By on May 22, 2017

2017 Bolt

If the automotive market were a foot, electric vehicles would be the curled-up toe on the outside edge. It doesn’t take up a lot of space, you’re not entirely sure what it’s there for, and some people think it’s weird. Still, it clearly has a purpose to serve and it’s hard to imagine the foot without it. There’s potential in that digit.

Strong Chevrolet Bolt deliveries in California pushed up the state’s EV sales by 91 percent in the first quarter of this year. It may still account for only 2.7 percent of the Golden State’s new vehicles, but it’s still more than many of us expected to see this soon. Sales of the more-affordable, longer-ranged EV seem to suggest the market might begin to gobble up plug-ins as more affordable models with superior range continue to arrive. 

“If they can actually deliver, that will be the best opportunity to draw in new buyers.” Kelley Blue Book analyst Rebecca Lindblad told the Los Angeles Times.

General Motors is already cleaning up on the West Coast. Of the 13,804 pure electrics sold in California last quarter, 2,735 were Bolts. However, Chevy is just the tip of the iceberg. Tesla, which currently only sells the pricier Model S and X, is readying its $35,000 Model 3 for end-of-year deliveries while Nissan is prepping the next-generation Leaf (with a competitive 200-mile range) for a fall debut. But things aren’t happening as quickly as California regulators would like.

With 15 percent of all Californian cars sales required to be zero-emission vehicles by 2025, all of the upcoming EVs will need to be hits. “We’re a long way from getting anywhere close,” Lindblad said.

California is also the exception, not the rule, for electric vehicle sales. While EVs are much more popular there than in the other 49 states, it’s still only a sliver of the overall market. Still, the California market reflects a consumer trend seen throughout the United States. Pure EVs are gaining in popularity while hybrids are losing ground. Regular hybrids were down 9.2 percent while plug-in hybrids were up a whopping 54 percent.

Toyota’s Prius is a perfect example. Sales of the Prius have taken a severe beating in 2017, with the plug-in Prime variant the only model to have made any positive headway. Obviously, its updated styling hasn’t helped its appeal, though annual sales have been shrinking by a considerable margin every year since 2014.

Are former hybrid owners migrating to BEVs and PHEVs, or are they making their way back to more efficient traditional powertrains while new customers go for the plug-ins? It’s a question automakers would like to know the answer to. Certainly, Toyota is considering changes to its one-time green leader as the market continues to shift.

[Image: General Motors]

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27 Comments on “EV Sales Surge in California after Chevrolet Bolt Introduction; Hybrids Take a Dive...”


  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    For families with two or more cars, EVs are starting to make a lot of sense. When the actual transaction prices start to dip into the sub $30k range, I predict that BEV sales will exponentially take off. Same goes for solar cells which are on the verge of being cost competitive with grid power. Combine the two and you can roll down the window and extend the appropriate finger when you pass you local gas station. We’re not there yet, but I can see the end zone!

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Reminder: There are now a total of 11 states that follow the CARB regulation, requiring a high annual percentage of ZEV sales by 2025.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    California has a track record of zooming initial sales for a new vehicle. The state is loaded with people who just have to have the first one on their block. Monitor the sales after they become common.

    • 0 avatar
      TheDoctorIsOut

      “Sales of the Prius have taken a severe beating in 2017, with the plug-in Prime variant the only model to have made any positive headway. Obviously, its updated styling hasn’t helped its appeal, though annual sales have been shrinking by a considerable margin every year since 2014.”

      I think that’s already happened.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    By and large, EV ownership is limited to people who own homes with garages. Yes, there are ways to operate an EV without home charging, but you’d have to be very dedicated.

    I keep reading how home ownership is on the decline. At some point, there will need to be a massive infrastructure increase in away-from-home charging in order to make sales of EV an option for a broader range of the population.

    • 0 avatar
      Joss

      +1 There need to be incentives for landlords of mult-dwelling residences to get charging stations installed.

      Further down the road when charging becomes faster and more time efficient, a utility should do a partnership with a coffee chain. Pull in for a caffeine and be charged-up in more ways than one. Goodbye esso & Shell.

      When the market can bring a 20K EV with combustion range. That will be the turning point. Who wants a thousand engine parts when an electrics 18 will do?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @eggdsalad: “By and large, EV ownership is limited to people who own homes with garages”

      Why do you think you need a garage? An outdoor outlet is all you need. EVSE’s can be installed outside if you want. You absolutely do not need a garage.

      • 0 avatar
        eggsalad

        Okay, homes with off-street parking.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          I’ll agree with you there. That’s why we need the new high-speed charging systems like Porsche’s 800v system on the Mission E. I think it will put in 250 miles of range in less than 15 minutes. Then you’re getting closer to gas station times. I think they’ve got to get closer to the gas station model for widespread acceptance. They’re getting there, but I think we’re more than 5 years away.

