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We've all heard the story: Electric cars are a flop despite efforts from the government to help.
But new sales data suggests this may not be true after all.
Electric and hybrid cars are now the second-best-selling vehicle class in America behind the Ford (NYSE: F ) F-Series. Year to date, a whopping 351,703 hybrid and electric cars have been sold. That's significantly more than the 229,521 Toyota (NYSE: TM ) Camry's that have been sold. And the Camry is practically in the dictionary under "sales king." Fortunately for Toyota it also makes up 67% of the hybrid and electric market, so it shouldn't lose sleep over this development.
In addition hybrid and electric cars are the fastest-growing segment of the car market. That 351,703 figure is 73% bigger than a year ago. That's almost a doubling within a year in a large segment!
Yes, all these numbers include hybrids. But the line between electric and hybrid cars has gotten harder to define. The Chevrolet Volt is generally seen as the poster child of "electric car" despite its gasoline range extender. The new plug-in Toyota Prius, on the other hand, is generally touted as a hybrid despite it's ability to go 11 miles on electricity (versus 38 for the Volt). Both these classifications seem somewhat arbitrary and heavily influenced by marketing.
But even unequivocally pure EVs are doing OK. The Nissan LEAF -- which has no gasoline component at all -- has sold 5,212 units this year. That doesn't sound like much, but that's actually better than both of Honda's (NYSE: HMC ) hybrid models (the Prius-fighting Honda Insight and the CR-Z), as well as iconic gasoline cars like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the Porsche Boxster, and the Audi TT.
Despite its success, however, LEAF sales are lagging behind a year ago (down 28%).
Fortunately General Motor's (NYSE: GM ) Chevy Volt is more than picking up the slack. Sales of Volts are up 328% to 16,348 units. That's better than the somewhat similarly priced BMW 1-Series or Lexus GS. That's also better than more pedestrian cars like the MINI Countryman, the GMC Yukon XL, or the Nissan Quest. As well as significantly better than the Nissan LEAF and the cars it beats.
The market seems to be saying it will tolerate electric cars, but that it prefers ones with gasoline assistance (like the Volt) to alleviate the much ballyhooed "range anxiety." It will be interesting to see if that preference disappears as very long range EVs -- I'm thinking of the Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA ) Model S -- become more affordable. Based on what we've seen so far my bet would be yes.