Op-Ed: 2015 Plug In Sales Predictions For America
Now that NAIAS has ended (here is the recap), we now know what plug-ins will be available in the US for 2015. The biggest news for 2015 was the much anticipated Volt 2016 (2.0) release. We got some glimpses of future plug-ins, but no surprise 2015 US releases.
I am going to take a look at the sales drivers (up and down) for each model that I feel measures EV demand. This means I am going to skip all of the obvious compliance cars. I will touch on a few of the lower volume, high end plug-ins as these have nationwide availability and can point us to interest in those market segments.
There are a few key factors to sales that effect the entire segment: One is the (up to) $7500 federal tax credit. This is good for all automakers up to 200k sales of plug-ins. Nobody is close yet, GM and Nissan are in the 70s. In a couple years we may be talking about how the early guys might get burned by this, but for now nobody should be concerned if the credit will run out before they buy their plug-in. *This is a tax thing, so check with an accountant to make sure you can get the whole credit on your specific vehicle purchase…don’t trust the sales guy on it. Most lease deals roll the credit in, so if you don’t qualify look into this option.
Another factor that is all over the news is gas prices. I already covered it in another piece, so you can read up on that in this article. Here is the “cliff notes” version: it might affect some plug-ins, but not nearly as bad as it does “regular” hybrids. Low gas prices don’t last forever, but many car buyers have poor long term memory. It probably won’t have much of an effect on people familiar with plug-ins, but it may slow the education process with the un-initiated.
Finally, one of the biggest factors- return customers.
Plug-ins have been purchased on lease at a much higher rate than normal car transactions over the last four years. Two factors are directly related: it is a new technology and the tax credit can be rolled into a lease at the time of the transaction to offer attractive monthly payments. The most common lease term is 36 months. If you rewind to 2012, 52k plug-ins were sold, tripling 2011. Almost 45k of that was Volt, LEAF, and PiP.
There may be as many as 30k leases coming to an end this year. The satisfaction ratings on plug-ins dwarf the rest of the auto industry. Expect almost all of those buyers to be back into another plug-in. As usual, I offer my opinions as starting point for the discussion. Please weigh in below in the comments and help us form a community consensus on 2015 sales.
*Disclosure – Since this piece is talking about future sales of EVs including Tesla, I will let everyone know that I do own a small amount of TSLA shares. This in no way effects my opinion of Tesla or the other automakers. The stocks were more of “support for the cause” purchase. Additionally, this is not a financial site and nobody should be using anything I write to guide investment decisions.
Nissan (LEAF 32k)
First up is our sales king for 2014 Nissan LEAF. Nissan will have no new plug-ins available in 2015 and not really any significant revision to the LEAF. They have been perfecting their LEAF marketing machine and benefited from the ever growing CHAdeMO infrastructure.
There are limited official comments out from Carlos Ghosn about LEAF 2.0 having “double” the range available (this maybe an optional larger pack for more $,$$$). But things are far enough into the future, I don’t expect it to limit Nissan’s ability to move (especially lease) current LEAFs which have received several revisions including packages (S model), features (leather, key fob, etc.), and most importantly the new “lizard” (heat tolerant) battery.
Last year Nissan cracked the 30k sales barrier for the first time in any country. This is significant to me as I predicted GM would sell exactly 30k of the Volt in 2013, not expecting them to seemingly lose interest in it. Nissan has succeed where GM failed.
LEAF hit some real headwinds early, but Nissan is determined to be the premier OEM in the economy EV market. They seem determined to oust Toyota as the “Green Vehicle Company from Japan”. Even without any significant new catalyst, I expect Nissan to continue their march with LEAF. I see 32,000 sales in 2015. They will also claim the first to 100k sales in the US.
GM (Volt 30k, ELR 1k)
It is all about Volt 2.0. GM will do what they have to do sweep the limited 2015s they built off the lot, but the real excitement will start late summer.
This year will really depend on how many 2016 Volts they build and if they really try to sell them. I will measure GM’s commitment to selling the Volt on MSRP and marketing.
We got all the juicy tech and design details at NAIAS, but they cleverly left off the price (even though they gave one for the Bolt). If it has an MSRP starting with a number greater than 2, then they really aren’t serious about attacking the Prius.
I am going to stick my neck out and say GM is really serious this time. We could see some crazy record monthly numbers the second half of this year. I am going to say 30k for the year (repeating my 2013 prediction) and 5k+ in a single month!
With the meaningful inventory and MSRP, this thing will sell itself (despite salesmen distain). Marketing will just be gravy. Oh, GM also sells the really overpriced (and beautiful) ELR. They will sell a few of them, but not meaningful enough to discuss. Lets call it 1k.
