Electric Car Media Buzz in Decline

By · August 02, 2011

Excitement about electric cars hit a peak in late April and since that time has been in steady decline. That’s the impression you would get from looking at how many Google searches are being performed for “electric cars,” using the search giant’s trending tools.

Google trends for searches of electric cars in last 12 months

Google trends for searches of electric cars in last 12 months. The graph is somewhat obtuse. First of all, disregard the letters, which strictly point to representative news stories during the past year. What is clear is that the number of searches conducted in recent weeks is about half the number conducted in April.

I decided to evaluate Google trends for electric cars, after repeated nagging feelings that the buzz around electric cars just isn’t as high as it was a year ago. Remember the feeling of pins and needles waiting for every news items related to the first Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF to reach the market? General Motors and Nissan were pumping out a press release and video almost every day, or so it seemed. The EV revolution was imminent.

The buzz continued right until the first cars were delivered, and it didn’t stop in the new year. In fact, it was magically coordinated with a rise in gas prices. At the beginning of September 2010, the average national price for a gallon of gas was about $2.70. By January 2011, it was nearly $3.00—and from there it climbed to just under $4.00 by the beginning of May. It’s still relatively high these days, hovering between $3.60 and $3.70—but the year’s peak is behind us. (Of course, we’re always an oil spill, supply disruption or political action away from a new historical spike.)

Google shows the same (and even more dramatic) fluctuations for searches for “hybrid cars.” But electric cars enjoyed more buzz based on the novelty of the electric drive technology.

Google trends for searches of hybrid cars in last 12 months

Google trends for searches for hybrid cars in last 12 months

The Google trends are, or course, just one data point, and there is a certain amount of seasonality in all web searches.

Reality Bites

All of the excitement about electric cars culminated for me with the delivery of my Nissan LEAF. In the first few months, every electric mile was entirely new and exciting. It’s still absolutely wonderful, but sometimes I catch myself feeling normal driving around in near silence, without burning any petroleum, and with complete disregard for gas stations.

Another buzz-kill is the sales numbers for the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF. The low numbers make the early steps toward 1 million plug-ins by 2015 feel more like a slog than a marching parade. July sales numbers came out today. They reveal only 125 Volt sales, off from its peak of 606 units in March. Nissan reported 931 LEAF sales, down from its peak last month of 1,708 units. I know the Japanese earthquake is taking its toll on the supply chain for hybrids and electrics, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.

A slow rollout of public electric car charging, a reduction of the California EV tax rebate, another near death for Think, the delay of sales of Coda, and still no media access for the Fisker Karma are further examples of slow going on the electric car highway. Even the exciting unveiling of new BMW plug-ins didn’t have the sizzle it should.

Maybe it’s just the dog days of summer that has me feeling like this. Or maybe I need an afternoon espresso. Or maybe, without really noticing, we’ve entered a new phase of the electric car movement: less buzz; more reality; hard work of increasing the number of units rolling out of factories; the even harder need for patience waiting for more models to arrive—and most of all, continued work to educate the public about the importance of getting off oil, and the pleasures of driving electric.


· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

The interest is not in decline. The availability is not there, and the price tag is too high for some, and the technology has not been effectively marketed in the USA. I am sure if the US really wanted to sell more electric cars it could and would do so... you tell me why not...

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

Media buzz is user searches not the volume of coverage?

· · 6 years ago

The Volt sales of 125 in July is pathetic. I don't see how GM can keep the car in production unless the sales numbers turn around. Meanwhile, the Chevy Cruze, which uses the same platform as the Volt, became the best selling car in America in June with sales of 24,896. I think the Volt needs to be about $10,000 cheaper. They may have to lose money on them at first, just as Toyota did with the Prius when it got started.

· · 6 years ago

Perhaps I used the term "media buzz" too loosely. The only data point I have here is the number of Google searches, which to me is a proxy for how much general interest is out there, which in turn is a product of how much the topic is being discussed in the media. I realize this is simplistic, but the overarching point stands: there are fewer people out there seeking info about electric cars in July than in April.

