March 2017 Plug-In Electric Vehicle Sales Report Card
March EV sales in America sang a familiar tune last month, namely an 18th consecutive month* of gains.
And with all the numbers now in, something very unique happened this month, as the US plug-in market crossed the 18,000 mark in sales for just the 2nd time. But even more significantly, it did it during a time of the year not traditionally known as being strong for EV adoption.
In total, an estimated 18,107 sales were logged in March, which was a 30.7% gain over some fairly steep comps a year ago (13,857).
For the year, some 40,729 plug-ins have been sold through the first quarter, which is 46% more then Q1 of 2016, good for a 46.3% gain.
See full model-by-model breakdown for 2017 on the graphic below.
Unsurprisingly, with the end of the quarter upon us, Tesla lead the sales rush in March with its Model S and Model X…as the company once again prioritized US deliveries to the back-end of Q1, as it surpassed global sales expectations for Q1, noting more than 25,000 sales in the first three months of 2017.
However, the duo of the Chevrolet Volt and Chevy Bolt (which continued its rollout in March into New York and New Jersey) currently sit at very similar sales levels as the 2 popular Tesla models.
Also of interest, the Nissan LEAF somehow has pulled of a resurgence of sales, posting its 6th consecutive monthly gain by selling near 1,500 copies in March…and this despite the announcement of a new model to debut in September.
But the real “dark horse” standout was the Ford Focus, which after selling within ~100 copies of the 150 units mark for 56 of the past 57 months, sold a very uncharacteristic 407 copies!
Questions for March (with answers in brackets as they come in):
- Can the Chevrolet Volt hang on to the top sales spot for 2017 to date? (no, strong Model S sales see the Tesla in the lead by about ~500 units)
- Who will win the battle of the “new major offerings” in February – the Chevrolet Bolt EV, or the Toyota Prius Prime? (the Prime running away)
- Can BMW finally fix (or at least standardize) the 19-month string of bipolar i3 sales? i3
Also of note: the fuel cell Toyota Mirai sold 118 copies in March, bringing the 2017 YTD total up to 311
Last update: Thursday, April 13th, 2017 7:42 AM
*On year of monthly sales improvements: We know someone is going to look at the chart and say, “hey, only ~11,467 sales were made in May of 2016, when 11,540 were logged in 2015! What gives InsideEVs?” What gives is – through an odd scheduling quirk, only 24 selling days were reported in May 2016 (versus 26 in 2015)
Below Chart: A individual run-down of each vehicle’s monthly result and some analysis behind the numbers. (Previous year’s monthly results can be found on our fixed Scorecard page here)
Individual Plug-In Model Sales Recap For Major Models:
(limited to vehicles with ~500 sales/or potential for 500 sales in a given month)
Someone forgot to tell General Motors that the first three months of a new year are awful months to try and sell electric vehicles in.
As for the Volt, it set the record for “most plug-ins sold for January” ever, moving 1,611 copies, then followed that up by selling 1,830 cars in February – a personal record, then 2,132 in March.
Those sales have allowed the Volt to stay in the #2 spot for plug-in sales in the US, and represents a 39.5% gain over a year ago.
Despite the strong sales, GM has been waging a war against inventory levels – a situation that caused GM to shutter its Hamtramck, Michigan facility for three weeks earlier this year.
Fortunately, things have begun to normalize on the inventory front; after hitting a near-record ~6,000 copies held in average in December by our reckoning, that number fell in both January and February, and averaged about 4,500 cars in March – which is right about the “sweet spot” for heading into Spring, and traditional/higher sales levels.
For 2016, 24,739 Volts were sold vs 15,393 last year, a gain of 61%, passing the Volt’s previous all-time record for most sales in a year from 2012, when 23,464 were sold.
Chevrolet Bolt EV:
GM’s first long range offering completed its first full month on the US market in January, selling an impressive 1,162 copies in California and Oregon (the two states selected for the Bolt EV’s launch before going nationwide later this year).
Unfortunately, and despite added 3 more states of availability in February (Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia joined California and Oregon), Bolt EV sales fell to 952 moved during the month, and improved only slightly in March to 978 sales.
