U.S. Plug-In Electric Vehicle Sales Nearly Double In 2013

CREDIT: AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

Angie Vorhies plugs in the charging cord to her Nissan Leaf electric vehicle at a mall Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, in San Diego.

Sales of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles soared by 84 percent from 2012 to 2013 for a total of more than 96,000, according to data from Ward’s Automotive. 16 different plug-in models are currently available, and with more on the way, those numbers could jump again in 2014.

In 2013, Americans bought nearly 49,000 plug-in hybrids — vehicles that can run on traditional fuels but have batteries that can be charged by plugging into various types of electric outlets. This was a 27 percent jump from the year before.

Fully-electric vehicles — that are only powered by electrically-charged batteries — saw a 241 percent jump in 2013, to 47,600 in total. These sales were largely driven by Tesla Motors’ Model S, which sold 18,800 vehicles in 2013, and Nissan’s Leaf, which jumped 130 percent from 2012 sales to a total of 22,610 this year.

These totals do not include a 15.3 percent jump in traditional hybrid vehicle sales last year, to 489,413, which is also a record. Almost 60 percent of these purchases were Toyota hybrid models like the Prius. Traditional hybrid vehicles usually just have a super-efficient engine that helps charge a battery that also receives power from the braking system.

Diesel sales jumped 10 percent in 2013, to around 450,000 total vehicles.

Some models did not sell as well as automakers initially hoped, which lead to price cuts. These lower prices did the trick and allowed more people to be able to afford electric and hybrid vehicles. Nissan dropped the base price of the Leaf 18 percent to $28,800, which had a lot to do with the 130 percent sales jump this year. Toyota is hoping that a $2,000 price cut in its plug-in hybrid Prius model will help sales that have fallen short of targets.

The increased efficiency of gasoline-powered vehicles, driven largely by federally-mandated fuel economy improvements, make the hybrid and plug-in electric vehicle market more competitive. Yet Americans are buying more and more of these cars, even as gasoline prices could continue to drop into 2014.

The conventional wisdom on electric vehicles was that range anxiety — the fear of running out of charge too far from a charging station — would keep sales of electric vehicles low. But as charging stations multiply, range improves, charging times decrease, and battery life improves, the conventional wisdom could keep eroding in 2014.