Nonetheless, as Anon points out, there's still more demand than supply. The market and the interest can expand, but not until the carmakers start pumping out more cars--which will sell as soon as they are offered. The demand is already there. We won't need more until the carmakers really come through on existing promises.

· · 6 years ago

All I can tell you is that interest in my site (EVnut.com) follows the price of gas quite closely. I hit a peak a couple of summers back when gas was pushing $5. For a 4-year period, I plotted the national gas price against google searches that ended up on my site, and the little line was pretty darn spot-on. Of course I can't find that now when it would be neat to have it....

· · 6 years ago

I don't see much change in "Nissan Leaf". Infact surprised it is higher than "chevy volt".

· Brian (not verified) · 6 years ago

Another thing this stat doesn't consider is those of us who had been searching google for stories, but have since "latched on" to wonderful sites such as plugincars.com for our information. I can't remember the last time I searched google for "electric cars", but I check plugincars.com daily...

· Henrik2 (not verified) · 6 years ago

I think most automakers are saving the big news for the Frankfurt Motor Show. I am sure there will be a lot of interesting EV stuff to read about in September. It will be bigger and more interesting than ever because we are now moving from concepts to real product launches.

· Kevin (not verified) · 6 years ago

I think its a knee jerk reaction to fuel price changes(drops or stabilizes) and the poor economy/jobs situation. That and how hard it is to buy a Leaf ( nissan needs to make it easier)
$37 k is a lot for a car and the most I will have ever spent on a car even though I can afford a much more expensive car. I still look forward to my 2012 Leaf this fall!
But its not hard to think that Nissan and other mfr's will have some hard work ahead of them once the early adopters have their cars. The next wave of prospective buyers will need to be SOLD on the EV idea and cars benefits.

· william (not verified) · 6 years ago

Wow...do those persons posting comments even both to keep informed of things:

1. GM shutdown their plan in June so NO Volts were produced. So why would you expect sales in July to be anything significant?

2. GM dealers continue to report that they have PILES of orders...the issue is not demand, but supply. One dealer near here says he has 60 orders for Volts...the Volt is sold before it arrives at the dealer.

I do hope GM can begin to ramp up production...the individual(s) who originally made production plans really dug them a hole. GM has publicly stated they should be at 5000 vehicles by January, so let's hope the climb begins soon so all you arm-chair critics will be happy!

· michelle bunker, Chevrolet (not verified) · 6 years ago

Hello - This is Michelle Bunker from Chevrolet. I wanted to put Volt July sales into perspective.

As anticipated we sold 125 Volts in July...this has always been the plan. Here are some facts and figures that help explain the supply, demand and where we are with production.

Volt sales are exactly as we expected as we shutdown production in June and July to revamp the plant to increase Volt production in 2012. As a result of the plant upgrades, planned Volt and Ampera production capacity this year will increase to 16,000 units. In 2012, global production capacity is expected to be 60,000 vehicles with an estimated 45,000 to be delivered in the United States.

In 2011 we built 3975 vehicles - about 550 are assigned as dealer demos, 3200 sold to date and 125 are used for internal uses(engineering, marketing/training and media vehicles). We are "virtually sold out" - only about 100 2011 Volts left in stock - or 1 per every 6 dealers. On average a Volt spent about 13 days in the dealership (this includes prepping for delivery). Dealers nationwide were able to enter orders for the 2012 MY Volts beginning on June 10. Our dealers have requested allocation 4 to 7 times that available each month since launch.

· · 6 years ago

michelle bunker,

Great news! Thank for the info!

"planned Volt and Ampera production capacity this year will increase to 16,000 units" - in 5 months! Super!

· · 6 years ago

Thank you very much Michelle. I was puzzled about the Volt's sales figures and am relieved to hear that this is just a temporary production issue.

It is very hard to not to jump to a conclusion that GM is trying to kill the electrical car again but with a planned production of 60000 units this is obviously not the case.

· · 6 years ago

@michelle bunker,
Thanks for weighing in.
Prior experience with GM's approach to EVs, has left many of us very skeptical as to their intentions. With this history, many of us generally interpret the things we can directly observe in the most pessimistic way we can think of.
If GM corporate will speak up on forums such as these, as you have, it will help to keep our pessimistic imaginations in check.

