It’s been nearly four full years since the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF first went on sale, and last year they sold about 23,000 and 22,600 units, respectively. That’s enough sales to make them America’s most popular plug-in cars, though the upcoming 2016 Chevy Volt could help double sales of the plug-in hybrid, if history is any indicator.
Over at Green Car Reports, John Voelcker lays out his prediction for the big jump in Volt sales, and it all goes back to the year 2000. That’s when the Toyota Prius was first introduced to the U.S. market, and like the Leaf and Volt, sales took awhile to gain momentum. Sales hovered around 25,000 units until the 2004 model hit dealerships; that’s when sales promptly doubled, and the cult of the Prius began to take shape.
But why? Well for one, the Prius increased in size, and thus usefulness, going from a compact to a mid-size liftback model with the 2004 changeover. Toyota also upped the fuel economy and lowered the drag coefficient, making the Prius the most efficient car you could buy by a wide margin just as gas prices spiked upwards. California drove Prius sales, and eventually the rest of the country caught on, rocketing Toyota’s hybrid into the national lexicon.
These improvements all stemmed from listening to customer suggestions, which is exactly what GM is doing with the 2016 Chevy Volt. The next-gen Nissan LEAF is also due to debut next year with customer-suggested improvements, including a larger battery pack option, which could throw the doors wide open to the market of plug-in cars. The Volt may benefit more from its refresh than the LEAF because it has more in common with conventional cars, but with more than a quarter-million plug-in cars on America’s roads, we may have already reached the tipping point for an electrified future.
Plug-in car sales are actually accelerating at a rate faster than hybrids, and the 2016 Volt could end up moving 50,000 units or more during its first year on sale. Meanwhile sales of the Prius have been hit hard, as buyers either wait for the debut of the next-gen 60 MPG Prius, or buy one of the many competitive vehicles now offered for sale.
2010 was the year where plug-in cars made a triumphant return to the automotive world. Is 2015 the year they go mainstream?