GM noted that inventory was fairly tight on dealer lots in March, with only around 14 days worth on hand. Still, with Bolt EV production having started last October and only ~3,600 sales since then, there was an issue someplace – either at the plant, or with GM management’s production allocation (perhaps production heading to Europe under the Opel Ampera-E badge).
For March, inventories did significant gain right at the month’s end, up to close to 2,000 copies. Better still, a week and a half in April and that number was close to 4,000….what does it mean? It means the Bolt EV is quite likely going to put up a very big number in April.
In March, the Bolt EV made its way in to both New York and New Jersey during the month.
Now, the CARB-tastic, state-by-state roll-out continues in April with Washington welcoming the Bolt EV to local Chevy dealerships. As for a nationwide roll-out, that will happen with the introduction of the 2018 MY Bolt EV – which arrives in September.
It is no secret that the Nissan LEAF is again, and the the US consumer is anticipating a new, 2nd generation model arrival this Fall, with the prototype spotted out testing this month in the UK.
Yet despite that, the LEAF has now seen gains in the past 7 consecutive months in a row (more on that below).
For February sales were up 11% at 1,037 copies, and higher still in March at 1,478 copies, which incredibly put it ahead of the brand new Chevy Bolt in the sales race for both months.
Previously in January 772 were sold, after moving 1,899 in December…which was actually the high water mark for 2016, after selling 1,457 copies in November.
How rare have sales improvements been before this current run? September 2016 through March 2017’ss gains were the first for the EV in America in 20 months (you’d have to go back to December of 2014 to other year-over-year increases).
During 2016, 14,006 LEAFs were sold, off 19% from the 17,269 moved in 2015.
As mentioned earlier, we should note that the entry level price to the 30 kWh/107 mile edition of the LEAF was lowered with the 24 kWh trim level’s removal – the 30 kWh LEAF now has a starting MSRP of $30,680 + DST.
During December, average stocked inventory of the LEAF crept a little higher, averaging around ~2,000 copies – which is where it stayed during January, but still not far off historic lows. Basically, until the inventory improves with the upgraded and future edition, it is impossible for Nissan to perform much better than it has of late.
Toyota Prius Prime:
Finally, after 18 months of waiting the first generation Prius plug-in has been replaced. Enter the all new, much improved Toyota Prius Prime (details) which arrived on US dealers lots on November 8th.
Since its arrival the Prime has exceeded sales expectations, especially so in January as 1,366 were moved during the month – making the 2nd generation Prius PHV the second best selling plug-in for America during the month.
For February, the Prime continued to set a high bar, moving 1,362 copies, then another 1,618 in March…and believe or not, that was supply-constrained in a big way
If you are just quiet enough and listen, you can almost hear Toyota’s dealers screaming for more inventory of the plug-in Prius. Why is that? The popular Toyota has yet to hit 4 figures worth of average national inventory in stock for any month yet….for March around ~800 copies were normally on hand.
Yes, the Prius Prime is here, and it might just be your 2017 plug-in sales champion for the US. The Toyota not only features its own unique look, but 25 miles of all-electric range.
But most importantly, the plug-in Toyota is priced right – from $27,950, which after the $4,500 federal credit is applied gives the Prime an effective price of $23,450, a price-point that is actually more than $1,000 cheaper than the base hybrid version…which should eventually translate into very strong sales once the EV is well stocked, as the standard version of the car can sell upwards of 10,000 units in a month.
When it comes to plug-in vehicle sales in the US, no model was more disappointing, or more unpredictable than the BMW i3 in 2016.
As an example, the BMW i3 sold 629 copies in November, 442 copies in October, 391 copies in September, 1,479 in July, 608 in June, 814 in April and 182 in January. Totally bipolar.
For 2017, things started rough, with just 182 sales logged in January, and 318 in February. Fortunately, the tune changed drastically in March (which given the i3’s track record is not all that surprising), with 703 sales made, a 118% gain over March of 2016.
Quite frankly, the i3 as it stands today is likely too expensive for plug-in vehicle buyers, so if BMW wants to sell the EV in volumes like it did in the past, it is going to have to sharpen its pencil…and by a lot.
For 2016 overall, BMW sold 7,625 i3s in 2016, compared to 11,024 a year ago – off 31%
Disappointing for future numbers, BMW continues to seem to have issues stocking the i3 (and we aren’t sure if it is intentional or not), entering April, about ~800 copies were available on dealer lots to be purchased.
