Electric Cars on a Roll, With Lots of Room for Growth

By · July 26, 2013

Selling the Model S

Selling the Model S in White Plains, New York. It's outpacing the S-Class, A8 and 750i. (Jim Motavalli photo)

“We’re seeing tremendous demand for our product,” said Diarmuid O’Connell, vice president of business development at Tesla Motors. He was offering his expansive vision during a feel-good Electrification Coalition conference call Thursday that also included weigh-in from Nissan.

A Legislative Agenda

The Washington-based Electrification Coalition (EC), launched in 2009 with top corporate buy-in from 13 CEOs (including Nissan, NRG Energy and FedEx), made headlines when it offered a 2009 “Roadmap” that threw down a big goal—75 percent of U.S. road miles could be electric miles by 2040, provided its legislative goals were met. The group wants to see government spending concentrated in special deployment corridors, and improvements in incentives—including turning the federal income tax credit into a direct rebate at the point of purchase.

That hasn’t happened (although President Obama adapted many of the group’s recommendations for his budget proposals). Today’s Congress has lost the bipartisan consensus on EVs, but the coalition is still very optimistic about the emerging market. That's spelled out in a new report.

Consumer Choice Growing

EC points out that there are currently 14 plug-in electrics on the U.S. market, nine of them battery only. Some 110,000 cars with plugs have been sold in the last 2.5 years, which EC’s Jonna Hamilton claims is way ahead of where regular hybrids were at this point in their launch. “It’s more than double the early performance of hybrids,” she said. AOL Autos clarifies that particular point:

LEAF sales are Up

LEAF sales have topped 30,000 in the U.S. and 100,000 worldwide. That makes the bear happy. (Nissan photo)

In the first 30 months after the Toyota Prius debuted in 1999, cumulative hybrid sales were approximately 50,000 units, according to an analysis done by Argonne National Lab. In the first 30 months since plug-in electrics were released in December 2010, cumulative sales have been approximately 112,724.

Tesla's Star Power

Hamilton acknowledges Tesla as a star performer. “The Tesla Model S has been able to achieve 8.4 percent of the luxury market, more than cars like the Audi A8,” she said.

In fact, in the first quarter of 2013, Model S sales beat out the A8, the Mercedes S-Class and the BMW 7-Series, says LMC Automotive. And that makes O’Connell happy. “The Model S is a great car, not a great EV,” he said. “At the end of the day, people will buy great cars. We had a very successful launch. What continues to work for us in terms of exciting the public is getting butts in seats—having them try the car. Most of our leads are coming from referrals, and we’re seeing excellent take-up that continues to grow.”

O'Connell, by the way, objects to calling the Model S a "luxury car." Instead, he said, "We are defined as a performance car, and we made a conscious effort to achieve that."

In response to my question, O'Connell also denied that Tesla would ever produce a hybrid or PHEV, although it talked about them at one time. "You have to be a real veteran to remember conversations we had about hybrids," he said. "It was many, many years ago, early in the Roadster program. For a long time now, we've been very focused on pure electric technology. We will not ever be considering a hybrid or PHEV under our brand."

In Search of Profits

O’Connell also said that making the Model S per-unit profitable is a major company goal, and that economies of scale will help make that happen as production ramps up. “We continue to benefit from huge improvements in consumer electronics,” he said. “And, beyond things like that, it’s a matter of, day to day, looking at every part that goes into the vehicle and figuring out how to shave cost out of it.” He added that the company is “trying to get to our $30,000 third-generation car as quickly as possible.” Did you hear that, folks? Thirty-grand is the bogey for Tesla's affordable model due in 2016 or 2017.

Sam Ori, a vice president at EC, said that scale and technological improvements will drive down battery costs. The EC report predicts a 50 percent cost reduction in lithium-ion batteries by 2020.

30,000 Sold!

Nissan’s Tracy Woodard, director of government affairs, added more happy talk. “The good news is that we’re over 30,000 LEAF sales in the United States, and 100,000 globally,” she said. “We’re still very bullish on the technology, and we’ve started car and battery production in Smyrna, Tennessee. We’re still working on the infrastructure, getting more plugs in the ground.”

June was, in fact, a record month for EV sales. An incredible 36 percent of all the EVs on the road now were sold in the last six months. Does that have to do with the current $199 leases? You bet it does. On the other hand, all the gains only get EVs to 1.23 percent of the overall market, so there’s a lot of room for growth.


· · 5 years ago

Can't wait for the 3rd gen Tesla. I'll be in the trenches, refreshing the registration/pre-order page constantly, struggling to be one of the first in line to get one =P

· · 5 years ago

I don't like that polar bear ad and the name "Leaf". Nissan foolishly trapped themselves in the green ghetto. Nearly half the buying public actively avoids anything with a 'green' image. Tesla was wise to avoid such an image.

