Auto sales: Plug-in electric sales nearly double in 2013

More plug-in electric cars were sold in the US than ever before in their third year of sales. The 2013 total of roughly 90,000 electric vehicles didn't quite double the 2012 total of about 53,000,  but the numbers seem likely to grow again this year.

Rebecca Cook/Reuters/File
A 2012 Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle is parked at the solar-powered electric charging station at General Motors Co's assembly plant in Hamtramck, Michigan. Plug-in car sales nearly doubled in 2013.

In their third full year of sales, more plug-in electric cars were sold in the U.S. than ever before.

The 2013 total of roughly 90,000 electric vehicles didn't quite double the 2012 total of about 53,000, but with 16 different plug-in cars offered for sale as of this month, the numbers seem likely to grow again this year.

And last year's total was more than five times the total first-year sales of 17,500 in 2011.

As it has been since going on sale in December 2010, the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car was the plug-in leader, with a total of 23,094 sales last year--just slightly down on the 23,461 deliveries in 2012, though far ahead of the first-year total of 7,671 in 2011.

It's worth noting that General Motors also sold 6 Cadillac ELR range-extended luxury sport coupes, even at a $76,000 starting price.

But for the first time, the Nissan Leaf was hot on the Volt's heels, with total 2013 deliveries of 22,610.

The 2013 total was boosted by a last-minute 2,529 sold in December, the highest single-month Leaf sales in three years, and better than the Volt's 2,392 for December.

That Leaf total is, of course, far better than its 2012 number of 9,819 or the 2011 total of 9,674, supplied by cars from a single Leaf plant in Oppama, Japan.

Now that the Leaf and its lithium-ion battery are assembled in Smyrna, Tennessee, you can expect higher sales volumes throughout 2014.

As always, we have no solid numbers for U.S. sales of the Tesla Model S--the company isn't likely to report them until it files its year-end financial reports sometime in February.

But most analysts feel 18,000 U.S. deliveries for the year would be a fair U.S. number, now that exports to Europe of the battery-electric luxury sport sedan are well under way and soaking us a portion of Tesla's projected 2013 production of 21,000 or more cars.

Plug-in hybrids next

Following those three market leaders come three plug-in hybrid models from Ford and Toyota, which together will have sold more than 25,000 units for the year.

Sales of the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, which started strong when it was launched early in 2012, are now being matched by the combination of Ford's two plug-in hybrids, the C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi.

Toyota will report its sales early this afternoon, Eastern time, but Ford's sales breakdown will lag one business day and come in Monday.

We'll also find out shortly whether any 2014 Cadillac ELR range-extended electric luxury coupes were sold in December--if not, the first ones will be delivered this month--and whether sales of the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid plug-in started in December as well.

Low-volume and compliance cars

Following the market leaders are a number of cars that either sell in low volumes, including the Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric minicar and the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive two-seater, or are compliance cars sold to meet California requirements for zero-emission vehicle deliveries.

The latter group includes the Chevrolet Spark EV, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV, andToyota RAV4 EV.

Numbers for the fifth compliance car, the Fiat 500e, are not available because Chrysler refuses to break them out from sales of the gasoline Fiat 500 minicar, though estimates seem to be that about 500 were delivered last year.

We'll update this story throughout the day as we get in more December sales numbers.

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