While we head into the last leg of summer 2015, great news about electric vehicles is popping up every week. The next-generation Chevy Volt will have an impressive 53 miles of range before drivers need to use gasoline; the first plug-in from Audi will be priced below $35,000 after incentives and now can be configured online; and California is continuing to spur mass EV adoption with programs like car sharing in low-income neighborhoods.
You can feel a sense of inevitability with plug-in cars that never existed before. Unfortunately, the promise for the segment is not translating into sales. In fact, the improvements in technology are likely hurting sales of EVs in the present. If you can get a Volt with 53 miles of range later this year, why would you want the current model rated at 38 miles?
Indeed, electric vehicle sales in July revealed several weaknesses in the market, though there were bright spots to temper the disappointments. Here are five things we learned in a month when plug-in sales were down 20% compared to 2014. Our numbers come from InsideEVs.com’s reliable sales report card.
1. The Nissan Leaf is struggling.
You might look at the Leaf’s 1,174 sales in July and press the panic button. The electric vehicle that set a U.S. sales record in 2014 was 61% off its pace from a year ago, but there are explanations. For starters, there is a new version of the Leaf headed to dealerships in September with an expected range near 100 miles. The current model rated at 84 miles will not be as appealing for consumers on the hunt this summer.
Likewise, Nissan told Autoblog that it has scaled down production to accommodate the shift in the market. Using this formula, the automaker plans to make up ground later in the year, but in July the similarly challenged Chevy Volt beat the Leaf in sales for the first time in 2015.
2. The BMW i3 is alive and well.
The BMW i3 was outsold by five plug-in vehicles in the U.S. in June and had a poor showing for three of the first six months of 2015. Despite the apparent cause for concern, the i3 had a comeback month in July with 935 sales, its second highest total of the year and a huge jump from its 551 sales in June. Though few writers were drafting the i3’s obituary in recent months, the July performance is reassuring for fans of green transportation.
3. The Chevy Volt phase-out is going well.
Chevrolet is in the same position with the 2015 Volt as Nissan is with the Leaf. The 2016 model featuring better range and amenities is appearing later this year, so consumers will need incentives to pick up the 2015 model that’s soon to disappear. According to the consistent sales numbers (1,313 units in July), GM is handling the phase-out quite well. Only the Tesla Model S outsold the Volt on the U.S. market for plug-ins, and did so only by a few hundred cars.
4. Tesla is not bulletproof.
After an incredibly strong June (2,800 sales), Tesla numbers dropped significantly in July in InsideEV’s accounting (which has been very accurate). Nonetheless, Tesla beat its estimated total with 11,532 Model S deliveries in the second quarter. The bad news was the goal of 55,000 cars sold in 2015 will not stand. Tesla may drop the figure by 5,000 cars, the New York Times reports, citing production issues with Model S as the Model X rolls onto the scene. Tesla’s July sales total only beat the Chevy Volt by 287 cars.
5. Ford’s plug-in hybrids remain relevant.
Both the Ford Fusion Energi (852 sales) and C-Max Energi (693 sales) posted their second-best performances of 2015 in July. In fact, the Fusion plug-in model trails the BMW i3 by 249 units in 2015, setting up an interesting competition for fourth place in the plug-in segment this year. The C-Max Energi will likely take sixth place, barring the rise of a dark horse in the segment this fall. All in all, the Energi models are holding their own.