Gartner recently forecast that the plug-in electric vehicle in the United States would reach 100,000 sales in 2012. This would be a significant increase over the 18,000 sold in 2011, but in a growing market like the PEV market, perhaps it’s possible. Perhaps, but there are a number of challenges in reaching that goal, including the number of models available, continued market confusion, low gas prices and high vehicle prices.
There are currently only two PEV models widely available in the US, the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf. At the moment these both seem on track to reach about 19,000 and 20,000 vehicles, respectively, in sales this year. While, as Gartner points out, there will be capacity for production of 50,000 Leafs in Tennessee, production and sales are very different and production can easily and quickly be adjusted to match sales rates. History is riddled with vehicles that either don’t meet or exceed production expectations.
Early this year the Prius Plug-in, Focus Electric, and Mitsubishi I will join the race. Later this year, the Tesla Model S and Ford C-Max Energi will reach the market. All of these, with the possible exception of the Prius Plug-in, seem destined to sell in numbers of 10,000 or less this year.
Toyota’s original target for the Prius Plug-in was 16,000-17,000 vehicles, after launching in January. However, it’s actually launching in March. Pike Research has this vehicle pegged at about 7,900, which may be a little low, but I don’t anticipate sales in the first year with limited availability will be significantly higher.
Why do we forecast smaller volumes in 2012? Market confusion persists on the difference between battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids (with probably some pockets of lingering confusion about regular hybrids as well). This confusion has left many potential buyers hesitant. Additionally, gas prices here in the United States are still low, relative to the rest of the world. The average gas price in 2011 was $3.61, and prices fell in early 2012 (though they’ve climbed again, at least here in the Detroit area).
Finally, as I’ve pointed out before, the prices for PEVs are disappointingly high for many potential buyers. These prices limit mass appeal. This is probably one of the most challenging problems with the market and is one of the reasons that the lower-priced Prius Plug-in has the potential for strong growth. Without significantly increased gas prices or significantly lower PEV prices, many of these vehicles will remain a luxury item for many mainstream buyers.
Pike Research will be revisiting our PEV and market share forecasts this spring, and by then we will have a good measure for whether Gartner’s rosy forecast is realistic or whether our scenario is more likely. The market is slowly coming of age, and we do expect that the US will hit about 120,000 PEV sales in 2013, and over 300,000 by 2017.