Plug-in Hybrids Pull Ahead of EVs

By · August 03, 2012

PHEVs vs. EV

It has been a difficult year so far for all-electric vehicles. After an encouraging start in 2011, Nissan LEAF sales have fallen off of late, with the month of June representing a 69 percent drop in purchases over the year before. July saw monthly sales drop further, to just 395 units. Halfway through the year, Nissan has notched just 3,148 LEAFs sold, and while an improved 2013 model of the car should help pick things up a bit later this year, it's becoming increasingly unliklely that Nissan will come close to satisfying its goal of 20,000 sales in 2012.

Outside of the LEAF, no other affordable mass-market electric has made big waves either, with the Mitsubishi i, Ford Focus Electric, Smart EV and BMW Active E combining for just 328 total units moved in June.

Meanwhile, the fortunes of the Chevy Volt seem to have reversed themselves nicely since GM temporarily shut down production of the vehicle in February. Since then, the Volt has tripled its volume over the first half of last year, with 8,817 orders through June. In July, Chevy sold 1,849 units, compared to just 125 the year before. The Toyota Prius plug-in is also doing well, having sold 4,333 cars since hitting the market in late February.

In a reversal of 2011's trend, plug-in hybrid sales are growing at a surprising clip this year, while EVs seem to have hit some sort of an early adopter plateau.

The Electric-Drive Rivalry

Two years ago, the mass plug-in car market as we knew it consisted of the Nissan LEAF battery electric vehicle (BEV), and the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Though neither car would hit American roads for months to come, it was clear from reading comments and message boards on sites like that a good portion of electric-drive enthusiasts had already separated themselves into two rival groups: BEV-lovers and PHEV-lovers.

Though the virtual battle lines between the LEAF and Volt enthusiasts could at times be contentious, they were nothing compared to the war that was playing out in the publicity campaigns surrounding the two vehicles. At media events and in its advertising, General Motors was often careful to point out that the reason its vehicle was destined to succeed was because it didn't cause range anxiety―the implication being that that BEVs were fated struggle in the face of it. Nissan countered in its "What if Everything Ran on Gas?" TV spot, which featured a man filling the tank of his Chevy Volt while staring longingly at a passing LEAF.

Automakers Pick Sides

As more and more electric-drive concepts approach the market, we're getting a clearer picture of where the various carmakers stand in this rivalry. Aside from a limited-release RAV4 EV (a compliance car aimed in large part at satisfying California regulators,) Toyota is squarely in the plug-in hybrid camp, and has shared no plans release a mass-market EV. Hyundai appears to be following a similar strategy and is only seriously considering releasing one plug-in, a PHEV version of its i30, which has been rumored to be headed to market in the near future.

Ford began selling its Focus Electric this summer, though the company hasn't done much to promote the car and has said it would be satisfied with relatively modest sales numbers. Meanwhile, the Blue Oval will soon begin selling two new plug-in hybrids, the C-Max Energi crossover and the Fusion Energi sedan. At just under $30,000 after incentives, the C-Max Energi is priced to be compete, and the Fusion Energi is said to have its sites on becoming the most fuel-efficient mid-size car in the world. By the looks of it, Ford seems to be choosing to PHEVs (at least at the outset.)

All of this doesn't mean that fully electric vehicles aren't the long term solution. As batteries get cheaper and Americans get used to benefits and drawbacks of ditching gas in favor of cars with limited range, it's possible that PHEVs will one day come to be viewed as a vestige of the vehicle electrification movement. For now though, plug-in hybrids seem to be the more likely next-generation solution to succeed in the mass market.


· · 5 years ago

Yep! July sales speak for themselves: PHEV: 2,537 vs BEV: 479

And there is also Mitsubishi Outlander CUV 4WD PHEV coming 2013.

You need a 100 miles BEV priced at $30,000 after rebates for the BEV to sell in 2,000 per month numbers and this price is not possible right now. But PHEV definitely are paving the road for BEV. And it is very good.

But 479 per month is quite amazing! If you think about it there were only 1,117 EV1s produces in 4 years!