· theflew (not verified) · 6 years ago

@ dutchinchicago

It wasn't a temporary production issue. The plant was scheduled to shutdown like many plants do for model changeover. GM discontinued building the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS at the same plant. Instead of the Volt being 1 out of 3 cars being built it's the only car being built at the plant now. I find this article misleading giving this has been public news since last year that the plant was going to shutdown for upgrades and model sunset(s).

· · 6 years ago

William and Michele Bunker,
Thank you for setting the record straight. I'm glad to hear things are still optimistic, and that the low sales are just a supply shortage.

· · 6 years ago

Brian said: "Another thing this stat doesn't consider is those of us who had been searching google for stories, but have since "latched on" to wonderful sites such as plugincars.com for our information. I can't remember the last time I searched google for "electric cars", but I check plugincars.com daily..."

I'll add to that sentiment, Brian. Although I still perform the obligatory "electric cars" Google search with regularity, I now check in with Plugincars.com first to see what's new. What I find here is a unique mix of EV owners, journalists, industry insiders and the merely curious. To the alternating delight and/or horror of many, I'm sure, this has become the one place I've chosen to post my comments on the subject. :-)

I wouldn't worry about a slight drop-off in EV web activity, Brad. Gas price spikes are going to pique people's interest in this sort of thing and - as far as the general public is concerned - everything from the debt limit debate to Lady Gaga's latest outfit is going compete for their attention on any given day.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

Alan Mulally from Ford is supposed to be on David Letterman tonight to talk about electric vehicles. That should kick up some media buzz!

· deoppressed (not verified) · 6 years ago

I am not an electric car enthusiast, but I do want to keep up with the technology. I'm watching for the day when EVs become widely economically viable. That is, competitive with ICE cars on intitial cost (without govt subsidy), operating cost (already there), and fuel source issues (distance and availability). I still do the occasional search when I have time for more in depth investigation. Most of time I just click my plugincars.com bookmark.

· · 6 years ago

Uh-oh. You hit a button!

>> That is, competitive with ICE cars on intitial cost (without govt subsidy), operating cost (already there), and fuel source issues (distance and availability).

Let me help you with your research a bit. You want EVs to be the same price as gas cars. And EVs can't have subsidies, while gas cars get subsidized gasoline? Just for grins, wrap all of your concerns up into one bubble, and consider how viable an EV looks if you pay the true cost of gasoline for your "cheaper" gasoline car. Just out of thin air, how much would an EV be worth to you if gas cost $15, and the equivalent in electricity cost $2?

Please understand that we DO subsidize gasoline. Should we maybe stop doing that before we consider removing EV subsidies? Or is externalizing the costs of products that kill us a wiser move?

Do you really think that operating costs of an EV are *at the same level* as a gasoline car? EVs are much cheaper to operate. As just one example, I'm on year ten with no oil changes, no tuneups, no filters and even no fuel charge. I grow my own. My entire operating cost over ten years consists of two wiper blade replacements. One set of tires, and one set of front brakes.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

are the ampera and the volt identical ?

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

I think the interest is still there because gas prices are high and I don't see that changing anytime soon, however the economy seems to be stalling once again and that is why I think the buzz may be off a bit about EV's for the time being.

· · 6 years ago

"Please understand that we DO subsidize gasoline."

Annual oil company tax breaks $4 billion a yearPercentage of oil used for gasoline: 45% | Total gasoline subsidies: $1.8 billion | Gasoline consumption in US per year: 132 billions gallons | Subsidy per gallon: $0.014 | Taxes I pay at the pump: Federal Fuel Tax $0.184 CA State Fuel Tax $0.18 CA State Underground Storage Tank Fee $0.02 CA Sales Tax ($4.00*.0875) $0.350
Total Taxes Paid per Gallon $0.734 Taxes paid less subsidies: $0.72 per gallon

The oil subsidy argument isn't an argument at all. It's called the government giving a little money on the front end, very little, and taking 50 times more at the back end.