Truthfully, BMW’s inventory managing of its electrified fleet over the past year (now 7 strong worldwide) as been about abysmal as possible, as the company has potentially left 10s of thousands of sales behind globally thanks to an unpreparedness to produce plug-ins to demand levels. The only question that remains is whether or not it was/is intentional.
Earlier in September we got all the US EPA specs on the new 33 kWh i3 REx (details), namely 97 miles of all electric range, backed up by 83 miles of petrol abilities – for a total of 180 miles of driving range; numbers that most US customers didn’t seem all to please with (considering the 22 kWh 2016 version had a cumulative 150 mile rating).
Fortunately, we have been able to have the opportunity to have a long term/first hand review on both trim levels.
- BMW i3 (33 kWh) BEV – read InsideEVs’ own Michael Beinenson’s 1,000 mile report here
- BMW i3 (33 kWH) REx – read InsideEVs’ own Tom Moloughney’s first drive comparison here
Tesla Model S: Tesla does not give out exact monthly sales (apparently because the public can’t handle the concept of regional allocations and delivery lead times)… so we never know for sure what the monthly numbers total up to until Tesla’s quarterly (or annual) updates add more clarity, but we do our best to keep our finger on the pulse of what is happening.
To come to an estimated monthly, number, we don’t simply take the quarterly estimate given by Tesla and divide it by 3 and hope it all works out…it just doesn’t work like that in the real world. We simply report from the data we accumulate ourselves, the first hand accounts available from the factory and from the community itself when available – and the number is what it is (see below)
Revisions/disclaimer to accuracy of prior estimates: The 2016 Model S chart has been adjusted (via US Q3 data leaked directly from Tesla) by 469 units in Q3, and 525 units in Q4. The 2015 chart was adjusted (one time) by 498 units to compensate for confirmed full year numbers. The 2014 sales chart was adjusted (one time – again after the end of the full year of estimates) 611 units to compensate for full year numbers. While past success is no guarantee of future results, InsideEVs is quite proud of its sales tracking for the Model S over the years.
That being said, we only estimate this number because Tesla does not, and to not put a number on Model S sales would be to paint an even more inaccurate overall picture of EV sales. Despite our fairly accurate track record, we are not analysts, portfolio managers and we do not own any positions in Tesla the company.
The first quarter of Q1 was an unconventional one for Tesla, as the EV automaker was faced with not only continuing production of its existing vehicles, but also the tooling up and pre-production assembly of the much anticipated, lower cost, Model 3.
And as such, the company uncommonly focused more on US production earlier in the quarter, which lead to a lightly higher than expected result in February.
That left the debate open to whether or not Tesla was hedging against any production hiccups ahead of the (now passed) Fremont assembly shutdown in mid-February for that Model 3 R&D tooling, or if international demand was soft, or conversely US demand was simply higher.
Whatever the reason, the shutdown went “ok” (it seemed to effect the speed production somewhat past the original estimate of one week), but things definitely got back to normal by the start of March; a month that experienced a similar end-of-quarter rush to that of what we have been used to in the past, although the 3,450 Model S we estimate that were delivered during the month was a bit below expectations, and the near ~4,000 sold a year ago.
Looking ahead, Tesla pegged overall first half deliveries worldwide at some 47,000 – 50,000 units, and in actual fact reported just over 25,000, meaning the automaker only needs to deliver some 22,000+ units to hit H1 guidance (and has over 4,600 in transit today)…meaning that at some point in Q2 we should likely be ready for an extended shutdown of some magnitude.
Effecting short term demand in the future on the Model S (to the positive, as it did in March), is the discontinuation of the base, 60 kWh edition on April 17th, the net result being inventory sales on that model should pick up over the next month or so, while customer orders/US deliveries will be increased (to some degree) in June.
We do have to note that when discontinuing the Model S 60 and 60D, Tesla noted that “most customers ended up buying an equivalent to the Model S 75 kWh” and Tesla was removing the option “to simply the order process for our customers”, which is a hard statement to put in context (especially with the “ended up” terminology), or to take at face value.
