By on June 17, 2016

About the only plug-in action most Prius owners get. Picture courtesy Toyota.

Electrified transportation isn’t catching fire in the new vehicle market, but sales are positively scorching at used car lots.

The top three fastest-selling one- to three-year-old vehicles in the U.S. today aren’t pickups or SUVs, but a low-volume plug-in hybrid and two EVs, according to automotive data and research company

Between January and May of this year, newer used vehicles took an average of 42.4 days to sell, but the Toyota Prius Plug-in slashed that number by more than half, selling in an average of 9.7 days. The Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S took second and third place with 24.3 and 26.1 days, respectively.

Statistics from 2.2 million used car sales went into the study.

So, while buyers aren’t too keen on new electrics, put some miles on the odometer, roll forward the calendar, and those same models suddenly become superstars. What gives?

The answer has a lot to do with buyer’s wallets — after all, the lower price of a used vehicle can be hard to resist — but some of the demand can be chalked up to regional policies. How else can you explain the Prius Plug-in’s selling time shrinking by nearly half since last year?

According to CEO Phong Ly, “The dramatic decrease in days on the market is at least partially due to the fact that 54 percent of these cars were sold in California and the distribution of the stickers that allow plug-in hybrids to be used in California’s HOV carpool lanes with a single occupant has reached its limit, pushing up demand for used cars that already have this privilege.”

The Nissan Leaf’s popularity on the used market can be blamed on good ol’ depreciation. Used Leaf prices dropped $2,219 this year, putting the average price of Nissan’s venerable EV at $12,533. That’s cheap for any newer used vehicle.

With a brand like Tesla, older models possess the same near-mythological status as new ones (and until recently, there were no design changes to distinguish between the two), so why spend more than you need to? The price of used versions of the Model S fell 17 percent between this year and last, giving many buyers a good reason to avoid handing Elon Musk their hard-earned cash.

When it comes to depreciation, electric vehicles are the polar opposite of, say, the Jeep Wrangler. The average price for all models in the EV market fell 15.2 percent in 2016, with plug-in hybrids falling 5.1 percent.

Other models on the top 10 fastest-selling used car list were more conventional. The Hyundai Veloster Turbo ranked fourth, followed by the Infiniti QX60 (5th) and QX56 (6th), Lexus CT 200h (7th), Toyota Highlander Hybrid (8th), Lexus RX 350 (9th) and Mazda2 (10th).

[Image: Toyota Motor Corporation]

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22 Comments on “A Plug-in Hybrid and Two Electrics are America’s Fastest-Selling Used Cars...”

  • avatar

    The PRIUS is a solid “appliance”. I like the bubble design and it’s fairly spacious.

    I’m convincing one of my friends to upgrade to a Prius from her Corolla.

    Yes: I believe in it enough to endorse it.

    She’ll definitely appreciate 50+ MPG.

    Let everyone know that “He’s awesome for pointing out good cars for people “

    • 0 avatar

      You’re exactly right – it’s a great car for people who basically don’t care. What’s your take on the new one vs the 2010-2015 one?

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with BTSR. The world must be ending. Better get in my bunker.

      The Prius is the best appliance on the market for people who just don’t care about cars. Reliable, low-maintenance, well-packaged, super cheap to operate.

      • 0 avatar

        Why do you feel appreciating cars is synonymous with not giving a crap about wasting gas, having cars that lug around capabilities you’ll never use, and proclaiming that you don’t give a rat’s a__ about the health of the planet.

        At the same time you, or people like you, decry Prius owners as sickies showing off their environment disease by flaunting their hybrid, you also say they don’t care about any cars. Maybe how they care about cars is just different from how you do, and I dare say a whole lot more mature.

        • 0 avatar


          Not everyone is a manual-driving red-blooded MAN (of either gender) and don’t feel they have to fulfill a certain image to be an “enthusiast” in order to show their love of cars.

          A Prius is still a car. I’d drive one in a heartbeat, maybe not as my ONLY car though, but it fulfills 80% of driving needs at least.

  • avatar

    How many Prius Plug-ins are there? I’ve only seen one or two, ever. Plenty of Leafs, though. How many Leaf owners are upside-down? I’d bet a lot are.

    • 0 avatar

      in the beginning nissan was *heavily* subsidizing the leases so you could drive one new for like $200/mo with very little down.

      with a deal like that it makes sense not to buy

    • 0 avatar

      I’m upside down for sure – took the 6 years of 0% interest. Because duh. Purchase price was right at $24k, so it’s massively underwater when you look at what low mile used 2015s are going for.

