Why Consumers Are Picking Plug-in Hybrids Over EVs in 2018

Prius Prime in profile Blue Magnetism
The Toyota Prius Prime had outsold all but one electric car through the first five months of 2018. | Toyota

If you’ve followed auto news (or celebrity news or business news) at all in 2018, you’ve surely heard a lot about one car company: Tesla. The California-based electric vehicle maker and CEO Elon Musk capture a disproportionate amount of headlines these days.

However, the EV market itself told a different story. Through the first five months of 2018, Toyota Prius Prime had sold several thousand more models than Tesla Model S or X. (Model 3 led all plug-ins through May.)

Meanwhile, a surge by both the Chevrolet Volt and Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid put them on pace to overtake the top EVs. Here’s why consumers appear to be turning to plug-in hybrids instead of all-electric models.

Plug-in sales numbers

Following the Model 3’s 18,000 sales over five months, Prius Prime checked in with just over 12,000 sales. Model S (8,070), Model X (6,975), and Bolt EV (6,775) rounded out the top five.

The Volt (6,478) and Clarity (5,224) plug-ins were right near the Nissan Leaf’s numbers (5,292).

Yet the trends show plug-in hybrids on the move. By May, Prime (2,924) placed second behind Model 3 (6,250) with Volt (1,675) and Clarity (1,639) taking third and fourth.

Were these numbers to continue in the same vein, the hybrid could bump a Tesla (or two) from the top five.

The PHEV appeal

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid | Eric Schaal/The Cheat Sheet

Spend some time behind the wheel of a Prius Prime or Clarity and you’ll see the appeal right away. With 25 miles (Prime) and 47 miles (Clarity) of EV range on tap, these plug-ins offer enough EV time to meet the daily needs of drivers.

Once the battery goes down to zero, efficient hybrid drivetrains kick into gear until the next charge. As for charging, both models use standard home outlets (120v) effectively. (In Prime’s case, you can fully charge within five hours.)

Looking at pricing, there’s no contest. Prime starts at $27,100 before claiming any tax credits; Clarity Plug-in Hybrid stickers at $33,400 without incentives.

Compared to all-electric cars, these models offer a balance of convenience and practicality.

EV price, range, and availability woes

Every EV shopper would undoubtedly like a Tesla Model S. However, the market’s top EV easily top $70,000 new (and $50,000 used). The automaker looked to capture the affordable EV market with the Model 3, but that hasn’t worked out.

For starters, Tesla has not been able to deliver anything close to the volume it hoped. Basically, EV consumers couldn’t buy one if they wanted to.

So that leaves the 2018 Nissan Leaf ($29,990 and 150 miles) and Bolt EV ($37,495 and 237 miles) for consumers who want a long-range EV. Both involve compromises.

In the Leaf’s case, 150 miles is solid but not as practical as most plug-in drivers would like. (About 200 miles seems to be the minimum.) As for the Bolt EV, the price point remains high.

Most auto writers consider plug-in hybrids the bridge electric models because they give consumers a taste of EV driving without the downsides. At least in the first half of 2018, U.S. car buyers have listened and begun driving home the best models on the market.

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