Interestingly, from the data we have compiled, about 30% of all Model S sales in Q1 were of the 60 kWh variety, and it outsold the 75 kWh variant by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
And from a production-standpoint, the 60 kWh cars are all 75 kWh cars (just software limited by Tesla to only provide owners access to 60 kWhs of that battery), so Tesla gains or loses no manufacturing abilities with the models retention or deletion.
So in our opinion, the 60 kWh version was removed either for; bottom line reasons, or simply to get out of the way for the expected range/performance of the Model 3 in July (recently pegged at more than the Chevy Bolt EV and its 238 miles of range), and not for customer convenience in any way. Why it was framed as such? We have no idea. But we are all big boys Tesla, you can just shoot us straight.
Tesla Model X: Like the Model S, Tesla does not itself report Model X sales, so we do our best – with all the data at our disposal to estimate monthly results for North America as best we can (For more info on that, check out our disclaimer for the Model S)
Historical accuracy/Sales Update (Oct 11th):
Tesla recently leaked US sales data for Q3 2016 put US deliveries at 5,428. Our own Q3 estimate was 5,800 for North America, which includes Canada (which ended Q3 with 389 registrations for the quarter), meaning 5,787 were actually sold – and not to brag…but that means we were only off by 13 units in Q3.
Previously in Q2 2016, Tesla reported 4,625 Model X deliveries…our estimated scorecard got within about ~55 units of the actual number (accounting for just a handful of international Model X deliveries). In Q1 we where within ~200 units.
Like its sister car, the Model S, the X had to deal with a plant shutdown for a week in the second half of the month to prepare for the upcoming Model 3.
And while the Model X did not seem to share in the increased deliveries early in the year, production of the X seemed much more aggressive once the plant got restarted (in relation to proportional norms to the Model S).
With that said, March sales of the all-electric utility vehicle were relatively strong in our estimation at 2,750 units, and bested a year ago’s result (~1,860) by almost 50%, and illustrated Tesla’s drive to deliver more Xs during the month. Why? Perhaps to balance out the bottom line with the high sales of the Model S 60 kWh edition that is being discontinued in April.
We should note that demographically, the Model X has been much stronger performer in North America than elsewhere in the world (ex-China), as American’s affinity for larger utility vehicles is being tested against its demand for the quickest performance (found in the Model S P100D).
Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (aka Pacifica plug-in):
The much anticipated plug-in extended range passenger van arrived in January, albeit in stealth, stuttered… and very limited in fashion.
Due to some odd quirks with production timing and plant scheduling we have had a on/off start for the Pacifica Hybrid as it relates to deliveries.
Here is the nutshell version:
Production kicked off as expected November 28th at the company’s Windsor, Ontario plant, and it seems a truck or two of inventory/orders managed to get out before Christmas shutdown – which resulted in reports of handful of January 2016 deliveries.
Unfortunately, inventory over-stock gripped the domestic automakers in North America, and many plants where given an extended shutdown (up to 3 weeks in some cases) – this included FCA’s Windsor plant.
The result was that the re-start of limited production of the Pacifica Hybrid was pushed back several weeks, compounded by a subsequent quality control hold, parts issue in late January/early February. What we can say is that a few Pacifica Hybrids were built in February, more in March, but then have sat penned up awaiting on QC since.
Various reports suggested that the plug-in van should start re-arriving in late March, but they did not…late in the month we got his word from FCA with some reliable specifics:
“As with all launches, but particularly in the case of this technically advanced vehicle, we are taking great care to ensure that the Pacifica Hybrid comes off the line with the highest quality possible. We will only introduce a vehicle when we are fully satisfied the vehicle meets or exceeds customer expectations.We have been ramping up the build at the Windsor Assembly Plant, and full retail production will now begin on Friday, April 7. Vehicles will start shipping to dealers on Monday, April 17.”
More specific to this information, Chrysler has a launch event planned for the 19th;expect the wave sales to start on that date. So sit tight, they are coming.
Arriving on the US market last Spring was the BMW 330e, which is the plug-in hybrid version of the company’s high selling 3 series offering.
And while the 330e (from $44,695 including DST), physically arrived in April 2016 in a token amount, and it has taken BMW 8 months to begin to stock the vehicle adequately.
But apparently, that process has begun!
