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Tesla Model S & Nissan LEAF world’s best-selling electric cars in 2016

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CleanTechnica

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EV Volumes has just released its global plug-in car sales report for 2016. There are several exciting findings in the report, including a few that we’ve highlighted in recent weeks, but the most striking news for me was that the Tesla Model S and Nissan LEAF clocked in as the best-selling electric cars in the world in 2016.

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The point isn’t just to get giddy about Tesla again — the point is that it shows how effective and even critical this 100% electric, from-the-ground-up, high-end-models-first, full-EV-ecosystem approach has been. Where would the rest of the EV market be if Tesla hadn’t pushed it forward? Where would the rest of the market be if one of the most desirable cars in history wasn’t a fully electric car?

Similarly, the LEAF targeted a lower class when it was introduced in 2011, but the “from-the-ground-up” approach continues to carry it forward at the top of the electric car sales charts.

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Another top highlight for me was that BYD was #1 as far as overall company sales of plug-in cars, which again emphasizes how a strong “EVs first” approach has been demonstrably effective. Of course, BYD also benefits from being the leader in the hottest — and quite unique — EV market (China). China has big EV incentives from the government and the local market heavily favors Chinese companies. Nonetheless, BYD deserves huge credit for leading that market — and, again, one has to wonder where the Chinese EV market (or incentives) would be without BYD’s leadership.

“BYD is the leading make for plug-in vehicles in China, with nearly 30% share of plug-in sales there. With high volume sales of their 2 PHEVs (Qin, Tang) and 4 EVs (EV300, e5, e6, Denza), BYD reached 102,500 sales in 2016, making it the world’s largest OEM for plug-in passenger cars & SUVs.”

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The next thing that jumps out, however, is that companies #3 and #4 are European companies that have heavily focused on plug-in hybrids with quite small batteries and electric driving range (Volkswagen and BMW). These cars have been pretty strongly incentivized in certain European countries, and they may be a good transition approach — offering electric range for the city but gas backup for longer trips. However, the approach and the results make me wonder if the companies aren’t being too cynical about what they could have achieved in Europe and elsewhere if they had focused more on fully electric models or models designed electric from the ground up (not simply converted from a gasoline-based model). Nissan, despite having a much smaller global brand, was right behind BMW and Volkswagen with a pure-EV focus built electric from the ground up.

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Naturally, another big highlight is the overall growth of the global electric car market. The market rose to ~774,000 sales in 2016 and is expected to reach 1,100,000 sales in 2017, as we both reported and projected recently. It could be a lot faster with better efforts from manufacturers and dealers (not to mention governments), but it’s exciting growth nonetheless.

Back to China: Yes, this country is leading the way, accounting for nearly as many sales as the US and Europe combined. Its market growth has also been phenomenal, up 85% in 2016 compared to 2015. That’s one of the most inspiring cleantech stories of 2016. EV Volumes provides more comments on the topic:

“Plug-in volumes have more than tripled since 2013 and continuing on last year’s growth rate of 42% would mean 8 out of 10 cars sold being plug-ins in 2030. Inconceivable today, not impossible for the future. The global picture shows just 0.85% market share, but in some markets it is already a multitude of that: Norway had 24% plug-in share in 2016, Netherlands 5%, Sweden 3.2 %.”

Returning to individual models, it’s quite impressive that the rather old Nissan LEAF — which has historically pulled out a strong result in the face of challenging battery prices and battery immaturity — landed 50,000 global sales. Despite “looming” long-range, affordable models that outcompete the current LEAF, the electric car frontrunner kept rolling, carrying it forward as the highest-selling electric car in history. Actually, as EV Volumes adds:

“Adding the 1900 units sales of the Chinese Venucia, a rebadged Leaf from the joint-venture with Dongfeng, the Leaf is the #1 of 2016.”

Source: CleanTechnica. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • James

    So if you want your EV to sell successfully, you should make it either very attractive like the Model S or very ugly like the leaf. No mediocrity.

  • Mark Henschel

    Would like to find an aftermarket bigger battery for my new Leaf to double the range. Anybody know of a company that makes higher capacity batteries that will fit a 2016 leaf?

  • Farmer Dave

    Does anyone know if the next Leaf model is due for release in Australia? Apart from Tesla (models S and X), is the only plug-in car currently being sold in Australia the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV?

    I think that it is outrageous that so few of the long list of vehicles given in the article are on sale in Australia.

    • aggri1

      Yes it’s a terrible shame. The BMW i3 is available here, including the newer version with the 94Ah cells. Too bad that it’s also rather expensive (not as bad as the Tesla S but still), and has… questionable… aesthetic characteristics.
      Sad!