      HOWEVER – I got almost exactly half the purchase price back from state and federal rebates when I did my taxes this spring. I could use the rebate to pay down / refinance the loan but once again – it’s at 0% for 72 months.

      I do think there are probably a lot of 2011 – 2013 Leaf owners who paid much closer to sticker and are pretty hosed.

      • 0 avatar

        You are only upside down because you took the tax credit money and ran. If you had instead said he this car kept $12k in my pocket and then paid that on your loan then you wouldn’t be upside down. Of course the “smart” thing to do when you have 0% interest is to invest that 12k which you can almost certainly earn more than 0%.

  • avatar

    i take the carpool lane to and from work every day on my yamaha TMax. no stickers needed.

  • avatar

    It’s useful here not to misinterpret the somewhat misleading term “fastest-selling.” Literally “fastest,” yes. “Best-selling,” no, not whatsoever, not close.

    The measurement of days on the lot is simply a ratio between supply and demand. Each individual example of these cars sells quickly used because there’s SOME demand and hardly any supply.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My 12 Leaf was listed on a used car lot for $9k, and probably went for $8k. Pretty good deal for a 3-year-old car.

    The buyout at the end of my lease contract was originally $18k, and Nissan proactively reduced that by $5k to $13k. I walked away.

    I have to wonder how much homework used car buyers are doing on EVs. Mine never got its 73-mile range claim, and it could go maybe 60 miles (on a good day) after 3 years. YMMV – a lot.

    • 0 avatar

      I wouldn’t go near an early Leaf. They made a huge number of improvements in the 14/15/16 versions that I wouldn’t do without. For me, “B” mode regeneration is something I wouldn’t do without. I’ve really mastered it and can get some pretty crazy range out of the car. In 31k miles, my lifetime average is about 4.4 kWh per mile.

      As battery technology progresses, we could see some of these old Leafs revived. If battery density keeps going up and prices keep going down, we could see a resurgence in these cars value with the help of third party or Nissan battery swaps.

      • 0 avatar

        my lifetime average is about 4.4 kWh per mile.

        I hope you mean 4.4 miles per kwh.Otherwise try releasing the parking brake :-)

        4.4m/kwh is good – I typically get ~4m/kwh in my Volt in summer and much lower in winter months

    • 0 avatar
      healthy skeptic

      I have a buddy with a first-year Leaf. He experienced battery degradation similar to yours, and I think they bought rather than lease. They’ve probably lost a bundle on the car.

      His wife uses it for a 40-mile commute, and I guess it’s a white-knuckle adventure sometimes in terms of range anxiety.

      If the Leaf had lived up to its original promise of ~100 miles of range, I think it would have fared much better both in sales and residual value. It had the potential to be a great short commute and around-town car, but 60 miles is just too darn short.

      • 0 avatar

        I manage 100 mile round trips without a problem – provided I charge at or near my destination. Never had a white knuckle experience – charging stations are plentiful where I live. Yesterday, I made the 50 mile trip home and had 49 miles range left according to the range meter – with the climate control blasting most of the trip.

        Nissan seems to have reduced the degradation of the battery- at least in whatever battery I have in my car. At 31k miles on the clock, I still get 100% health from LeafSpy and the guess-o-meter is happily proclaiming 106 miles range when I checked this morning. I’ve really beat the crap out of it with well over 100 quick charges and I think the last time I saw the charge count for Level 2, it was well over 1000.

        At some point, I’m hoping to whore it out to some of the battery researchers in my area. I’m trying to talk my way into a prototype battery that I can beat the crap out of.

    • 0 avatar

      If I bought a Leaf, it would be strictly as a park-and-ride commuter and errand runner. If I could get 40 reliable miles out of it, I wouldn’t need any more. Maybe I need to buy one with a degraded battery at a ludicrously low price.

  • avatar

    Is the EV depreciation rate based on the sticker price or net of tax breaks?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Using my example above, assuming my old car sold for $8k used, the depreciation was:

      79% based upon MSRP,
      70% after tax rebates.

      I call it 75%, but either way it’s a lot for a 3 year old car.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    While I’m sure HOV stickers play a large part in this phenomenon, there’s another takeaway here: consumers are receptive to EVs, but consider the current crop of new ones to be overpriced.

    I’m an EV enthusiast, and I consider current EVs overpriced compared to their ICE cousins in the same market segment. The only exception is Teslas, but they’re in an expensive segment to begin with.

    So if manufacturers can bring the price of new EVs down further, sales might finally start to climb quickly. But the interest is there.

  • avatar

    The Chevy Avalanche is a hot used car for the same reason the Prius Plug-In is.

    You can’t buy either of them new anymore.

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