In March, 365 plug-in BMW 3 series cars were sold, a big jump over February’s 144…and an all-time high for the model (previous best was 240 copies sold in December).
As noted, during March, actual depth of the 330e arrived (just a scant ~12 months after the car’s debut), and about ~750 330es were available on dealer lots heading in April! Perhaps now we will finally start to see the true sales volume potential of the plug-in BMW 3 series, which we have always felt was north of 500 units per month.
As for the specs, the final EPA ‘real world’ range rating of just 14 all-electric miles (via a 7.6 Kwh battery – 5.7 usable) was a disappointment for some hoping for a number closer to 20, but with a 75 mph top speed in “Max eDrive”, it is a capable offering (featuring a 2 liter turbo inline 4) and should satisfy the traditional BMW crowd and be a strong seller.
The electric motor develops 87 hp with maximum peak torque of 184 lb-ft, when combined with the petrol engine, the total output jumps to 248 hp, with a peak torque of 310 lb-ft, allowing a sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 140 mph.
Audi A3 Sportback e-tron:
Audi had defined the word “consistent” when it comes to plug-in vehicle sales in 2016, dutifully selling the low 300s each month.
That is at least until December when it broke out of its normal pattern and a very impressive 589 copies.
Now the Audi e-tron looks to not only repeat that consistency, but improve, as a just as an incredibly impressive (considering the time fo the year) 414 plug-in A3s were sold in March (2nd best ever), after moving 400 in February, and 387 in January.
Overall, 4,280 copies were sold in 2016…a not insignificant contribution to the US plug-in vehicle sales scene. That said, Audi is still certainly not in the “big boys” category for EV sales, but also is definitely not in the “also rans” either.
Quirky fact not really related to EV sales, but certainly aided with the arrival of the A3 e-tron, the Audi brand has now set 75 consecutive months of record year-over-year sales in the US.
Part of the reason for strong sales for the A3 e-tron is also the (relatively) low price. $38,900 gets you the Audi badge, 8.8 kWh of battery – good for 17-odd miles of real world driving…and federal credit of $4,158, which is significant because this brings the e-tron package down to within $3,500 of the base MSRP of the A3.
Well that, and you can’t get the “sportback” version of the Audi in any other trim level in the US. Check out our own early/pre-delivery review on the Audi A3 e-tron here.
Ford Fusion Energi:
The refreshed 2017 Ford Fusion Energi (details) was a fairly big hit in 2016, showing marked improvements throughout the year.
Heading into 2017, the Fusion Energi eked out a small gain in January, moving 606 copies, then got back to business in setting new personal bests.
Following February’s strong 837 sale performance, Ford crossed back into “4 digit land”, as 1,002 Energis were moved…joining a club of just 5 other at that level.
Looking at the inventory in the past, it was easy to see why (and how) so many of the new Fusion plug-ins were sold over the past few months; the Fusion Energi has often won the crown for the “most stocked” EV in the US (before Chevy got crazy with the Volt)…but with that said, Ford has been struggling to keep production on pace with demand, and national inventories fell to around 2,000 units ending out 2016, and continuing at about that level into April.
It had been hard to get a read on the sales demand for VW’s all-electric Golf for the most part of 2016, as as sales fluctuated quite a bit.
After setting a year’s best in August (with 454 copies sold), Volkswagen improved on that number again in September, selling 529 copies, before setting back down to 407 sales in October and lower still with 305 sold in November. However, things rebounded again in December with 443 sold.
For the first month of 2017 however, sales normalized somewhat, selling 332 copies, roughly equal to the 328 moved a year ago. For February, sales were up over 40% from the year prior with 293 sold, and stayed positive in March, setting a new 2017 high at 342 sales.
We should note that these sales levels are relatively strong considering a recently announced range upgrade coming mid-model year for the 2017 edition (January/February) and the “January blues” effect – of which the two factors have combined to pretty much keep demand in check (and inventory’s low) until that car’s arrival.
As mentioned, some sales help is on the way, as Volkswagen will have a first mover advantage of some sort upgrading the range on today’s e-Golf.
The 2017 plug-in VW will now feature a 35.8 kWh battery, increasing range to ~124 miles and debuted at the LA Auto Show in November (details – launch gallery/video). Production of the new e-Golf got underway in December.