Ford (Fusion Energi 8k, C-Max Energi 6k, FFE 1.5k)
Did anyone notice that Ford was the #2 seller of plug-in vehicles?
Yeah thats right, Tesla isn’t #1 (Nissan is), GM isn’t #2 (Ford owns that). They have their own quiet formula to plug-in sales, which is their Energi option. They just have a plug-in option on two of their high volume vehicles.
This was financed by a huge low interest loan ($5+ billion) under the same program that financed the Model S production equipment. Ford cleverly modified several of their production facilities to produce alternate versions (plug-ins) of their regular cars. This has allowed them to price the plug-in versions at reasonable prices. The strategy is working, they sold 20k Energi models last year.
Unfortunately we aren’t getting any new Energi models this year. I was really hoping to see an Escape or Explorer Energi this year.
Fuel prices will also work against Ford’s Energi strategy this year. I see them slipping a little with 8k Fusion Energi sales, and 6k C-max Energi sales. Oh, Ford also sells an all electric version of the Focus (FFE) that is pretty much like a good looking version of the LEAF that nobody knows about. If you hassle your local Ford dealer, you might be able to get them to special order one. Ford might sell another 1.5k of those this year.
Tesla (Model S 26k, Model X 6k)
Now to the darling (or prima donna) of the industry. Tesla is by far #1 in media coverage in the plug-in world. They are the most polarizing company in the industry, often compared as the “Apple of the auto industry”.
I think this may be more attributed to TSLA stock prices than actual auto reality. Tesla and TSLA are really two different animals. There is no doubt though, the current plug-in industry would not be where it is without Tesla.
Most people have forgotten (or never knew about) the Roadster that kick started the current generation of EVs we see on the streets today. I look at plug-ins as a sub-brand of the entire auto industry. In that sense, Tesla is the halo vehicle. Love or hate the company, few people would turn away a Model S for free. It is clearly the most advanced plug-in vehicle. Oh yeah, the price, its basically a $100k car. There are cheaper versions, but the average selling price hovers right around the six figure mark.
Despite the sticker shock, Model S managed to be the 3rd best selling plug-in vehicle model for the second straight year.
Tesla has also refreshed the options on Model S, adding a dual motor all-wheel-drive, “AutoPilot”, better seating, and some new software gizmos. Tesla also claims to have doubled production capacity to 1200 vehicles (worldwide) per week. I will put their US sales at 26k.
Tesla is also (finally) delivering Model X (two years late). Despite the delays, it should be an awesome vehicle, touted to have 911 performance with Odyssey utility. It is the anti-minivan for soccer moms: fast, sexy, but also full of space. I am guessing it will get released just in time for the 2016 Motor Trend picks. It will probably pick up some hardware before the year is out. Production is sold out for this year. That really means, it will get released so late this year there is no way to deliver the ~20k (worldwide) that are pre-reserved.
Tesla is still a small company, so it makes sense for them to only sell the Model X in the US to start with. It allows them to work out the kinks before delivering to their less experienced services markets. I am guessing they get 6k out the door before the next New Years bash.
Toyota (PiP 10k)
I was conflicted about even including Toyota this year. Despite significant sales of the PiP it is still only available in CARB markets. It really shows they have no intent of the plug-in version cutting into the significant margins they enjoy with the regular Pruis family.
Toyota deserves their success with the Prius, but they also deserve the demise if they don’t see the writing on the wall. Toyota will sell every PiP they care to build.
Prius has a massive following, so PiP has an incredible sales potential. If Toyota employed a strategy like Ford, PIP sales should be in the 40k – 50k per year range. Instead we should expect about 10k sales in 2015, as this is all they need for CARB complaince. Toyota’s Rav4 EV program ended this year. This is no surprise as it was a 2600 vehicle contract that both Tesla and Toyota honored faithfully. That satisfied Toyota’s ZEV Credit appetite in the near term. The next phase of their CARB compliance strategy is to demo their fuel cell tech in the Miria. Don’t expect any other BEVs from Toyota until after the next ZEV credit ramp in 2018.
BMW (i3 10k, i8 2k, X5 plug-in 1k)
Congrats to the newcomer of the year. Even though BWM ends 2014 as the #5 manufacturer of plug-ins, they hit the market strong this year.
BMW seems serious about being a plug-in brand. Some people have criticisms of the i3 (few have criticisms of the i8), but BMW seems to be standing behind it. This is clearly not a compliance vehicle play.
BMW really differentiated themselves by offering the REx version as an option on the i3. This is by far the most interesting portion of the BMW design.
