The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy recently published a note highlighting that nearly 50 light-duty plugin electric vehicle models were on the US market in 2020. It included a chart showing the progress from year to year (above). I dug into the updated 2021 data source and counted 50 plugin models and 20 fully electric vehicle models.
The progress is certainly positive and I love writing about (and driving) the fun new entrants as they arrive. There are some truly exciting electric vehicles on the market now that any sane person should love. However, one of the first things that came to mind when looking at this update was, “but how many sales do these models get?”
The unfortunate thing is that Tesla still dominates the US market — truly dominates it. I am a Tesla owner, Tesla shareholder, and Tesla fan, but far above anything Tesla is the need to electrify transportation as quickly as possible. Tesla’s market domination is “unfortunate” simply because it means there are no other high-volume electric vehicles on the market. It’s great to see Tesla getting so many sales from just two models, but it’s downright depressing to see that 16 other electric models can’t get their sales to add up to the sales of those two.
There are multiple barriers to sales of the other models. Some are just not competitive when it comes to range, specs, tech, and price. (Some Tesla fans and owners — or even many Tesla fans and owners — would say that none of the other EVs are competitive with Tesla on those matters, thus leading to Tesla’s sales domination.) Many are only sold in a few markets. Auto dealers are not very incentivized to sell EVs and many don’t even try to do so. Even the auto dealers that sell EVs often don’t know how to do so and aren’t motivated to learn. Many auto buyers who are interested in EVs are interested in or open to change and find themselves gravitating to Tesla’s revolutionary culture and tech. More traditional auto buyers who are less open to change don’t go to their preferred brand looking for something totally new and exciting — a mixture of old and a little bit of new is more comfortable for them.
Also, frankly, if an automaker has a certain limited production capacity for a model that is quite low, no specs and no amount of salesmanship is going to lead to a high-volume EV. How much limited production capacity affects the sales of some models is uncertain. The Chevy Bolt EV reportedly benefited from deep discounts recently, implying demand wasn’t very high and people had to be strongly incentivized to buy one. The Ford Mustang Mach-E reportedly rushed out of the gates to high demand and quickly led to dealers putting huge price tags on the crossover/SUV on their lots. Will that demand sustain or grow, and will Ford ramp up production capacity if it does? Was that just a burst of demand that will subside? I personally think the Mustang Mach-E could sell very well — far more than 100,000 vehicles a year — if Ford and its dealers tried to move the beast. However, I hear that production capacity is far below that, so even if demand is there, it’s hard to have big dreams for the Mustang Mach-E at this stage. (Side note: I did see one on the road today, which was very exciting. But I also saw one Audi e-tron, one old Nissan LEAF, a Chevy Bolt, and probably a couple dozen Teslas. I’d love to see a couple dozen Mustang Mach-Es, a couple dozen e-trons, and a couple dozen LEAFs & Bolts a day, but it seems unrealistic to hope for that at this point.)
In light of all the people who seem to make a living or spend their free time hating on Tesla, and knowing that many of them are also concerned about the climate catastrophe we are brewing, I am frequently bewildered about how they think it’s their life mission to attack Tesla and its eccentric and highly effective CEO, and even go as far as to put a target on CleanTechnica‘s back for setting the record straight on many Tesla myths and misunderstandings. We need more electric vehicles on the road — stat. Even with Tesla’s tremendous rise and its market cap absolutely dwarfing that of these other automakers, we don’t have another high-volume EV on the US market. While Tesla is carrying everyone’s water, perhaps it is worth acknowledging its leadership and why that’s the case. Perhaps it’s also more worthwhile to push for the kind of large-scale, systemic change at traditional automakers that is needed to make a safe transition away from fossil fuels. What do we need in order for Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Nissan, Toyota, and Honda to each be selling millions of fully electric vehicles a year? Tesla smear campaigns? I think not.
To close, I’m going to highlight a few electric models here that I think are compelling enough to note (below). What do you readers think these models need in order to see high sales volumes in the US? Do they have the specs & price required to see volume sales? How do buyers coming in for a Ford Escape, Ford Mustang, Volkswagen Tiguan, Chevy Trax, or Audi Q6/Q7/Q8 get shifted over to buying one of these models? Or are they just not ready for prime time?
- Ford Mustang Mach-E
- Volkswagen ID.4
- Chevy Bolt EV/EUV
- Audi e-tron
Before anyone says it’s impossible for these other models to sell at high volumes, I encourage us all to remember what has happened in Europe in the course of one year. Yes, Europe has some advantages, but sales exploded and that indicates consumers will buy EVs in high volumes. As Max Holland reported earlier today, 22.2% of new vehicle sales in Sweden last month were pure electric vehicles — Sweden!
This is an off-peak month for Tesla. This is a cold climate that is quite spread out where people have historically bought far more plugin hybrids than full electrics. But the winds have shifted. The overall top selling vehicle in Sweden last month — of any powertrain — was the Volkswagen ID.4, which is now also on the US market. How does the US start getting close to European levels before another president is in office?
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