Electric Vehicle Sales Stall as Gas Prices Fall

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2015 Nissan LEAF

President Obama was recently in Detroit to check out the auto show and he was very pleased with the progress the auto industry has made since those governement bailouts. Sales are strong, fuel efficiency continues to improve, but electric vehicles are not part of the good news.

Obama set a goal of getting one million plug-in electrics on the road by 2015 and we’re nowhere close to that number. Even with billions of dollars in government subsidies, only around 400,000 electrics have been sold. Not only are sales not where Obama hoped they’d be by now, they’re also going in the wrong direction.

According to AutomotiveNews, roughly 115,000 electrics were sold last year. That number sounds like a lot, but it’s a 6 percent decrease from the previous year. There are around 30 different plug-in models out there and the public still can’t find one they like, so what’s going on?

One factor is the price of gas, which has dropped below $2 per gallon. This is a lot less than the $4 per gallon prices we were all dealing with when Obama first set his million-car goal. Low gas prices are good for our wallets, but they’re lousy for hybrid and electric vehicle sales.

Plug-ins still have the benefit of reducing vehicle emissions, but it’s hard to rationalize the extra cost without big savings on gas to match. There isn’t a compelling reason to buy a plug-in right now.

Despite slow sales, automakers are still rolling out new models. The new Chevrolet Bolt EV was all the rage at CES this year. Ford introduced a new plug-in Fusion Energi in Detroit and Chrysler gave us the plug-in Pacifica minivan at the same show. These are the lastet in electric cars, but it doesn’t seem like the public much cares right now.

Other factors hitting plug-ins hard include range anxiety, vehicle costs, and a lack of readily available charging stations. The inconvenience of electrics has always been an issue. No one wants to get stuck without being able to charge whether it’s because they run out of juice due to poor planning or because all the charging stations are full.

Those issues are slowly going away as more and more charging stations appear and ranges increase. It’s a start, but it all comes down to cost. Low gas prices mean EVs are in the doghouse. Unless gas prices suddenly skyrocket again, Obama’s million car goal is a long way from reality.