success story suggests how weak the segment is at the moment.
3. The Nissan Leaf is far from the segment leader.
Even with its segment “win” in August at 1,393 units, Nissan struggled to maintain momentum for the all-electric Leaf in 2015 after setting the EV sales record in 2014. This year, the conversation has moved on to other plug-in cars and the Leaf has lost much of its market share despite its low MSRP.
The updated Leaf, expected to arrive with over 100 miles of range, is the obvious culprit, but the mystery surrounding the new model is working against the existing one. In the case of the Chevy Volt, consumers know what is disappearing and what is coming and they can calculate if the incentives are worth the tradeoff. That hasn’t happened yet with the Leaf and the result is total limbo. Would you buy one if you thought you might get another 25 miles of range in an upcoming model? Without the right incentive, probably not.
4. The BMW i8 is outselling the Focus EV.
Choosing between the BMW i8 and the practical Ford Focus Electric is not a tough call on the surface, but you need about $140,000 to get into your plug-in hybrid supercar. That makes the Bimmer’s target market the 1% crowd while the Focus EV can be had for around $20,000 in many states (post-incentive).
Even with the six-figure price gap, the i8 is outselling the Focus Electric by about 40 vehicles through August. There’s nothing scary about that fact per se, but it is a reminder how a comfortable, affordable electric car with solid performance has no place on today’s auto market and the charging infrastructure existing in most U.S. cities. Because of the short range (76 miles), the Focus EV doesn’t make sense for daily drivers. Meanwhile, there’s a waiting list for a plug-in BMW supercar.
5. Sales of the Soul EV remain sluggish.
In a recent test of the Kia Soul EV in California, we found the little guy to be a worthy entry to the segment with 93 miles of range and reasonable price point. However, the mini utility car failed to crack triple digit sales in August for the sixth time in 2015. Its 93 sales and total for the year (622) are right on pace with the pricey Porsche plug-in hybrids.
Since Kia announced it was expanding its sales market to other states, we began to expect a shift upward in Soul EV sales. That isn’t happening, which is a shame because it trails only Tesla for the longest electric range on the U.S. market. What’s wrong with this picture?
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