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Plug-In Hybrids Pull Away from BEVs

Scott Shepard — December 28, 2012

After 6 straight months of increasing sales numbers and being the top selling plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) in the United States, the Chevy Volt was finally knocked off its pedestal in November by the Toyota Prius Plug-in and the Nissan LEAF.  The Volt has dominated monthly PEV sales tallies through the last half year; but, the expiration of multiple discount deals for lease and sales promotions in November effectively cut Volt sales in half from the previous month.  Additionally, November was the first full month of sales for the Ford C-MAX Energi, another plug-in hybrid (PHEV) with a 20-mile all electric range.

While the sudden plunge in Volt sales is not a welcome sign for a robust PEV market, other developments signal the emergence of a strong PHEV market from the beleaguered market for battery electric vehicles (BEV).

Cumulative EV Sales, United States: December 2010 to November 2012

(Source: Pike Research)

The current PHEV market comprises the hatchback Volt, Prius Plug-in, and C-MAX, as well as the high-end sports car, Fisker Karma.  Next year will bring four new models in two new vehicle classes: two four door sedans, the Honda Accord and Ford Fusion; the first PHEV SUV for the mass market, the Mitsubishi Outlander; and another high end sports car, the Cadillac ELR.  In Europe, the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera (the Volt’s European version) has done particularly well with fleets, and Volvo sold out of its first production run of the first diesel PHEV, the V-60, before it even hit showrooms.

Numerically, BEVs have the advantage as there are eight models currently available in the United States.  Geographically, however, only three are available to markets outside of California; the Nissan LEAF, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and the Tesla Model S.  The rest are available either as “for demand only” or to meet California ZEV mandates.

Three new major BEVs are expected to become available in 2013: the Fiat 500e, the Chevy e-Spark, and the Smart ForTwo ED, with the Tesla Model X expected to follow in 2014.  The Fiat 500e and Chevy e-Spark will join the ranks of California-compliant cars.  The Smart ForTwo, which will be the lowest cost OEM-produced BEV, and the Tesla Model X will be marketed at large.  While the number of models will increase, some smaller BEV brands may not last through the winter.

Despite BEVs’ numerical advantage, they have only accounted for roughly 24% of the 2012 U.S. PEV market to date, a significant drop from the 56.4% market share they held at the end of 2011.  Sales of BEVs did jump significantly in November, thanks to estimated increases in Model S deliveries and the LEAF’s third highest month of sales.  However, additional PHEVs outside the class of hatchbacks and high-end sports cars will significantly alter the PEV dynamic toward PHEVs.  The rise of the PHEV market will also have a significant impact on the electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) industry, as PHEVs are not compatible with DC fast chargers and there are significant differences between charging behaviors of PHEV and BEV owners.

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