As Battery Electric Vehicle Deliveries Decline In America, Toyota’s Hybrids Make a Big Comeback

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Deliveries of battery-electric vehicles declined in America in July, and most models are well behind former highs. Meanwhile, Toyota’s hybrid business is gaining strength.

Despite splashy headlines proclaiming that electric vehicles are surging in popularity, one fact is acting as a spoiler; Battery-electric vehicle deliveries in America have stopped increasing, and in July they declined across the board. That decline included Tesla’s Model 3 premium/performance battery-electric sedan as well as its Model S and Model X. More affordable battery-electric vehicles (BEVs, those with only an electric motor, and no onboard gasoline engine to extend their range) have been dropping back in deliveries for some time. For example, the Nissan Leaf, which was once posting monthly delivery numbers above 2,000 units regularly, and had touched the 3,000 mark in the past, now sells at a rate below 1,000 units per month. Chevy’s Bolt is following a similar trend, and in July, was down not just compared to last July, but also July of 2017. After a 20-month run of deliveries above 1,000 units from early 2017 through the full calendar year of 2018, the Bolt is now struggling to hit 1,000 units per month and has dropped below that milestone in three of the past seven months.

The delivery data for new and very compelling battery-electric vehicles like Hyundai’s new Kona EV crossover and the Kia Niro EV, one of our favorite vehicles of any type, is also not encouraging. Despite positive reviews, strong buyer interest, and range and performance specifications that fall well within the expectations of even demanding EV buyers, the Hyundai and Kia battery-electric vehicles are only trickling out into a market with motivated buyers. The Kona EV is now in its sixth month of production and has not posted a delivery month above 150 units. The Niro EV is in its fourth month of deliveries and Kia has been averaging about 70 per month. Just for comparison, top-selling vehicles the size of these two vehicles sell at a rate of over 20,000 units each month. Per model.

Meanwhile, Toyota has completely updated and reshuffled its hybrid vehicle lineup. Its Prius Prime plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV) is the top-selling affordable EV of any type in America, and has been regularly posting deliveries of about 2,000 units per month for three straight years. Toyota’s hybrids without plugs are doing even better. About three years ago, Toyota began shifting its emphasis from the Prius line of gasoline hybrid cars to other models. The crossover market was booming, and car sales were beginning to show signs of serious softening across the board. Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid, with standard all-wheel drive, is the company’s biggest recent green car success. Toyota has now posted multiple months this year above 10,000 units delivered. Dealers cannot get enough inventory and buyers are waiting for RAV4 hybrids.

Toyota’s RAV4 is not its only newly updated hybrid. The company has updated the Camry Hybrid, which now earns an EPA Combined rating of 52 MPG. Toyota also has an all-new Toyota Corolla hybrid model which earns a 52 MPG rating. In July, Toyota delivered 2,307 Camry Hybrids and 1,647 Corolla Hybrids. Both models had a higher monthly delivery rate than any affordable battery-electric vehicle sold in America. In total, Toyota sold 26,878 hybrids in July in America, up a solid 47% over last July. The entire electric vehicle market in America, including not just battery-electric vehicles like Tesla’s Model 3, but also vehicles like the extended-range Volt and Honda’s Clarity plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, totaled 26,395 vehicles. EVs were down this July compared to last July. Toyota’s green hybrids are outperforming the combined output of every manufacturer’s electric vehicles and growing, while the EVs are slowing and declining.

You may have noticed that we have been careful in our story not to try to say that hybrids are “outselling” the electric vehicles. The market reality is that buyers are almost fanatically happy with EVs. They cannot get enough of them and fan forums have legions of loyal fans. However, manufacturers, including Tesla, are struggling to bring the lithium-ion battery supply chain up to the capacity and affordability they need to push more EVs out the door. Meanwhile, Toyota has carefully limited its reliance on lithium-ion battery technology, and many of its top-models, including its newest Prius AWD-e trim, and all of its RAV4 Hybrids, use a different, more affordable, and more readily-available battery technology.

The list of fully-electric vehicle models for sale has been increasing. Almost every manufacturer now has something to show off in advertisements and to give its brand-loyal buyers hope. However, the fact is that none of them are being produced at a rate even close to mainstream, and frankly, every affordable EV model sold today in America would be canceled immediately if it were conventionally-powered. Contrast this with Toyota, which is steadily continuing to produce updated hybrid models with four and five-digit monthly delivery numbers.

The future of vehicles is electric drive. However, to get to that future, something big is going to have to change. The formula now being used is not working. Affordable modern EVs have now been on sale in the U.S. for ten years and many companies are on their third generation of EVs. Yet, the delivery numbers of these vastly-improved BEVs are lower now than in the past. Not higher. Hybrids were once considered a bridge to fully-electric vehicles. That may still be true, but that bridge is proving to be very long indeed.

Source Note: BestRide drew some of the sales figures mentioned here for EVs from the publication Inside EVs. The Toyota sales figures came from Toyota directly.