Electric vehicle sales disappointed their manufacturers in 2011, but don’t get discouraged about this technology just yet.
During November, the Chevy Volt outsold the Nissan Leaf in the U.S. by 1,139 to 672 cars. Overall, the Leaf will likely finish out the year with more sales than the Volt, but neither vehicle will reach its manufacturer’s sales goal of 10,000 vehicles. Is that bad news for electric vehicles (EVs), or really bad news? It’s neither. It’s way too soon in this market to be making such judgments, especially because the Toyota plug-in Prius hasn’t come to market yet. When it does, in March 2012, I expect it’s going to attract new buyers into the EV market.
What inspires me to express such sunny expectations? One reason is Toyota’s track record with the gasoline-hybrid Prius, which racked up over 100,000 U.S. sales in 2011, for the seventh year in a row. Another is new market research recently released by the Deloitte consulting organization. The company surveyed over 13,000 individuals in 17 countries and found that a majority of respondents said they were interested in buying an EV.
When those same respondents were asked about the specific features of all-electric vehicles currently on the market, their answers made me wonder what planet they’d been doing their EV browsing on. The Deloitte researchers concluded, “The reality is that when consumers’ actual expectations for range, charge time, and purchase price (in every country around the world included in this study) are compared to the actual market offerings available today, no more than 2 to 4 percent of the population in any country would have their expectations met.” In other words, although consumers are interested in buying electric vehicles, few seem to be interested in buying any of the all-electric vehicles that are currently on offer.
In their answers to another question, those same respondents made clear what they do want to buy. In the U.S., about 68 percent of respondents said if they could get a gasoline car that got 50 miles per gallon for little or no additional charge, they would be much more likely to purchase that vehicle instead of an electric one. The EV that seems to have the best chance of capturing a sizeable part of that group is the new plug-in Prius.
With its 15-mile electric-only range, the plug-in Prius is unlikely to appeal to folks like Jay Leno, who according to the Detroit News, drove his Volt (with 40 miles of electric-only range) 10,000 miles without ever refilling the gas tank. Instead, with an estimated mileage rating of 87 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent, and a lower cost than the Volt, the plug-in Prius has the potential to be a big hit with consumers who are simply looking to boost their gas mileage for little additional cost. Based on the Deloitte survey, it looks like there are a lot of people who would be enticed by the Prius, but so far, have been staying out of the EV market. Keep on watching this sector, because there’s a whole lot more to come.
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