Disappointing Numbers in Electric Vehicle Sales

2012 sales of plug-in vehicles in the U.S. as of July 31st were 20,546, out of 8,398,746 total vehicles, under 0.25%, according to Jon LeSage’s Green Auto Market.  Concerned about this figure and looking for an explanation, I called my friend Paul Scott, who sells the Nissan Leaf at a dealership in Los Angeles. 

My belief is that electric vehicles need to offer a better consumer value proposition.  To take the most obvious example, Ford has sold 135 units of its Focus Electric in the first seven months of this year.  That’s less than one per day.  Here you have a car whose only differences from the gasoline-powered version are a) that it has an electric drive train, requiring its owner to plug it in daily, and worry about running out of range, and b) a sticker price that is two-and-a-half times that of its counterpart.  The two cars look identical; Ford has removed the value of letting the EV driver tell the world that he’s a responsible and caring citizen of the Earth.

How surprised can we be that the world isn’t exactly gobbling this up?  This is such an obvious and dismal failure that I’ve run into cynics who think that Ford never intended for this car to succeed.

Paul disagrees with me on the value proposition; he thinks that we need better consumers – people who are willing to pay extra to drive a car that creates less impact on our planet.  It’s hard to disagree with that; Americans trail far behind the Europeans, for example, in environmental sensitivity.

I suppose, like so many other things, it’s a blend.  Every month, we’re gaining in terms of better and less expensive EVs, and a more eco-conscious marketplace – as well as better charging solutions.  We’re getting there.  But is our pace fast enough to avert the ecologic disasters that are so clearly running to meet us head on?


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9 comments on “Disappointing Numbers in Electric Vehicle Sales
  1. Frank Eggers says:

    Considering range limits and cost, it would make little sense for most people to buy an electric car as the only car. However, there are situations in which the cost could possibly be justified and where the limited range would not be a problem.

    What about social workers? They typically have to make numerous short trips in urban environments. The same is true of urban letter carriers; a small electric truck might do well in that application.

    Under present conditions, electric cars will be only niche vehicles. The challenge is to find situations in which electric vehicles can be justified and aim at that market.

  2. Don Harmon says:

    No, I don’t think for a second that we will succeed in our pace averting the ecological disasters that face us. That is just impossible and only a dreamer would expect it to happen.

    One thing that car makers have to do is stop trying to make the EV in the image of the ICE cars. They shouldn’t try to do it because it wont work even if you are TESLA!

    Until car companies can clearly differentiate products the public is going to vote with their wallet and not with their best “green” ambitions. Have you looked at our economy lately?

    Forget the pixie dust and wake up and smell the coffee!

  3. Glenn Doty says:


    I think it’s certain that Ford didn’t want to sell the cars. They wanted the “green halo” effect that GM pushed so hard for, but while GM is happily selling Volts at a loss, knowing the green halo is improving the number of people walking through the show-room floor and thus serving to advertise their impressive ICE fleet… Ford is trying to get the green halo effect on the cheap – sell as close to zero EV’s at a loss as possible while still getting more people to walk in the door.

    We’ll see who’s got the better advertising campaign, but I firmly believe that none of the major car companies ever considered this as anything other than an advertising campaign. Even at the inflated prices they are losing money with every sale or barely breaking even with every sale. They’d vastly prefer to sell a different car with a 30%+ margin.

    The good news is that for nearly all locales a Ford Focus is more environmentally friendly than a Ford Focus EV, so if hyping the EV results in more sales of the ICE, then that’s better for the planet anyway.


  4. arlene says:

    I’m not sure how we would upgrade the quality of the consumer, so I’ll leave that one alone. If such were possible, I would first choose to increase the quality of American’s exercising the franchise.

    A number of us in EV advocacy circles have oft stated that we need to educate everyone about the nature of the choices they are making in hard fiscal terms. For example, it is easily financially demonstrable that it is better to own a single city car and rent a long distance car if you fall into the classic 90/10 breakdown of LVMT. Owning that Excursion because once every couple of months you actually put 6 people and luggage in it, is a form of fiscal insanity. Most people don’t realize it. They actually believe they made the rational decision in the context of the one car family. Same thing with a pickup. Once a month they make a pilgrimage to Home Depot for a ton of cement or similar. Don’t need to own a pickup for that. $19.95 per hour at the one I go to. On and on go the examples. I would argue that our consumers have an incomplete financial education.

  5. Arlene,
    I agree with you, but people want to be told what to think on talk radio and sit coms not from “learning”. We need Sienfield to tell USA what to think and me how to spell.

  6. Frank Eggers says:

    Check out this link to information about a new battery that could make electric vehicles much less expensive and more than double the range:


  7. @ Craig, Yes we need better consumers. I don’t know how we can get those. Education and logic doesn’t seem to be doing the job.

    @ Frank, I agree that letter carriers and local delivery are the best immediate use of EVs. Letter carrier trucks travel less than 40 miles per day and have enough room on the roof for about 1300W of panel. That coupled with regenerative braking and charging at night would significantly reduce the amount of fuel the PO uses.

    @ Glenn, You are right. If the auto industry really wanted electric cars we would have upgraded versions of the EV1 and that thing Toyota made.

    @ Arlene, There is too much false status associated with owning the biggest truck a person can afford. Your logic is correct.

    About 6 weeks ago I reported seeing my first Nissan Leaf on the road as I was heading to a job. Wednesday I saw my first Chevy Volt on the road.

  8. Frank Eggers says:

    I don’t understand why people will buy big trucks for status, although I know that some do. People who really have status don’t need status symbols anyway. Moreover, many people with expensive status symbols are up to their necks in debt.

    A truck is for hauling things and is basically a work tool. A couple times I have briefly (for less than two hours) rented a truck and really did not like driving it. I see owning one, when it is not needed, as a negative status symbol and an indication that the owner needs something to prove that he is a real man. This does not apply to small pick-up trucks which are similar in size to small and medium size cars.

  9. marcopolo says:


    This is a typical leftist response. This is why programmes and products driven by ideology always end up costly disasters.

    You proposition starts with an arrogant disdain for consumers, born of an assumption that what you think is morally superior.

    Toyota spent may years making EV technology available in a mass production vehicle, the Prius and later Lexus hybrids.

    GM’s Volt/Ampera, despite considerable political opposition, is starting to make real headway.

    The idea of making EV’s look radically different has sent most “would be’ EV makers bankrupt.

    The idea that if consumers don’t like a product, it must be the consumers who change, is the sort of thinking that produced the ‘Trabant’.

    It’s the EREV, or plug-in hybrid that will dominate future car sales, until a really effective energy storage device is developed. Easier to improve technology, than ‘change’ the consumer !

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