The streak is over. After six straight months of record electric vehicle sales, automakers saw the run screech to a halt in May. Total plug-in sales hit 11,423 units for the month, according to InsideEVs, though there are a few estimates included in that number. Whichever way you cut it, the pack is unlikely to have hit the 12,362 sales the segment notched in a record 2014. Nonetheless, the numbers were basically even (down 1%) year-over-year even though some models have begun to lose their luster.
Why are consumers hesitant to take home a Nissan Leaf (down 54%), BMW i3 (down 15%), or Volkswagen e-Golf (down 34%)? In a car class where range anxiety rules, you might call it “range expectancy.” Each of the three models has a rumored or confirmed range boost coming in the next year or two. So some consumers are content to sit back and wait, perhaps deciding whether they should plunk down a deposit on the Tesla Model 3 or hold out for another future plug-in.
In the meantime, those bread-and-butter EVs are creating a sag in the middle of the segment’s sales charts. Heck, even the Tesla Model S, which recently got a refresh, had a bit of a slump while the Fremont factory tooled up for the tweaks. As a result, we saw two plug-in hybrids and one very pricey electric SUV dominate in May. Here are the three cars that powered electric vehicle sales, according to the monthly dashboard published by InsideEVs.
3. Ford Fusion Energi
How much of a roll has the Ford Fusion Energi been on in 2016? This year, the plug-in hybrid is up 55% compared to 2015 and is comfortably in third place among all EVs. Its breakout March (1,238) was followed by a better April (1,331) and a two-year high (1,453) in May, which amounted to its second-best month ever while topping the Model S yet again.
Highly attractive incentives on the 2016 edition are moving the Fusion Energi at an unprecedented pace. The new model features a slight range bump (to 21 miles from 19 miles) and a total range of 610 miles, but consumers seem quite content to take home deals on the outgoing edition. We’ll see if the 2017 model featuring a different grille and other updates can sustain that momentum at its lower MSRP.
2. Tesla Model X
Among manufacturers, Tesla topped the pack in May electric vehicle sales with approximately 2,800 deliveries. For just the second time, according to InsideEVs estimates, Model X (1,600) bested the automaker’s flagship Model S (1,200) on the charts. A backlog of orders is still keeping the Fremont factory busy with the electric SUV, and the Model S retool slowed production on that car in May, insiders say. Despite the problems that have been reported with Model X, consumers still can’t wait to get theirs delivered. Tesla says those early glitches are mostly gone.
1. Chevy Volt
Chevy Volt blew out the pack once again in May electric vehicle sales with a total of 1,901. That represented a 17.5% increase, year over year, and it was significant for several reasons. For starters, Volt (7,871) is now challenging Model S (8,390) for best-selling EV in America. Volt (96,621) also extended its lead for all-time plug-in sales in the U.S. over the Nissan Leaf (94,288). The gap is widening by the month and shows no sign of stopping.
Are plug-in hybrids like Volt and Fusion Energi making the most sense to EV consumers in 2016? This hostile takeover in early 2016 may be a result of favorable inventories and attractive incentives, but we’ll know better when the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV makes its debut (we hope) later this year. For now, sales are trending away from low-range EVs and toward plug-in hybrids that operate mostly on electric power anyway.