Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you’ll have noticed the gradual increase in the number of all-electric and plug-in hybrids on the road, helped in part by more general awareness of the benefits of owning a plug-in vehicle as well as an increased number of models to choose from.
But while the global number of electric car and plug-in hybrid sales is accelerating upwards year on year, a new white paper from auto-industry specialists JATO Dynamics Limited shows that there are some challenges which face electric car mass adoption in the future.
These range from falling fuel prices in North America through to changes in governmental incentives for electric and plug-in hybrid cars, as well as a noticeable lack of plug-in vehicle choices in the crossover segment — the world’s fastest-growing automobile market.
Pulling together data from various automotive industry and governmental sources around the world, the study — From Fiction to Reality: The Evolution of EVs — focuses on electric car sales data for the past three years, comparing sales data from 2013 and 2014 with year-to-date sales data obtained to the end of August 2015. While the study itself only covers two and a half years of electric car sales data, it manages to paint an interesting picture of the global electric car market, shining a light on some pretty interesting snippets of information.
Overall Market Growth
Overall, the report shows what we were already aware of: electric vehicle market share has grown in the last two and a half years, with plug-in car sales growing 43 percent between 2013 and 2014 and a further 36 percent for year to date (January-August) 2015 compared with the same period last year.
In terms of individual countries, China has experienced the largest volume growth, totalling 29,131 electric car sales in the first six months of this year, a 443 percent improvement on the same period last year. Norway follows with 21,890 plug-in sales in the first six months of 2015 — up 651 percent on the same period last year — while the UK manages an impressive 17,2865 plug-in vehicle sales for the six months ending August 31, 2015.
In the U.S. and Japan however, YTD sales volumes have experienced a slight drop, falling by 8 percent to 71,229 in the U.S. for the YTD 2015, while Japan has experienced a 17 percent drop over the same period in 2014 to 16,829.
While U.S. sales volume drops were likely caused by a noticeable drop in Chevrolet Volt sales ahead of the launch of the all-new 2016 Chevrolet Volt — a car which debuted at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit at the start of the year — Japan’s drop in plug-in sales was partly caused by an overall 11 percent drop in new car sales (of any fuel type) due to a weakening Yen during the same period.
One of the unexpected pieces of data we gleaned from this report is the way in which customer choice and vehicle availability has changed during the past two and a half years. While the market penetration for electric cars has more than doubled from 2013 through to 2015 in Europe (0.40 percent in 2013 and 0.96 percent from January through August 2015) the number of different automakers who make an electric car has dropped from 34 in 2013 to just 28 in 2015. Similarly, the number of plug-in models you can buy in Europe was 52 in 2013 and 62 in 2014, but has fell to just 45 for 2015.
Nevertheless, plug-in car sales are still soaring. The reason for this? While the report doesn’t give details, we’re going to guess some of the drop in brand and model choice comes from the removal of cars like the Chevrolet Bolt (Opel Ampera) from European markets, as well as the end of several niche brands which simply could not compete with mainstream models like the Nissan LEAF. In other words, while the choice has dropped, the models no-longer available were vehicles which didn’t account for many sales anyway.
In North America, the number of brands and models available have increased since 2013, from 10 brands and 15 models in 2013 to 16 brands and 23 models in 2014, falling slightly to 14 brands and 20 models in 2015. Despite more consumer choice however, electric vehicle market share hasn’t grown as quickly as it has in Europe.
Nissan LEAF, Mitsubishi Outlander, Tesla Model S Lead
Examining the ten highest-selling electric and plug-in hybrid models in the world using YTD 2015 figures, the white paper places Nissan’s all-electric LEAF in the top sales spot, with 31k sales during the first six months of 2015. In second place, tied with 24k sales each comes the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid and Tesla Model S luxury electric sedan. While both Outlander and Model S have experienced a 24 percent sales growth over the same period last year however, we note Nissan LEAF sales fell by 19 percent worldwide.
Why the fall? The study’s authors note that while compact-car sales accounted for 52 percent of all electric car sales in 2013, that has dropped to just 35 percent for 2015, with compact and subcompact electric city cars like the Volkswagen e-Up and Renault Zoe enjoying an increase in sales.
While the LEAF, Outlander Plug-in Hybrid and Model S might top sales in terms of volume however, there are some other interesting vehicles experiencing a rise in popularity. Among them, the Volskwagen e-Golf and Volkswagen Golf GTE, which experienced a combined 877 percent increase in sales for YTD 2015 vs 2014, and the Renault Zoe, which increased its sales by 114 percent year on year. The Volkswagen Golf GTE’s luxury sibling, the Audi A3 e-Tron, also enjoyed a massive increase in sales over previous years, although we note that it has only just gone on sale in certain markets and thus will have the usual rapid growth curve compared to more established models.
SUVs, Crossovers Needed to Overcome Challenges
Noting the rise in large SUV and pickup sales during the past few years in the U.S. as gasoline prices have fallen dramatically, the report notes that many consumers are no-longer looking to the ownership savings a plug-in car can offer. At the same time, it cites the change in incentives in European countries like Norway, where plug-in owners are now losing some of the incentives and perks they once had for driving an electric car, as a potential spanner in the system.
Neither of these two factors can be easily changed without political support, but there is one area in which the report says the automobile industry can help: building more plug-in hybrid and all-electric crossovers and introducing light duty plug-in pickups to the mix.
Currently, only the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid, Porsche Cayenne S-E plug-in hybrid, BMW x5 40e, and the recently-launched Tesla Model X can be truly considered crossovers. To truly push electric car sales forward the report suggests, someone needs to fill that market gap.
It’s a conclusion we heartily agree with here at Transport Evolved, but one which we’re not sure large automakers are ready for.
And that’s a shame, because every major pickup and SUV manufacturer — including Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan — not only has some form of electrified vehicle on the market already but the expertise needed to bring a plug-in hybrid or all-electric light to medium-duty SUV or pickup to market. Facing ever-tightening emissions standards, all are focusing hard on bringing more efficient pickups and SUVs to market, but none are willing yet to make the final logical step to a plug-in hybrid drivetrain.
If and when one of them does however, there will be a massive shift in the number of plug-in cars being used around the world, especially when you consider that China — the largest auto market in the world — is in love with the crossover SUV just as much, if not more, than the rest of the world.
[Hat-tip: Brian Henderson]
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