Posted by Dale Buss on October 11, 2012 04:03 PM
These are rough times for the electric-vehicle business, despite sky-high gasoline prices, extensive marketing of EVs, and a continual drumbeat of support by the news and entertainment media and governments at all levels.
Nissan has become so concerned about lackluster sales of its all-electric Leaf that it is trimming the price on its 2013 model. Ford is in no hurry to invest marketing resources in the launch of its new Focus Electric. And Toyota — which can count on the success of its Prius hybrid brand instead — has all but forsworn any significant EV presence in the market for at least the next few years.
Why? Despite incredible marketing investment and societal pressure thrown behind getting car-buyers to adopt all-electric vehicles, American consumers by and large are resisting the very notion of EVs. A new study even casts doubt on the net environmental benefits of electric cars, depending on how the power to charge their batteries is produced.
But consumers are queuing up for a certain type of electrified compromise: Toyota Prius hybrids. The company now controls about half the market for hybrid sales in the U.S., thanks to its pioneering and long-established hybrid-only brand name and, recently, an expansion of the nameplate's lineup to four products.
One indication of the success of Toyota's electrification strategy is that Ford is now trying to mimic it with its own hybrid-only brand, C-Max. And Ford is willing to take on Prius in the first TV ads for its new nameplate.
Also, while the Chevrolet Volt leads sales so far among extended-range (or so-called "plug-in") hybrids that have a small gasoline engine but can run completely on electricity, Volt still hasn't captured the kind of sales momentum that GM originally envisioned for the car even though gasoline prices have been pushing $4 a gallon.
It's not that American consumers have become inured of the need for better fuel economy; Volt sales are surging in California these days in part because of gas prices that reached $6 a gallon in some places there. But car buyers have become used to dramatically improved fuel economy in nearly every vehicle model available, with many conventionally gas-powered vehicles boasting mileage every bit as good as many hybrids.
So far, it's still mostly "early adopters" opting for Leaf and its all-electric new competitors — and there's little reason to expect that to change for some time.