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U.S. Drivers’ Wait for Electric SUVs Continues

John Gartner — June 5, 2014

Sales of plug-in vehicles in the United States continue to grow at an encouraging rate, but American customers looking for larger vehicles can only wait and watch developments in Europe with envy.

First, Tesla Motors postponed the launch of its crossover Model X until 2015, and now the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sport utility vehicle (SUV) won’t be coming to the United States until late 2015 or possibly 2016.  Mitsubishi blames California regulators for the delay, saying that adding the required battery monitor that reports the health of the pack has delayed the launch by more than a year.

That’s too bad, considering the success of the Outlander PHEV in Europe, where it makes up nearly a third of all Outlander sales and recently won an award from Fleet World for Mitsubishi’s aggressive pricing strategy.  The Outlander PHEV is available for lease in the United Kingdom for as little as £219 ($366) a month or for purchase starting at $47,200 after the government incentive.  In EV-crazed Norway, the Outlander PHEV even outsold the Tesla Model S in April.

I Want My SUV

Europeans can also buy the Volvo V60 plug-in wagon, which is doing so well that a sport package is being added.  Volvo hasn’t committed to bringing the plug-in diesel vehicle to the United States, since diesels make up such a small part of the U.S. market.

Since we Yanks are crazy for our SUVs, the lost opportunity due to the delays is significant.  Mitsubishi is on track to sell approximately 33,000 gasoline Outlanders in the United States in 2014, so selling 10,000 or more of the PHEVs annually should be achievable once the vehicle is launched.  Based on the success of its first two vehicles, demand for Tesla’s Model X will likely also be high once it enters the market.

The environmental benefits of buying a plug-in versus a low-MPG SUV are several times more than shifting from an internal combustion compact to a plug-in.  For example, the gas Outlander PHEV reduces CO2 emissions by more than 70% when compared to the diesel model, according to Mitsubishi.  Since SUVs are among the most carbon-intensive vehicles on the market, the net reduction in fuel consumed is much greater.

Many families who have become accustomed to the storage and passenger capacity of an SUV would never go to a smaller plug-in vehicle.  So for soccer moms and dads in the United States, buying a plug-in SUV remains a dream deferred, at least for now.

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