  • avatar
    zip89123

    It must be businesses buying them. Electricity is so prohibitively expensive in CA I don’t see how anyone could consider an electric car unless it’s a golf cart.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      People buy them because of the awesome instant torque and the smoothness. Test drive an EV like the Bolt, then try a turbo 4 with a CVT. I suspect most people buy them because of the smoothness and instant torque. That’s what really hooked me. Every other EV driver I’ve talked to pretty much says the same thing. The auto companies and the government push the green aspects and low cost of operation, but it’s the driving experience that really makes the sale. Just try a Bolt or a Tesla and you’ll see what I mean.

      • 0 avatar
        TheDoctorIsOut

        Many buy them because they are given the equivalent of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket by allowing solo rider access to the HOV lanes saving 15 minutes or more on overcrowded freeway commutes.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatic

      Bolt is estimated to go 4.8 miles per kw/hr. So if your cost is 18.86 cents per kw/hr (California residential rate, though you can get a lower rate for car charging) the fuel cost per mile is 3.93 cents per mile. Average regular gasoline cost in CA was 3.094 last week so to have the same fuel cost per mile you need to get 78.7 mpg.

      I’m no fan of electric cars but fuel cost is low. I know fuel tax, well CA average rate of State, local and federal tax is 53.34 cents per gallon. Taking this out of the picture means the gasoline car needs to get 65.1 mpg. So depending on your daily driving and use electric cars can make sense.

    • 0 avatar
      Blue-S

      I’m in SoCal and I leased a Bolt in March. My wife uses it on her 66-mile round-trip daily commute. She loves that little car! We are averaging 4 miles per kWh, so at my residential electric rate of $0.16 per kWh her energy cost is less than $2.75 for the round trip. As a ZEV driver, she can use the tolled express lanes for free and drive solo in the carpool lane, saving quite a bit of time and stress on her commute. The kicker: The lease payment of $352/month is less than we had been paying for gas and tolls on her prior commuter, a 2008 Grand Caravan that we own outright!

  • avatar
    stingray65

    The problem with new generation green vehicles is that they tend to attract buyers of already green vehicles. The most popular trade-in for the Volt and Leaf has been the Prius, so the environmental impact is far smaller than it would be if Ford F-350s were the most popular trade-in. It will also be interesting to see how lease rates work out on new models such as the Bolt, because they will certainly hurt the residual values on “old generation” EVs such as the Leaf, i3, 500e, etc. that have short ranges. If predicted residuals take a dive on used EVs, then it will be very risky to assume higher residuals on the newer models in a used car market that is already very concerned about residuals on the mountain of leases about to expire.

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      They also attract technophiles who always want the latest and greatest which means the secondary resale market is tiny; this is another factor driving the low residuals.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        If the used price drops far enough, people who aren’t already in the church of green motoring will buy the car. Today I was at the tire shop and the guy asked a working-class immigrant female “still got the Tahoe?” No, she said, pointing at an ancient first-gen Prius with peeling clear-coat, “I drive this Toyota now.”

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “The problem with new generation green vehicles is that they tend to attract buyers of already green vehicles.”

      What was fun when shopping for my used Volt was pulling up in my ’04 GMC Sierra HD PU Crew Cab 4X4 gasser. The sales person that would approach me always had that WTF look an their face. Your shopping for a Volt???

      Once you drive electric with its effortless torque & silky smooth silent operation, you’ll never want to go back to an ICE vehicle.

  • avatar
    abayaa

    Or maybe ev’s are getting more popular because in places like ontario, canada full evs are subsidized with 14k off from the government, while hybrids get 0. Im assuming theres similar perks in cali. I can guarantee you if it was the other way around you would have ~0 ev sales minus a few hippies. Follow the $ with ev cars and its probably not such a sensational story afterall.

  • avatar
    carguy67

    “… Obviously, its updated styling hasn’t helped its appeal …”

    You mean making a hideous car even uglier didn’t help sales? I’m shocked.

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    There was a vocal contingent here in the past that suggested Hybrids would be the market winner over BEVs, because they were more practical than a range-anxiety inducing all-electric vehicle.

    Others, like myself, argues that wasn’t likely, because a hybrid was the worst of both worlds – all the complexities of an ICE powertrain AND all the bits of a BEV powertrain in one.

    It appears the market is agreeing with the latter presumption.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Hybrids alleviate range anxiety.

      “For families with two or more cars, EVs are starting to make a lot of sense.” wrote Felix Hoenikker.

      And that’s right on the money.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      The Volt is probably the best solution for your average Joe, but it’s not so much a hybrid as an extended range EV. An honest to God 100% electric car for typical-commute mileage, automatically switching to an unlimited -range hybrid (assuming gas stations exist) for road trips or if you forget to charge. No BS 50% power in electric mode like a Ford Energi. No BS 30% power under heavy load in gas mode and constant 2-gallon gas tank refilling like a BMW i3 REx. No chance of running out of juice without a D.C. fast charge station in sight like any pure EV. It’s complex, yes, but it’s also Corolla-reliable so who cares. It’s pulling around the dead weight of an ICE drivetrain most of the time, yes, but its efficiency nonetheless rivals many pure EVs, so who cares. And it gets another nose under the EV tent.

      • 0 avatar
        Carlson Fan

        The Volt is exactly what GM said it would be, an extended range EV. Love my Gen 1 and the only way you’d talk me out of it and into something else is with the substantially improved Gen 2.

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