· · 6 years ago

@ Michael -

I contend that subsidies for oil/gasoline are not confined to the tax breaks. That's only the tip of the iceberg. Do we not employ our military to protect our oil "rights" and shipments? Are there not costs associated with health/death/war/environmental damage? There are significant externalized costs of oil and gasoline. And these I also loosely call subsidies. We all pay for them. None of them is paid for at the pump. Maybe I need a better word than "subsidy" - my point is that what we pay at the pump is NOT all that we pay for our gasoline. By a long shot.

· · 6 years ago

@Michael · "The oil subsidy argument isn't an argument at all. It's called the government giving a little money on the front end, very little, and taking 50 times more at the back end."

What nonsense. You must really believe we are in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen etc etc for WMD ?!

We subsidize oil in a variety of ways. The largest being to "secure" oil - 1 Trillion over just the last decade. And ofcourse the blood of thousands of our soldiers and a million innocent civilians in many countries.

The second largest subsidy is in terms of pollution. That pollution kills and harms a lot of people for which we all pay in higher insurance premium etc.

· · 6 years ago

I 100% agree. The cost of gas in the US includes the cost of keeping oil producing areas stable. The average cost of federal appropriations to cover the global war on terror, the Iraq War and Afghanistan is $150B per year average between 2003 and 2011. This adds about $1.10 to every gallon of gas. Health and environmental costs are more difficult to calculate.

One of the big problems is how politicians get elected, or should I say re-elected. It is easier for congress to sell military appropriations to the electorate than a $1 increase in gas.

· EVfan2009 (not verified) · 6 years ago

Well, lots of buzz in Shenzhen now. BYD just delivered 300 E6 and 200 K9 to the City of Shenzhen for Shenzhen Universiade 2011. In Chinese, but some cool pics.


· EVfan2009 (not verified) · 6 years ago

Some more pics. Also show the new modified version of E6.


· · 6 years ago

"What nonsense"

What is nonsense, are people claiming the entire military budget is a subsidy for oil. That's just adsurd.

WW2, Korean War, Vietnam, and even Afganistan had little or nothing to do with oil interests. If crazed terrorists blow up two buildings in NY because they hate Americans, then we use our military. We need a military regardless of how much oil we consume.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

The Chevy Volt is so far a flop. You can make a lot of excuses; low production, high price, bad marketing, etc. But the bottom line is less than 3200 sold in the first year is terrible. The biggest flop of all time was the Edsel and it sold 66,000 in its first year. As for lowering the price GM is already losing money on each one sold at $41,000 minus a tax subsidy of $7,500. How long do you think those tax subsidies will last with our deficit? California is cutting back on tax credits because they are in terrible shape.

The good news for GM is the gas powered Cruze which is the Volt's sister car. It is selling over 20,000 a month. In 2013 they will bring out a diesel Cruze which will get excellent mileage. Buyers are voting with their wallets.

Bottom line for electric cars to take off they have to reduce their costs dramatically on their own technology & economics.

· · 6 years ago

Michael . . .

Space doesn't permit a thorough debunking of your various "no oil involved" claims. And not all wars the U-S has been involved in during the past century have had a direct oil correlation. But, briefly . . .

The primary reason that Japan attacked the U-S at Pearl Harbor was that the latter imposed an oil embargo on the former. December 7 & 8, 1941 also witnessed the Japanese seizing large oil reserves in southeast Asia.

Some months earlier, Nazi Germany broke its uneasy pact with the Soviet Union. Political, racial and religious ideology are all factors, of course, but Hitler was also very much obsessed with acquiring new oil reserves in The Caucasus, beyond the singular one Germany had in Romania.

Regarding the connection between U-S involvement in Afghanistan: please remember that the 9/11 Al Qaeda terrorists who propped up the Taliban government there were almost exclusively rebels from the oil-rich nations of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who were resentful of the U-S occupation of that region during the 1990-91 Gulf War . . . which was VERY much an oil-driven conflict.

Also . . . if anyone is naive enough to still think that the 2003 Iraq invasion was entirely motivated as a way to take out Saddam Hussein's alleged "weapons of mass destruction," I've got a very nice bridge that spans the East River into Brooklyn that I'll happily sell you.

· · 6 years ago

> Bottom line for electric cars to take off they have to reduce their costs dramatically on their own technology & economics.