Also of interest, VW outlined its plans passed the refreshed e-Golf from the Paris Motor Show in October, stating that the all-electric I.D. will enter production in about 3 years time, and will have 400-600 km (249-373 miles) of range. (We should note that estimate was given on the optimistic Euro/NEDC scale – in term of real-world/EPA estimated miles, we would expect 180-270 miles…still a pretty big spread)
Ford C-Max Energi:
If it wasn’t for the impressive results of the Ford Fusion Energi every month, we probably would look at C-Max Energi results a lot differently.
But in December, the plug-in C-Max manged to step out of the Fusion’s shadow for the first time, and sold an all-time best 1,289 copies – 17% more than the Fusion Energi.
We wondered for a time if that could be a performance repeated by the C-Max Energi in 2017? And while that has yet to happen, result have still be very strong for the Ford, noting 639 sales in February, and 662 in March.
Thanks to December’s surge, and the BMW i3’s sales malaise over the past four months, the C-Max Energi has moved past the BMW and settles in at the 6th best selling plug-in for the US in 2016.
Despite these results, we expect that the C-Max Energi will live only as long as it takes to introduce a Ford’s new “Model E” lineup in Spring of 2019 (offering both a compact car and crossover utility vehicle).
When it comes to reporting plug-in sales, we have another Tesla on our hands here (as in they don’t report sales).
Chrysler/Fiat has been giving us a bit of the stonewall treatment when it comes to reporting 500e sales.
UPDATE: After initially have some issues getting data on the plug-in Fiat, more registration and rebate data is now available. That being said, the number is estimated. Historically, the average margin of error per month has been about ~40 units in those moments when some confirmed data leaks out (usually from a recall). For 2016, the yearly estimated total was adjusted upwards (once) by approximately 500 units over the first 12 months.
For most of 2016, the Fiat 500e was a consistent performer, but over the past few month of the year things really ratcheted up – thanks to deals such as this one on Black Friday ($49/month with nothing down*), and the 500e remains the most popular compliance EV that many can buy.
Heading into 2017 sales continued to remain robust for the 500e given the limited amount of inventory (~200-300 units on average) after a strong 2nd half of 2016, we estimate ~355 copies were sold in February.
With that said, the inventory situation on the 500e has continued to tighten, so the upside potential of the EV seems to be limited at this point in time.
BMW X5 xDrive40e:
The BMW X5 plug-in had an unexpectedly strong debut in the US in 2016…and only get stronger over the year.
In fact, the electrified X5 easily won the award for “best newcomer”for 2016, which was topped off by the all-time best 876 sales that were made in August!
Perhaps not unexpectedly, subsequent monthly sales drop off a touch while the company attempted to replenish new inventory on dealer lots, falling to around 400 copies in the months that followed.
However in December, sales started to rebound, with BMW selling 569 X5 plug-ins for the month. Thanks to the “January slowdown” effect on sales of the US federal credit, inventories grew decently during the month to around ~500+ units, but adversely affected sales, with 262 sold in the first month of 2017 and roughly the same in February at 275 sales.
During the second half of March, inventory of the X5 plug-in began to strengthen, averaging close to 800 units for the month, and with it, sales have starting to retun to the model, with 397 copies moved – besting last year’s result by about 20%.
Check out our first drive review of the 13 mile AER BMW x5 xDrive40e here.
Ford Focus Electric:
C’mon Ford, you are just messing with us right?
Heading into March, the Ford Focus Electric had sold within ~100 sales of the 150 unit mark for 60 months in a row…with only one month passing the 200 level (August of 2014-264). And this month we had finally thrown in the towel on specifically recapping the Focus Electric because of this sales malaise – what was there really to say?
And then Ford goes ahead and sells…wait for it…wait…407 copies!
Now to be fair, the inflated result was because of a really, really long wait for the new 2017 edition, with a new, larger 33.5 kWh battery (up from 23 kWh) and a 115 mile range rating (up from 76), which saw customer order pile up for months…but we have to give Ford its due, and rightful place back on the recap list!
You got us Ford. You got us.
Also new for 2017 is standard DC fast charging (CCS). But best of all, the price actually dropped by $50 bucks too – now starting from $29,120. Full details can be found here.