In addition to the two plug-ins in 2014, they may be the first to the US market with a plug-in SUV with the X5 plug-in for 2015. It doesn’t seem to end there as they have plans for a 3-series plug-in. BMW worked hard on their marketing and education of the i3 in 2014, even offering 3 day trials, to help people understand its awesomeness.
Their pricing (especially leasing deals) have evolved since the initial release. This jumped the sales from the initial 300s a month to touching ~1,000 a month.
With no new features and a the new Volt on the streets to compete with the REx version, I will pin the 2015 sales at 10k. i8 is another story. It seems to continue to climb in interest as production increases. At $150k per car, it has a limited a market, but even BMW has to be surprised by its appeal. BWM will embarrass a few compliance OEMs by selling 2k of these in 2015. The X5-plug in will be the wild card for BMW. Since we don’t know what the availability and pricing will be, I will guess 1k sales for 2015.
Daimler/Mercedes/Smart (Smart EV 2.5k, B Class EV 4k)
They are in a weird category of non-compliance but relatively low volume. Despite the limited offerings, the company made strong moves to improve sales on both vehicle fronts, Smart and B Class. They ended the year at ~300 a month on both vehicles.
It is also important to note Smart EV sales run ~30% of all Smart sales. They might be building something there. There is also promise to extend B Class availability nationwide in 2015. I will give them 2.5k Smart and 4k B class sales in 2015.
Porsche (Panamera S E-Hybrid 500, Cayennee S E-Hybrid 2.5k)
Here is our high price low volume, but not really a compliance car EV company.
I think Porsche is intrigued by plug-ins, even if they were given a nudge by Tesla. They also have strong incentive to develop the technology for EU compliance.
The Panamera S E-Hybrid seems to hold its own with ~10% of sales. Since people aren’t buying $100k cars to save gas money, it means smooth, quiet EV drive is desirable.
The Cayennee S E-Hybrid just hit the market at the end of the year. Cayenne volumes are 10x Panamera volumes, so 2015 will be interesting to follow. I am going to predict 500 Panamera SE sales and 2.5k Cheyenne SE sales.
Mitsubishi (iMiev 1k, Outlander PHEV 20,000^0 = 1)
Despite being the first to worldwide market with the iMiev, Mitsubishi has not found much of a market in the US. Mitsubishi has faded as a US brand since its 1990s heydays with the 3000 GT, Eclipse, small trucks and early 2000s success with the Lancer (especially EVOs).
The Outlander is the only vehicle remaining that garners meaningful sales. Ironically Mitsubishi developed a worldwide hit in the PHEV version of the Outlander. Despite teasing the US with many announcements and concepts, they have withheld sales in the “SUV nation”.
This should end this year. I am going to predict iMieV sales at 1k, if they ship some inventory here. They don’t make money on them or ship inventory so there isn’t much hope. The biggest thing going against iMieV, is it shares battery cells with the runaway hit, Outlander PHEV.
As for Outlander PHEV sales, I am predicting…1. That’s right not 10k, not 1k, 1, the integer just above zero. The last update we had was “Late 2015”. It will be real easy for that to be 1 token press release delivery at Christmas and real deliveries in 2016.
VW (eGolf 2k)
This is the 2015 wild card.
Golf just won car of the year, with press including eGolf. Will the eGolf have nationwide availability? Are they going to go after Nissan, or just be satisfied to build some CARB credits?
I am guessing the latter and will keep them down at 2k sales.
I will include a long list of vehicles here including new models that will hit at some point this year and all the compliance vehicles.
The incomplete list is: Audi A3 e-Tron, Merc c350 plug-in, Merc s500 plug-in, Hyundai Sonata PHV, Audi Q7 diesel PHV, R8 e-tron, Kia Optima PHV, Volvo xc90, Cadillac CT6 Plug-In, Chevy Spark EV, Kia Soul EV, Honda Accord PHEV, and Fiat 500e.
Since the rollout of new plug-ins has been notoriously both delayed and limited regionally, I will keep this category at a conservative 15,000 for the year.
Total Market (150k)
That is enough for the vehicle-by-vehicle discussion, time to take a shot as the segment as a whole. Sales jumped from 97k to 123k over the last year.
The industry is entering its first renewal phase combined with the late year entry of Volt 2.0 and new Tesla offerings. I will put the total sales target at 150k for 2015. That is 22-25% growth on a solid base of sales. It will put total sales firmly over the “1% of the auto market” category. In other words, more than 1 in every 100 new vehicles you see on the road will have a plug. This is solid, steady growth, leading up to the explosion that seems to be forming in the 2017/2018 timeframe.
Now fire away with your own predictions in the comments below!