Another Week, Another Analysis: Plug-In Cars to Account for 9% of Auto Sales by 2020

By · November 02, 2010

Nissan LEAF lineup

Just last week we brought you news that the consumer trends analysts at J.D. Power and Associates predicted that by 2020 plug-ins would only represent a paltry 1.8% of auto sales gloabally, and only 100,000 of them would be sold in the U.S. that year. In the past, similar predictions of have ranged as high as 10%—with that figure unsurprisingly coming from organizations such as Nissan, the Electrification Coalition and PRTM.

You'd think that as we get closer to the launch of the first mass-market, globally distributed, plug-in vehicles that the crystal ball might get a little clearer. But, in a sign that nobody really knows how fast plug-in cars will catch on once they get into consumers' hands and that our resolution on the topic is in fact getting worse, the in-vogue analysis from the "experts" this week says that EVs could make up 9% of new auto sales by 2020 and as much as 22% by 2030.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, if gas prices rise sharply over the next two decades (as they are expected to) and battery prices continue to fall aggressively (as they have been over the last year) then plug-ins such as the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF will catch on fast. When I analyzed last week's J.D. Power report, those were two of its largest faults; it assumed that gas prices would remain relatively stable and technology wouldn't advance quickly enough.

In contrast, the biggest hurdle that BNEF sees has nothing to do with charging infrastructure, range anxiety, or technological hurdles; BNEF sees the price differential between plug-ins and conventional vehicles as the deciding factor in how quickly they will catch on. "Price will be the most significant limitation to the uptake of both plug‐in hybrid vehicles like the GM Volt and fully electric vehicles such as the Nissan LEAF," BNEF said in a press release. "The median base price of autos sold between July 2009 and June 2010 in the US was $21,800. By comparison, the Nissan LEAF will cost $26,280 after federal subsidies (including an allowance for charger installation), which is a higher price point than three quarters of all new auto sales."

BNEF also conducted an analysis of the market to determine what percentage of consumers can "afford the vehicle, have suitable range requirements and have access to an appropriate location for charging." They then modeled a subset of this consumer segment to determine the proportion of consumers within it that might actually purchase a plug-in vehicle (read "care enough to want to buy one") and came up with what they're calling the "addressable market."

In the end, BNEF calculated that in 2011 the Chevy Volt has an addressable market of 7% and the Nissan LEAF has an addressable market of 11%. Yet, as BNEF notes, actual sales in 2011 will be much lower due to restricted vehicle supply. Still, those numbers bode well for the near future of plug-in vehicle sales—if they are accurate.

And the analytical-political-roulette continues...

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
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  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.