· · 5 years ago

I have watch this web site before the volt was in production. I have read almost every article your writer have wrote. I would love to own an electric vehicle in the worst way now with all its problem (miles per charge). I live in a rural state where most people wouldn't give you a dime for any electric car made, most don't even know they are being made and why. But after hearing me talk about two cars and there lease program most say they would try one. Availability, range and PRICE PRICE PRICE. The lease at $199.00 does price by the way. My first an only statment tp plugincars is simple. In year 2 the electric car is a success thanks to the few states that mandate them. Why are we not working to mandate them in fifty states.

· · 5 years ago

@jah - I couldn't disagree more. Ev's would be just as successful in California WITHOUT mandates. People buy them because they are desirable. Relying on government force is exactly the WRONG way to go about it. The work has to go into making them MORE desirable and affordable. Another thing that would help is getting the government out of the world police business (and every other business), so that oil could go up to its true market value, creating the incentive to look for alternatives.

In case you're wondering, I'm a Software Engineer, drive a Nissan Leaf, and am Libertarian (classical liberal - minarchist).

· · 5 years ago

Simple statment,. I agree. with you to a point of government but with out the mandate. We wouldn't be discussing it. NO ELECTRIC CARS. Bottom line.

· · 5 years ago

I've not been a fan of Jim Motavalli since he wrote an article where he said, "ev enthusiasts who are comparing ev sales to the fisrt years of hybrid sales need to STFU" I'm paraphrasing but was the jist of his article. Jim Motavalli strikes me as person who is just doing his job which is writing about cars, any cars. He is not an advocate for plug in cars or clean energy.

· · 5 years ago

I disagree Jah, there wouldn't be any of the "compliance cars" but Tesla would certainly be around. Nissan would probably be making Leafs anyway. GM might not have killed ev1 in the first place if it weren't for fear of mandates.

· · 5 years ago

Nissan as much as admit they thought cars would fly of shelfs. Very few people can afford a tesla in this country. One company would have been bankrupt and the other would have sold no cars without government rebates.. com on man your looking bad here. By the way im no liberal. All republican here but need the mandate.

· · 5 years ago

Correction: the 100k figure corresponds to combined Nissan and Renault EVs (including the Twizy NEV). Global Leaf sales reached 71k units in July. These figures have been reported everywhere this week.

· · 5 years ago

You severely underestimate how many people can afford a Tesla, not just here, but worldwide.
It's even amazes me how many I see on the road every day, certainly more than any other car that price.

· · 5 years ago

One would have been bankrupt the other would have stopped making cars with the government?

· · 5 years ago

The discount for plugins are far higher than the discount given to the hybrids back in the days.....

Also, Volt is the best selling brand among all plugin cars.

· · 5 years ago

Dear members of PluginCars,

I am currently joining Climate-KIC, which is a summer school funded by European Union. The aim of the summer school is to develop an innovative business idea that can help to mitigate climate change.

My group's business idea is called "Blow Batt". The idea is to have Supercharging stations for electric cars on highways, in which the energy is generated using wind energy from existing wind farms near highways (So we are going to be partners with the wind farmers).

As you all might know already, it takes approximately 20 minutes for a Supercharger to deliver a half-charge. The reason why we are putting Supercharging stations on highways is so that electric car drivers who are in hurry to get somewhere can charge their cars instantly. The other reason is so that long-journey drivers who are low on battery can charge their cars at Blow Batt.

As I recognize that all of you are members of PluginCars, I am writing you this post to ask if it would be possible for you to help my project by filling in the questionnaire below:


I really appreciate your help!

Thank you

Priska Prasetya

· · 5 years ago

LOL @Spec.

50% of the buying public doesn't buy into environmental stuff? Well, that leaves 48.5% of the market left over for the Leaf to expand into, doesn't it? Heck, if only 10% of the buying public saw themselves as environmentalists enough to buy a Leaf, then that's already 10x as many cars as they've sold so far! That's *great* news!

· · 5 years ago

Priska . . . the link on this one is also a dead end. The only link to your survey that works is the one posted onto the Mitsubishi i article earlier today. Those who want to take your survey should head over there . . .


Also . . . I wouldn't keep reposting your form letter introduction on every single article like you're doing here . . . especially if most of the form letters have bad links, The site owner will start considering that a form of spamming.

· · 5 years ago

I also think it's silly that car companies should feel compelled to walk on eggshells so as not to offend this alleged majority who is turned off by "green" marketing. The energy security hawk purists - the purported "opposite of environmentalist" market segment that might have been attracted to EVs - has already moved on, since there is now a surplus of domestically-produce fracked natural gas they can use as a direct power source for their cars.

· · 5 years ago

Hey BraveLittleToaster, don't laugh. Do a search on the study about conservatives and green light bulbs. Conservatives will avoid green products even if those products will save them money. Completely irrational? Yes. But that's the way they behave.

· · 5 years ago

I do find it sadly ironic, Spec, that Tea Party followers and the like seem Hell-bent on staking their "individual rights" and "freedom of choice" arguments on something like light bulbs.

A decade or so ago, we would come home from a big box shopping trip with (appropriately enough) a big box of cheap incandescent light bulbs. They would carry an American brand name, but the bulbs were assembled elsewhere. They lasted a few months or less before burning out but, because they were so cheap, we would just buy more. Even before there was any widespread awareness of light bulb energy efficiency, I perceived it as a landfill waste. I wasn't thinking so much back then about better lightbulb technology, but simply one that wouldn't have to be changed so often.

