Was 2015 a great year for electric vehicles in America? Looking at the debuts of plug-in cars from the 12-month period, there were a number of important releases for the industry, in both concept and production form, so there is reason for enthusiasm if you hope EVs have a future.
From a sales standpoint, there was mostly bad news in a year when the new Chevy Volt and upgraded Nissan Leaf took so long to appear. A year earlier, these models took first (Leaf) and second (Volt) place. Meanwhile, the phasing out of the Toyota Prius plug-in dented the statistics of another top seller from 2014, leaving the group with a hole it could not fill with a full year of the Kia Soul EV or Volkswagen e-Golf on the market.
As a result, the segment fell 5% in 2015. Only a record month in December salvaged the year for plug-in vehicles. This comeback bodes well for the coming year of EV sales. There are better options than ever for consumers who want to plug in, and the arrival of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Chevy Bolt EV will put an exclamation point on that thought in 2016.
For now, we take a look back at the 10 best-selling electric vehicles of 2015. Statistics are courtesy of InsideEVs.
10. Chevy Spark EV
After notching just 1,145 sales in 2014, the Chevy Spark EV became a force with 2,629 sales in 2015. The mini car with 82 miles of range had its big moment when it expanded beyond the West Coast market and went on sale in Maryland. We can’t say that made a huge difference as sales plateaued in August after a furious peak of 920 in April, but GM was able to claim success with a car that is the predecessor to the Bolt EV. Among its surprising specs, the electric Spark can hit 60 miles per hour from a standstill in about seven seconds.
9. Toyota Prius Plug-in
The Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid was a curious case in that it was being phased out for all of 2015. As a result, its total of 4,191 sales were nearly 70% off its strong 2014 campaign (13,164 sales). Those figures dropped the Prius with a plug to ninth place, a steep fall from fourth a year earlier. Consumers hoping for a new model in 2016 may wait a while, as the next-generation Prius won’t add one to the lineup until late in the year. If you want a plug-in from this generation, your best bet would be the used car market. The sales total from December (22) tells you everything you need to know about current inventory.
8. Volkswagen e-Golf
A funny thing happened after Dieselgate broke in America: While Volkswagen’s diesel lineup went predictably kerplunk, the automaker’s little electric Golf enjoyed its three best months ever on the U.S. market, peaking with 609 sales in December. That surge allowed the e-Golf to edge out the Prius plug-in with 4,232 sales by the end of 2015. In our test of the e-Golf last summer, we found it to be a cooperative electric car for the city. We’re curious to see how the Audi A3 e-tron and other Volkswagen Group EVs do in America in 2016.
7. Fiat 500e
If you live anywhere except the West Coast, you probably have never seen this car. Meet the Fiat 500e, the EV built by the automaker to comply with California mandates about electrifying fleets. People (including our own Derek Sapienza) have good things to say about the 500e’s performance and agility. While you might think a coupe would be a tough sell in this SUV-friendly market, that isn’t the case in California and Oregon, the two markets where this slice of orange is available. In fact, the 6,194 sales posted in 2015 marked a 20% gain over a year earlier.
6. Ford C-Max Energi
If you had only one label to give Ford’s plug-in hybrid Energi line, “consistent” would fit nicely. The C-Max Energi that can cover 19 miles in electric mode had another solid year for the Blue Oval in 2015 with 7,591 sales. While that figure represents a dip from the year prior, consumers still showed enough demand to land it in sixth place. As Ford EV Chief Mike Tinskey noted in his Autos Cheat Sheet interview, the Dearborn-based automaker remains a leader in plug-in hybrid sales. In 2015, the two Energi plug-ins outperformed Chevy Volt on the sales chart.
5. Ford Fusion Energi
Ford Fusion Energi, the more stylish and practical model of the brand’s plug-in hybrids, also held strong in 2015 with 9,750 sales, down 15% from a year before yet good enough to crack the top five on the U.S. market. This model is an interesting test case in that its price ($33,900) is over $11,000 more than a base Fusion yet still sells in a respectable volume. As for Ford’s announced EV plans, we’re curious to see how the updated Focus Electric will do with 100 miles of range when it arrives in 2016.
4. BMW i3
BMW went big with the electric i3 in 2015, showcasing it in a Super Bowl ad early in the year and announcing car-sharing initiatives later in the year. Though it had an up-and-down year on the EV sales charts, the i3 had enough strong months (including one with 1,710 sales) that it comfortably took fourth place from the competition. Its 11,024 sales for the year were a huge improvement over its first year on the U.S. market and likely a sign of good things to come. Along with the Leaf and Model S, this car is one of the few designed to be an EV from the ground up.
3. Chevy Volt
In the first four months of the year, the prognosis for the 2015 Chevy Volt was bad. Consumers weren’t buying it, and there was another six months before the redesigned edition was supposed to debut on the market. Chevy began pushing incentives to move old copies, and the system worked. By the end of the year, the new Green Car of the Year was back near the top of the charts (15,393 sales) though new models were only on sale in 11 states. With 2016 here, consumers can expect the 2017 model in all 50 states by spring and GM can think about serious volume for this plug-in hit.
2. Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf experienced a similar fate as the Chevy Volt. While consumers waited for the rumored new model, sales of the 2014 record-breaker stalled in the U.S. By the time the 2016 edition arrived with an impressive range boost, the Leaf could not make up the lost ground. Compared to 30,200 sales in 2014, Nissan moved just 17,269 in 2015. We expect consumers to show much more demand for the updated Leaf in 2016.
1. Tesla Model S
Tesla set ambitious sales goals for 2015, and by the end of the year it had almost achieved them. As for the performance of the Model S in America, the automaker easily shattered its previous record (17,300 in 2014) with 25,700 models sold. The cherry on top was the record month of 3,600 sales in December. (While these figures are estimates by InsideEVs, we have never seen them off by more than a hundred or so cars.) In 2016, we get to see how Tesla handles the transition to larger production goals and have our first look at the Model 3. Here is where the real fun begins for the electric car industry.