· · 5 years ago

Time for Nissan to try something radical: How about a free 30-day LEAF test drive Nissan? --

Yeah, I know this sounds crazy. But even though the LEAF would work great for millions of Americans, 95% of these folks aren't going to take a big cash plunge to actually see if it works for them. But if they didn't have to worry about the money, a lot more might give the whole pure EV thing a whirl, and a lot would discover that, 'Hey, this actually works for me!' and then plunk down the cash...

· EVlvr (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Christof, your idea is great. I also feel very very few buyers have the gumption to take the big cash plunge on something that doesn't go very far and then needs a long time to refuel (recharge) before it can be driven again. A long test drive is almost necessary to show people they don't have much to fear, and in fact have much to be thankful for (no gas needed to buy).

Unfortunately auto companies are businesses, and businesses chase profits. They will say, there is no guarantee of success that could lead to later profits in trying to change people's opinions, and much possibility of throwing away money in the try.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Zach McDonald:

Excellent article. Battery prices are simply too high for most. Although I like the Nissan Leaf, its 80 mile real world range (more like 60 in the wintertime I'm sure), its just not that much farther than the Chevy Volt or other pluginhybrids to travel electrically. People want to travel electrically, but they also want to make sure that they can get where they are going, and don't want to mortgage the house to do it.

· · 5 years ago

Even if batteries get cheaper it will not help bevs sales as peoples reject them wholehearthedly because of inneficiencies and numerous unsolvable bugs like long charging time impossible to do outside of the home. The public chargers are useless because it's not reachable where you need it and also because it's too long to recharge.
These batteries wear at the speed of light and are affected by cold and heat. Even if there is a lot of promotion done on internet for pure batteries it don't do anything as peoples already have battery appliances and they already have lasting problems with those and difficulties recharging them. Nissan is already not honoring the garanty of the leaf with their customers that experiented difficulties with their leaf.

Only GM know how to use a lithium battery because it's liquid cool and they just use 8 kwh out of the 16 kwh of their total capacity to prevent the battery from damaging itself.
Then the gasoline generator give extra unlimited range but that come at a price of around 2x a comparable car so sales are low.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

What about Tesla? Demand is high they'll be back up with orders for years!

· (not verified) · 5 years ago

People do want BEVs !!!
They just need to be better advertised and promoted, prices will go lower for used ones.
I want to import used leafs and imievs from USA to Europe - Poland for example is very good market as I sell currently used Berlingos Electrique, 10 years old vans, old NiCd batteries and still doing 50 miles range. For a price tag about 4000-5000 EUR I have big demand for them.
Polish government don't support BEVs. No tax or buying rebate. Nothing! But as strong people we still have interest to buy them....

· · 5 years ago

Dude, NiCd, heavy metals, not good for environment, not good

What I don't get is why no manufacturer makes gas-electric hybrid cars.
I mean volt like cars having gas generators for power generation, there are many standalone gas generators, so why not put it in a car? Am i the only one who ever thought of this?
Sure they're heavier, but much more cost-efficient and produce way less emissions. I googled my ass off and didn't find ANY gas powered electric car, the only one is canceled hyundai eleantra lpg-hybrid, that runs on converted ICE engine and has 15kw electric motors for fuel savings.
If we want to treat our oil addiction and still have unlimited range, electricity + gas is da way

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

What about Tesla? Demand is high they'll be back up with orders for years!

tesla is priced too high to get any significant sales and will be a niche player for some time, and it seems to me they are more interested in selling tesla stock than vehicles.. The PHEV's will lead the market for some time, tho BEV's will gain share with time, I hope.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

I don't believe there is any one "da way." The range of people's mobility needs and real world conditions (weather, road hazards like wildlife, etc) is so vast. It is early in a transition, and god bless people with 40K to spend being an early adopter so we can hopefully ride the economies of scale to $200/kwh batts soon. If we can get a safe 100 mile range vehicle for 15k, I am a buyer.