The bottom line is that we need to show people ALL of the costs of their purchase decisions up front. I'll say it again: EVs aren't too expensive. Gas is too cheap.

Pricing gasoline at what it really costs us doesn't cost anybody MORE money. It just shows us what we're really paying, instead of hiding those costs in other fees we all pay... or *should* be paying. The longer we use our air and water as a free toilet, the more pain we'll all suffer eventually.

· · 6 years ago


I appreciate the perspectives and insights on the various wars. It's good to get more detail. What I was originally objecting to was that some people lump the ENTIRE COST our military and/or war as a cost that should be added to gasoline. They are "all or nothing" people. There is definitely some middle ground. Clearly, it costs money to run a military, and we don't run a military just for gasoline, nor is all oil used for gasoline (45%). Even a miilitary that is not engaged in a war, still has large overhead costs. Again, it is not "all or nothing". We also end up doing most of the military operations for other nations that also buy the oil from Middle Eastern nations. Our allies have cut their military budgets, because they know the US will step in for them. We should lump it in with their gasoline costs.

Who is going to be one to determine what percentage of our military operations are attributed to oil interests? Sometimes, things are best left alone.

Did you know that we only got 15.1% of our oil from the Middle East last year? We could get off of Middle East oil, which personally would probably be a good goal. However, as long other nations are buying oil from these rogue Middle Eastern nations, our military is stuck in the Middle East. Imagine Iran with a nuclear bomb. On second, thought, I don't wnat to imagine what horrific carnage could occur.

· · 6 years ago

"The Chevy Volt is so far a flop. You can make a lot of excuses; low production, high price, bad marketing, etc."

Did you read the response from Michele Bunker from Chevrolet on this blog? They are essentially sold out, and production constrained. That's not an excuse. That's a fact. Time in inventory=13 days. The average days in inventory for all cars in July=51 days. "Our dealers have requested allocation 4 to 7 times that available each month since launch." They have capacity for 16,000 Volt and Ampera's in 2011, and 60,000 in 2012, as the plant gets ramped up. That's the time to see how well it sells.

· · 6 years ago

@ Michael -

> What I was originally objecting to was that some people lump the ENTIRE COST our military and/or war as a cost that should be added to gasoline. They are "all or nothing" people.

The way I read it, you said there were basically no government subsidies associated with gasoline. You came up with maybe a penny per gallon. Then it was pointed out that we DO pay the military to protect our shipping lanes and to fight our wars for oil. While I didn't see anybody but you mention that ALL military or war costs can be pegged on gasoline, I guess you've decided that maybe SOME of that cost should be associated with our fuel? That maybe there IS some money paid for gasoline that we don't pay at the pump?

Sounds like you started off as one of those dreaded "all or nothing" people, but have now moved into the middle ground? Well done!

Now we can move on to the other externalized expenses of gasoline and keep adding them up as we go. Of course other people - more learned people than I - have already done this work, but it is fun to run the exercises ourselves. Gives more meaning to it that way. What should we work on next? Health? Pollution? The cost to our economy of $2 billion per day leaving our country to pay for oil? It's a big list, so we should take small steps. But I'm glad we at least got the military one squared away.

May I assume that you are starting to see that the price at the pump is NOT what gasoline costs us?

· · 6 years ago

I am not an "all or nothing" person. Of course, there are costs associated with gasoline not reflected at the pump. Regman a few posts up wanted to put both wars on a gallon of gas. Wrong! There is NOT ONE product we are buying that has ALL of its governemt costs built into the price. Not one. No one could possibly do a balance sheet with a full inventory of costs, and come up with an accurate costs for all goods. I suspect there a few people here who think they have it all figured out. Hogwash.

· deoppressed (not verified) · 6 years ago

@darelldd - I understand your arguement about government subsidies. I prefer that all subsidies are eliminated. That way I can make a choice about one type of energy without paying the price of another type, too. The "military cost" subsidy is too hard for the layman to calculate as you can see by comments above.

I am fully aware that operating costs for EV's are competitive, even lower than ICE cars, at least until the batteries require replacement.

I like the prospects of EVs, its just not right for me... yet.

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