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America's 100,000th Electric Car Just Sold: Are These Things Catching On?

With traditional cars, we’re stuck buying—and burning—gas.

Tesla, Elon Musk’s high-end electric car company, has had a very good quarter.
It made a profit for the first time in history, it's set to pay taxpayers back for its $465 million government loan (with $12 million interest), and it's got a very, very positive review from Consumer Reports (a 99 out of 100; its performance was “off the charts”).
And Tesla’s success might be part of a larger trend. The advocacy group Plug-In America just declared that the 100,000th plug-in electric car was sold in America this week.
Plug-In America didn’t count every electric car sale. Rather, the group determined this number by extrapolating from plug-in sales over the last few years. In 2011, fewer than 20,000 were sold. In 2012, that number jumped to more than 50,000. And at current rates, more than 100,000 will be sold in 2013 alone.

The chart above, from UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, shows the data. PEV’s stands for “plug-in electric vehicles,” which includes both plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and all-electric plug-ins (BEVs).
The most popular plug-in cars are the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, and the Prius plug-in. GM, Ford, Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes, Fiat, and, of course, Tesla, all have plug-in models as well.
So does this mean that electric cars are truly catching on? There are some positive signs. Barry Woods, the director of Plug-In America, claims that “in March in Portland's metro area, Nissan dealers collectively sold more 2013 LEAFs than any other model” and that purchasing is accelerating faster than the adoption of the Prius over the same time frame.


This is no doubt helped by the fact that prices of EVs are coming down across the spectrum. In 2012, the cheapest version of the Nissan Leaf had a base price of $35,200. This year, the cheapest version (which is pretty stripped-down), has gone down to $28,800. The $109,000 Tesla Roadster was geared towards rich early adopters. It was never going to be a car for the masses. But the Model S, while still a luxury car, is more practical—and, at about $70,000, a little more affordable. Tesla plans to develop even more affordable EV models in the future.
Of course, the total number of electric vehicles sold in 2012 is on a different scale entirely: 15.6 million. So plug-in electric cars will still make up less than one percent of the total.
But the point is that electric cars do seem to be catching on, even though they’re still very new and arguably less convenient than gas-powered cars. That’s good news because we need to figure out a way to transport ourselves around without screwing up the planet’s climate with greenhouse gas emissions. With these cars, the more electricity we generate from renewable sources, the cleaner they get. With traditional cars, we’re stuck buying—and burning—gas.

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