Let me share my personal POV. An electric tadpole trike is stunningly efficient. My personal experience has proved it to be uncomfortable and unsafe. An electric 2 wheel scooter: same result. Buy a Leaf, a Mitsu i, ? energy costs and emissions are great, total cost of ownership over 5 years, not so great. Buy a Volt or Prius PHEV? You still have an ICE system to maintain, and again total cost of ownership is not that great. Build a kit to try to copy the Edison2 VLC? Not likely. SO..... I still mypermile my old Ford Escort to 50 mpg and total cost of ownership around .20/mile. If I hit a deer or encounter an ice storm, I will survive.

· grumpy (not verified) · 5 years ago

I think the problem for EVs are the lack of charging stations in many parts of the country. I have had a Volt since April and today was the first time I used a public charger. They just don't exist in enough locations and the charge times are too long, I went to a Walgreens with a single charging station, and while it was free, I still had to kill a couple hours for a partial charge. My 140 mile round trip was only possible by using the range extender.

If people don't see charging station at many locations, then "range anxiety" is going to be a natural reaction.


· Bill Howland (not verified) · 5 years ago


Man you're one tough critic. I say Never Say Never. BEV's will do fine when and if battery technology improves.
As far as long distance drives go, if batteries improved by say, an order of magnitude (granted not likely, but other technological advances have surprised also), then I've jokingly said I'd like to order a Cadillac Escalade EV with 600 mile range, and 200 kwh battery. Or if they can really make it lightweight, ill pay double for a 1200 mile, 400 kwh battery. With a 30 amp (my present) charger, it will take 60 hours to make 1200 miles should the battery be dead. That is fine, and wont upset the power company. I dont make a 1200 mile trip that often, certainly not more than twice a week. So the lack of 'public infrastructure' doesn't bother me. I manage to find the Rube Goldburg stuff we have here in Buffalo, N.Y. adequate, and gives me something to complain about on here. The other big variable is gas price. At $6 / gallon, all forms of EV's will sell like hot cakes.

My other EV is a VOLT, and it is one of GM's few solid products, although it does have a 'Designed by Committee' feel to it. Overly complicated, plus some things much too buggy, but that said, supposedly every one who owns one likes it, myself included.

Gorr, you have to admit you've at least lost the first round. Years ago, the Governator, and other famous facists kept beating the drum for Fuel Cells, Hydrogen Highways, etc. I simply don't see any of those vehicles around here. Although I'm much more partial to Natural Gas, even the local gas company has gotten rid of all their Natural Gas truck conversions and gone back to gasoline due to leaky tanks, and other bugaboos with a NG vehicle.

For those who want to see if Gorr is utimately right or ultimately mistaken, check out ViaMotors.Com. They take trucks and SUV's and make them Volt-like. No, I don't currently own any stock in this outfit. Supposedly, they make economic sense now, in 2012, having a total lifecycle cost under that of an equivalent gasoline only vehicle. If is successful without too much of a government subsidy, then sorry Gorr, you'll have egg on you.

· · 5 years ago

Just this morning, my wife put a 40 mile round trip (mid town Tucson to the north edge of Oro Valley and back) on our borrowed Leaf and then, after she brought it back home, we took it out again to go shopping. There was no fear as we embarked on a 6 mile journey to a nice shopping plaza half way across Tucson.

When we parked at the Blink Level 2 EVSE (thank you Bookman's for providing that,) there was 28 miles showing on the Guess-O-Meter. While the car charged for two hours for free, we had lunch then went book and antique hunting. When we returned to the car, 56 miles were now on the Guess-O-Meter.

On the not-so-direct route back home, we stopped off at a Target and a Trader Joe's. All the purchased items - including a couple bags of groceries and a door-length mirror - easily fit in the car. I think there's something like 43 available Guess-O-Meter miles on it right now, but I'm not even exactly sure. All I know is that there's more than enough for the few things we've got planned for Sunday.

I'm not going to even bother to plug it in tonight. I'll hook into the 110V car port extension cord Sunday night, so I've got a clean 80 miles available for Monday. After being away for the better part of the Summer, my son is flying back home Monday afternoon (he doesn't know about our borrowed EV and will be quite surprised when he sees it.) I'm taking off work that day to pick him up at the airport, about a 20 mile round trip from our midtown house.

