Sales in the Alternative Power segment fell by 12% compared to the first half of 2014, one of the larger drops from among all segments. In fact, only three cars sold more in the first half of 2015 than in the same period last year – Tesla Model S and BMW’s i3 and i8. This fall in sales most likely is driven by the continuing low gasoline price, as well as the expectation that this situation may continue for a long time.
You don’t get points for guessing the market leader – the Toyota Prius has dominated this segment ever since the second generation came to the American shores in 2004. However, while the introduction of the V (quasi-MPV, albeit not available in the US with 7 seats for some reason, unlike in Europe) and C (smaller model) helped the Prius to its best showing in 2012, when almost a quarter million Prius cars were sold in the US, 2015 seems like it will be the first time since then that the Prius will sell fewer than 200,000 units. I guess customers are waiting for the new model, but you have to wonder if the awkwardly-styled Mk IV is everything they were hoping for…
The Prius’ main competitors for the mantle of the top mainstream alternative power vehicle, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, never caught on with US audiences the way the Toyota did – they linger in 4th and 6th places, respectively, with sales down by more than 20% for both of them. Instead of the Leaf or Volt the second spot is actually occupied by the unassuming Ford C-Max, a European mainstay which is sold in the US only as a Prius-rivalling non-plug-in hybrid. At least in Volt’s case you can hope that the more sleekly-styled, specious and supposedly more optimized new model will bring some of the customers back – the future does not look too bright for the Leaf. It will be interesting whether the new battery tech that Carlos Ghosn keeps alluding to will make its way into the Mk II, and whether the (presumed) longer range will convince more people to buy one.
In third place is the Tesla Model S, a car which has been a resounding success not just in the Alternative Power segment but also in the Premium Limousine one, where it outsells all bar the S-Class. With the Model X SUV going on sale right now it would take a foolish man to bet against Tesla going from strength to strength, at least until the competition catches on with the likes of Porsche Mission E and Audi e-Tron Quattro.
In fifth place is the Lexus CT, Prius’ posh brother, and in fact Lexus’ second attempt at a standalone hybrid model – the hapless HS was pulled from the market in 2012 after just four years. But while Lexus failed the first time around the same does not seem to be happening for BMW, whose i3 and i8 are doing very well given their price, with the former selling almost as many units as the Volt in 7th place.
From 8th place down is a very clear second league, with the likes of Honda CR-Z and Insight in 8th and 10th, respectively, and the electric-only Mercedes-Benz B-Class in 9th place. In fact, the lowly position of the latter (barely more than 1,000 units in H1 2015) proves that consumers really aren’t that hip on electric-only cars; its sales figures make the Leaf look like a success. But you could always do worse, I guess, as the Cadillac ELR (Volt’s hideously overprices cousin) and Mitsubishi i-Miev prove, the former barely cracking 500 units and the latter not even cracking 100…
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