Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Electric Car Sales Triple Prius's First Year But Dangerous Attacks Repeated

As Yogi Berra would say, it is "Deja Vu all over again," when it comes to the reception from certain ideological quarters for electric vehicles and the national effort needed to end US reliance on foreign oil.  The same voices that pummeled the Prius in 2000 are pummeling the Volt and Leaf, while attacking the Pickens plan for CNG vehicles that is dead in the US House of Representatives. They do so even as gasoline prices averaged a record high during 2011 (see the prior posting).

These repetitive attacks on real options to lessen our foreign oil dependence pose two questions: how do the introduction and sales of the Volt and Leaf in 2011 compare to the arrival of the Prius and Honda Insight in 2000? And how dangerous to America are the attacks on moving from oil to electric vehicles, natural gas vehicles, and biofuels?

First year sales in 2000 of the Prius and Honda Insight were 9,350, with the Prius accounting for just 5,000. Since then the Prius has sold more than 1 million, becoming a top ten seller, and 2 million hybrids of all types have been sold, with annual sales in the 250,000 to 350,000 range.

The arrival of the Prius also triggered attacks from right wing pundits like Holman Jenkins at the Wall Street Journal who scorned the economics of owning a Prius, confidently saying that the car needed $2.75 or $3.00 gasoline to make economic sense.  Putting aside that car ownership for some drivers is not driven just by "economic sense," by 2007 and 2008 fuel costs had hit levels that made operating a Prius a bargain, so much so that used Prius's sometimes sold for more than new ones.  That's a lot of economic sense.

Fast forward to 2011, when the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf became the first electric cars on sale in the US.  Again Holman Jenkins and his ideological brethren are in ill-humor about the arrival of a technological jump. But what were the 2011 sale numbers for the Volt and Leaf?

A total of 17,345 Volts and Leafs sold or nearly double the first year sale figures for the 2000 gas-hybrid vehicles and more than triple the number of Prius sales. See postings at http://blog.rmi.org/why_so_many_critics_after_17000_ev_sales_in_first_year.  Fuel costs for electric vehicles are about 3 cents per mile, while fuel costs for most gasoline vehicles range between 12 to 20 cents per mile.

Though foreign oil imports have declined appreciably for the first time since the Johnson Administration, this nation still has its economic security threatened by almost total reliance on oil for transportation and the foreign sourcing of still nearly half our oil.  Do the critics of biofuels, CNG vehicles and Electric Vehicles not see that the 5th Fleet this very minute is in a staredown contest with Iran over oil shipment through the Strait of Hormuz?  Iran is wielding the oil weapon right now. Hello!

The ever present geopolitical risk to oil plus mushrooming Chinese and Indian oil demand meant that the price of oil hit record levels for a full year in 2011.  High oil prices nearly tipped this nation back into recession in the spring of 2011 and would have done so, but for the low-price of natural gas that prevented a broad energy shock.

No matter what the price of oil or ayatollahs do, attacks on moving to alternative forms of powering vehicles litter Congress and the media. It is stunning how dangerous to the immediate and long-term future of the America are attacks on natural gas vehicles, biofuels or electric vehicles.  These attacks are a product mainly of thought-free ideology and a true commitment to Deja Vu All Over Again.


  1. Thanks for the fresh statistics and putting the sales figures into perspective. I imagine that the adoption curve of electric vehicles will differ from that typical for other vehicles, as adoption will accelerate not only as more people get the vehicles and share their experiences, but also as infrastructure grows to keep pace with the EVs. 2012 and 2013 will be interesting years, to say the least.

  2. Sales of these vehicles are affected by a variety of reasons, some economic and others personal. There are people who choose to drive electric cars to save money from high oil prices, and there are also some who do it as a personal commitment to help the environment. The reasons vary from person to person.

  3. When the Chevy Volt & the Nissan Leaf became the first electric cars on sale in the US.

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  4. This is great. I learned how to convert my gasoline vehicle to CNG (and still runs on gasoline, too) on www.skycng.com. They have a lot of information and can even provide CNG conversion kits. I don't sweat over gasoline price fluctuations anymore! Conversion is very affordable and pays for itself in just a few months.