Where am I going with all of this? Simply to show that a typical family on a long weekend that might actually involve more than our typical share of around-town traveling requirements adapted very nicely to this marvelous electric car. We've put 115 miles on the borrowed Leaf since early Wednesday morning, when I started keeping track of my EV driving habits. Most of our charging was done at home, while we slept, and on super-slow 110V. It was fun to try out the 220V terminal today for the first time. But this is something we could have just as easily skipped. Alternately, we could done the Target/Joe's leg of the return journey home with miles to spare and waited to charge overnight tonight.

The criticisms of the Leaf now are the same ones I had before I borrowed it. They have absolutely nothing to do with range anxiety or general performance. It's all minor stuff dealing with styling. The bug-eyed headlights looks sort of goofy and the relatively tiny rear hatch (when contrasted to the bulbous read fenders) is certainly the first thing I would want to redo. The tiny rear window that goes along with that tiny rear hatch finds me relying on the rear view television camera's large dash display when backing up. I'd rather have more real glass back there to see out of and no techno-toy camera/screen. Likewise, my wife, who loves fiddling with her smart phone constantly, likes that navigation voice that guides her to places she already knows how to get to. I, who rarely ever leaves the house with my bottom-of-the-line clamshell cell phone, found that navigation voice gadget annoying as hell and was glad to simply have her figure out how to turn it off, so I could return to the background din of the radio.

· · 5 years ago

Agreed, 50-70 miles on a single charge is good for the most of the trips. If you have a house or a garage, no problem, you just have one EV capable of handling most of your transportation needs and one good old dirty ICE car for long distance trips.
The problem rises when you live in a flat and don't have a garage :)
And of, people need to realize this, you don't have to travel gazilion miles every day, deal with it already.

· · 5 years ago

This is a valid point, Teq. As a former apartment dweller myself, I can appreciate how hard it's going to be for those who live in high-rises to adopt EVs . . . especially when you've got nasty/clueless landlords, like the one this guy in Chicago is having to deal with . . .

· · 5 years ago

PHEV vs BEV depends a lot on location. Where I live, there's basically zero "charging infrastructure", and while it's not common (once or twice a month on average), I occasionally drive more than 60 miles each way to something. The Model S would probably work for me, but I put in for the PHEV (mine should be in Real Soon Now).

· Mark S. (Volt owner) (not verified) · 5 years ago

The Volt is not a hybrid, it's an EV with a (optional to use) range extender, aka EREV. Anyone who owns one quickly gets this concept, and often also gets the idea that actually battery range doesnt really matter as much as opportunity charging (for example I have driven 112 miles in one day charging at regular 120v outlets - level 2 can take you farther) Right now the Volt in a class by itself and not dependent on gas for any power, speed, or meaningful range like the other true "hybrids". For the Volt, gas is a safety net. For the others (including the Leaf, when you have to own a 2nd gas car, or worse, get stuck and need to be towed) gas is a dependency.

· · 5 years ago

Like the man said, "Can't we all get along?"

I mean seriously, people, we're living in the future here! I love my Nissan Leaf, and when I see my neighbor from a few blocks down and his Volt we flick our highbeams and give thumbs up when we pass each other. I share a charging station at my work with a plug-in Prius driver, and I work next door to the BMW ActiveE tech guys (who graciously gave me a test drive). I know I've got it good living in the SF bay area, but still. I'm constantly amazed by how much the bar has moved. We all agree that using less gas is better for us all, right?

And for the BEV guys out there, despair not at the pace of sales. I think the analogy that we're reliving what the Prius went through is spot on. Time and technology will march on. It's simply an engineering problem. If anything, we should all be banding together to get our electricity sources cleaned up! And that said, Go Thorium!

· · 5 years ago

Of course, as battery prices come down and batteries become more energy dense EREVs will also get cheaper and benefit from longer electric only ranges. BEVs are going to be great for auto share programs in urban environments, for businesses with defined local delivery routes, and possibly for long-haul trucks, police cars and other municipal vehicles. One can easily imagine a nationwide network of exchangeable batteries for EV 18 wheelers, for instance. I wouldn't look for BEVs to become a dominant player anytime soon because they just don't meet enough of the needs of the general auto-buying public and, aside from a house, a car is the most expensive thing anyone buys. Well, except for dressage horses.