The earliest compact fluorescent bulbs were miserable . . . harsh gray light (high Kelvin temperature) and oddball "soft ice cream swirl" shapes that defied adapting to some installations. Lifespan was also inflated by some manufacturers.

But they began to improve. Different color temperatures became available and the base ballasts shrunk in size. There was also interim fluorescent bulb technology - the cold cathode compact - that was even more efficient than a standard CFL (although they were pricier to purchase.) I wasn't so bothered by the longish warm-up time for maximum brightness (a big G.O.P. concern, though,) but did find it annoying that a so-called 10 year lifespan bulb might be only good for a year or so.

Now, though, the newest generation of LED bulbs are showing up and they are not only inexpensive (factoring a much longer lifespan than even a properly assembled incandescent,) but have virtually no drawbacks.

Here's my current favorite, $13.99 at Ikea . . .


The light disperses very evenly (a drawback of early LEDs) and, with a lower Kelvin temperature, produces a very nice warm light. The shape allows backward comparability with any older installation (including the wire clips on some shades that grip the bulb itself.) Unlike the fluorescents, its at maximum brightness as soon as it turns on. It uses no mercury and consumes 10 Watts instead of (brightness equivalent for an incandescent) 60 Watts.

Oh yeah . . . the above linked Ikea one works with a rheostat dimmer (few CFLs would, while most cold cathodes were OK with dimmers. Similarly-priced 60 Watt equivalent LED bulbs found at other stores are also not dimmer-compatable.)

Would I rather have one of these Ikea LED bulbs than half a gross of the crappy short-life incadencents I was buying a decade ago? Of course I would . . . and any rational person who factors nothing else but financial savings would as well. Even if they only last a couple of years (they are touted to be good for 15 or 20 years . . . we'll see) it's still a good deal.

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

I too am frustrated that Joseph Farah of World Net Daily.com fame was pushing this light bulbs thing. This along with flush toilets is a Red Herring.

I swear at times he deliberately puts out misinformation. And the 'columnists'.....

1). Its one thing to say that Nuclear Radiation has medical purposes.

2). Its quite another thing to have Ann Colter say 'Radiation is Good for you.'

(Maybe she should clean up specifically Fukushima Daichi unit #2, so radioactive there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that can be done in it. Any Robot sent in dies, and any human team would colapse on the floor prior to doing the simplest task). (There have been some probes sent estimating the off the chart radiation levels).

What the country needs is real action on real problems. Like Elizabeth Warren's "
Bank on Students" bill which would lower Student Loan rates from 6.8% currently to 3/4 % and would remove the burden entirely from US taxpayers by making the Federal Reserve open a "Student Loan Window".

Libertarians are always harping against the private Federal Reserve System as being unconstitutional. Most of them are phonies because here is a chance to Kick them in the Labonza and where are they? Not a word.

The usual argument against this is that Students are a bad credit risk. But they are a better risk than the bailed out banks, 100% of whom proved their failure. And they are getting 3/4% right now....

Another thing NY City dwellers can do is elect Randy Credico in the upcoming Democratic Primary. He will also be on the Tax Wall Street party line.

His platform is a 1/2 % Wall Street sales tax, with a million dollar exemption so that private retirement plans are not hit. Its been adjuicated by the courts to be 100% constitutional since NY State already has a Tobin Tax but our pollitical leaders don't collect it for fear the Wall Street will move to Secaucus, NJ or something. (I believe its an idle threat - almost all the infrastructure is in NYC). But there's also going to be a tax wall street candidate in NJ also!

He wants free college (even during the Great Depression CUNY tution was free, unlike now where prices are continually going up up up!).

Free MTA service.

Rebuilding infrastructure (Many of the subway lines in brooklyn are over 100 years old).

And he is the only candidate who can make these promises since he's the only one who is getting money from someone other than the lowly taxpayer.

So I could care less about bulbs and toilets. Hopefully lowly people such as us can finally demand action. Randy Credico is a start. Incidentally , he will repeal NYC's infamous "Stop and Frisk" law. Maybe people will actually like living in NYC again.

· · 5 years ago

Yes,electronic cars is a very good idea in today's society.It is worthy trying.


· · 5 years ago

Yes,electronic cars is a very good idea in today's society.It is worthy trying.


· · 5 years ago

You know what I'm talking about, Bill. Good to hear your bullet points. We're zooming off topic here with all of this stuff, but I'll quickly add that the only thing I've been paying attention to in regards to the New York mayoral race has been the exploits of "Carlos Danger." As many here might note, this topic has been a field day for late night TV comedians this summer.

As for electric car toys, Jenniar, my current favorite requires no radio control . . .


The PV panel on this one is particularly interesting. Amazingly good off-axis response.

· · 5 years ago

EV's are on a roll, and the real pushback from big oil is on the horizon. They aren't going to sit back and watch billions in profits disappear.

· · 1 year ago

Very interesting information, thank you!

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