Plug-Ins Account For Less Than Half of 1% of Auto Sales This Year

Barbara Hollingsworth | October 17, 2013 | 4:45pm EDT
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(AP photo)

( –  After the federal government spent billions of dollars on federal tax credits and subsidies to promote all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, they accounted for less than half of one percent of the 11.7 million light vehicles purchased in the U.S. during the last nine months.

In his 2011 “State of the Union” address, President Obama predicted that the U.S. would “become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015,” and backed up his prediction with $2.4 billion in federal grants to companies that produce lithium-ion batteries to power them.

But with 14 months to go, sales of the two top-selling plug-in cars are running far behind the president’s expectations. And despite receiving $99.8 million in stimulus funds, electric charging station manufacturer Ecotality filed for bankruptcy last month.

In April, the Congressional Research Service reported that “there is a gap between the Administration’s goal of having one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and consumer demand for such vehicles.” (See CRS.pdf)

Auto sales figures during the first nine months of 2013 confirm CRS’ conclusion.

According to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) “February 2011 Status Report,” General Motors was supposed to produce and sell 120,000 Chevrolet Volts in 2013 to keep pace with the president’s goal.

(See 1 million_electric_vehicles_rpt.pdf)

However, despite a $7,500 federal tax credit and a price drop in August, GM only managed to sell 16,760 Volts during the first three quarters of this year.

That pace is just barely ahead of the 15,000 Volts DOE predicted would be on the nation’s highways in 2011, and far below the department’s 120.000 goal for 2013 even though the Detroit automaker loses up to $49,000 on each Volt it manufactures.

Nissan was slated to sell 50,000 of its all-electric Leaf cars to environment-conscious consumers in 2013 to reach Obama’s 2015 goal. However, the Japanese automaker sold just 16,076 during the past nine months, even after whacking $6,400 off the price in January.

Toyota sold 117,251 of its popular hybrid Prius sedans, which qualify for a $2,500 federal tax credit because they have electric engines powered by batteries in addition to a four-cylinder backup gasoline engine that kicks in at speeds above 40 mph. But the company unloaded only 7,974 of its plug-in models during the last nine months. The sluggish sales forced Toyota to also slash the base price of its 2014 Prius plug-in by $2,000, a 6 percent decrease.

Meanwhile, Ford’s F-Series pickups remain the nation’s most popular vehicle, with 559,506 sold during the first three quarters of this year, up 20.7 percent over last year. The Volt is # 135 on that list, followed by the Leaf at #137.

The problem with electric vehicles, experts say, is that they cost more to produce – and deliver far less driving range – than those with internal combustion engines.

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