· · 5 years ago

I could say I agree on EREV being my preferred solution, but right now I am more prone to go totally off subject because I just became father of a newborn twin, so I just wanted to tell it. I could have called them Spirit and Opportunity, but since all attention is now on Curiosity, I stick to their actual names of Igor and Apolline. And yes they landed safely fully operational on biofuel and all sensors OK especially their wide angle cameras… Just really happy!

· Paul (not verified) · 5 years ago

I LOVE my Ford Focus Electric!!!

But I agree with the previous comments about all of us "getting along." Ultimately no one solution--BEV, PHEV, EREV, fuel-cell--is going to be "the be all to end all." Our goal, remember, is to get us away from total dependency on fossil fuels. And anything that helps us toward that end-game is good IMHO!!

Does anyone remember it was just over 10 years ago (when gas in the U.S. was barely $2/gallon?) that all the nay-sayers said "Who wants this Prius hybrid tech? Too complicated and too expensive"!?!?! And look where we are now?

I think we're at the same place with EVs, PHEVs, and EREVs like Volt that the original Prius tech was 10 years ago. (I know I personally get the same questions such as "why" and "how" etc.)

But once you get in a BEV (like my Focus Electric!) and notice how quiet and smooth it is and that it fits most of your needs... AND you don't have to pay some OPEC country through the nose for the privilege of driving...

· tableround (not verified) · 5 years ago

The problem is this: the Leaf costs more than the Volt. I was offered, by Nissan, a Leaf for $398/month with $4000 down. The Volt I currently drive every day costs me $268/month and I paid $999 upfront. Both the Leaf and Volt were leases for 36 months and 30,000 miles. I picked the Volt because it was cheaper. I'm glad I did - I get 53.6 miles per day on pure electric - and when I need to go further I don't have to own a second car or rent a car because the Volt has a backup generator to get me further. BTW, if the Leaf had been priced cheaper I "might" have gone that route, but we'll never know now.

· (not verified) · 5 years ago

I stopped in at a Ford dealer today to get some info on the F.E. The sales manager had nothing and didn't know about the electric cars. He thot they were not available yet.

Also; Why is it so dificult to offer different battery pack sizes? I would like a longer range than 100 miles. Perhaps double that. Maybe eventually, huh?

· · 5 years ago

Or even extra battery packs that one can load into the trunk like a suitcase when taking a longer trip. Like people have for their cellphones.

· Spec (not verified) · 5 years ago

GM deserves congratulations for correctly figuring out that the PHEV would be the best way to reintroduce EVs back in the auto market. I got it wrong . . . I figured that the added cost of both an electric and ICE drivetrain would make them too complicated and too expensive. I figured that for the cost savings of getting rid of the ICE, you could put in a much bigger batter. But the costs of batteries have remained high and we know how to make ICEs for dirt cheap..

So Kudos to GM for making the right decision. I hope the have taken out a lot of patents so that they will be able to collect royalties for the eventual copiers.

· · 5 years ago

@tableround -- Can you tell us where you got this $999 down, $268 per month lease deal?

· Elp Tique (not verified) · 5 years ago

All Nissan needs to do is to lower the price and put the DC (fast, 28 min) chargers all over!!! That's it. You can go LA to NY if you have them. Which gas car could go LA to NY without gas stations?! None! Put the charging stations out there and people will buy the car in a hurry.

· · 5 years ago

@tableround - the Volt is cheaper if you lease and then turn in the keys at the end. However, if you buy outright, or buyout at the end of the lease, the Volt is more expensive.

@Elp Tique - I've long held that Nissan should install CHAdeMO chargers at every dealership across the country. That's an excellent start to an incredible network of chargers. It would help them sell their own product (noone else is really offering CHAdeMO except Mitsubishi, so it doesn't help their competition much). It would help them assert CHAdeMO's dominance and continued relevance in the EV market. It would also bring more traffic into their dealerships. Maybe they could add a cafe as well so you can grab coffee and a snack while you wait.

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