Insights from the EV Market in 2016

At Atlas, we track markets from all sides—product sales, consumer sentiment, public policy, and the media—which gives us a comprehensive look at what’s going on. Here, we’ll go through our key takeaways from the electric vehicle market in 2016. The visuals you see were all created using the EV Hub, a product Atlas created to help track the EV market’s development. We assembled some custom interactive dashboards from the EV Hub of all the data we’ll present here, which will let you make your own insights.

A more competitive market is weakening the link between EV sales and gas prices

We’ll start with EV sales at the national level—see the dashboard below. We’ve aggregated monthly sales data on EVs and all light-duty sales from hybridcars.com and the Wall Street Journal. We also pulled in monthly gasoline prices from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

National EV Sales Dashboard

The animation below lets us see at a glance which of the top automakers are leaders in the EV market. Higher sales may indicate greater consumer interest, wider availability, and increased investment in the technology. The horizontal axis shows the number of EVs sold by automaker and the vertical access shows the share of car and truck sales that are EVs. The size of the bubble is proportional to the total number of cars and trucks sold. We added the time axis, so we can see how the market’s been evolving.

(We’re not showing Tesla or Smart in this graphic—Tesla because it’s all EVs and Smart because they’re a very small brand that sells a relatively large number of EVs.)

You’ll notice most of the automakers are bunched in the bottom right corner unable to move more than 2,000 EVs quarterly at a very small share of overall sales. Market changes are evident, however, as automaker investments began to pay dividends in 2015 and 2016.

Three years ago, the first quarter saw five automakers sell over 95 percent of EVs in the United States. The market started to open when BMW jumped in during the summer of 2014; it’s since become a market leader after introducing two plug-in hybrids to go along with the innovative all-electric i3. Volkswagen followed suit with new plugins in 2014 and 2015 through VW and its other brands (Audi and Porsche).

By the fourth quarter of 2016, it took 10 automakers to reach 95 percent market share. See the side by side still of these two quarters:

A more robust EV market in the last three years

In all, 16 automakers sold over 25 models in 2016. That’s good progress on improving customer choice, but the top-level national sales figures hide great disparity in availability at the regional level. At present, consumers face serious challenges going into a dealership and driving off the lot in an EV, as we discussed here, and others have discussed here and here.

When gas prices collapsed in the summer of 2014, the internet declared EVs were done for because consumers were embracing $2 gas. It’s true, EV sales leveled off after the oil price drop, as did the fuel economy of new cars and trucks nationwide. In 2016, however, we saw gas prices stay comparatively low, but EVs had a banner year. Take a look at the top-left graphic on page 1 of the National EV Sales Dashboard and see for yourself.

One reason the connection between EV sales and gas prices is weakening is the increase in consumer choice that we talked about above. Having more, and larger plug-in hybrids in showrooms, like the BMW X5 and Volvo XC90 show consumers electrification can reach all segments. Another reason is anticipation over the second generation Chevy Volt. General Motors announced plans for the new Volt in April of 2014, resulting in consistent, decreased year-over-year sales until the new model was introduced in October 2015.

Consumer interest in the Volt declined in April 2014 until the 2nd gen vehicle was available in October 2015

You can see the result of these two factors on overall sales on the second page of the National EV Sales Dashboard. The 12-month moving average hides seasonal variations in the data. The chart in the top-right of the dashboard shows that once the 2nd generation Chevy Volt was introduced along with the larger plug-in hybrids, sales recovered quickly.

Media interest in EVs is growing

Now, let’s take a closer look at how the media is covering EVs. Atlas has partnered with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions to track media coverage of EVs for the last 2 years in order to assist the non-profit with its weekly EV newsletter. For insights in Georgia, we also pulled in state EV sales data from the Auto Alliance. The dashboard below gives quick access to news stories on EVs from around the world.

EV Clips Dashboard

We found coverage of EVs in the media grew steadily over the course of 2016, with particular focus on automakers and EV models, the overall market, and public policy.

As you can see from the dashboard, media coverage for the year peaked in the fourth quarter (along with vehicle sales) and coverage of EV manufacturers and models nearly tripled compared to the end of the first quarter with increasing coverage of the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. We also found the media focused on the deployment of EVs and charging in communities, with stories in 36 of 50 states.

We can use media coverage to help better understand the intricacies of local EV markets. Actions in Georgia in 2014 and 2015 exemplify how local media coverage can highlight the effects of state public policy on EV sales. At one time, Atlanta was the hottest EV market in large part due to the state’s valuable all-electric vehicle tax credit. Growing awareness of the strengthening sales in Georgia (second only to California in 2014) led to increased media coverage and more scrutiny of the incentive. The state legislature decided to eliminate the incentive in the summer of 2015, resulting in a precipitous drop in sales. Despite local stakeholder commitment, the market did not recover in 2016 and media coverage highlighted the elimination of the credit and an increased registration fee for EVs as the reason sales have been unable to reach their 2014 peak. The animation below shows the full timeline.

Utilities are dipping their toes in charging infrastructure

As part of the EV Industry Dialogue, Atlas summarized the importance of industry collaboration in the EV market in a brief published in November of 2016. Electric utilities, in particular, can play a key role in supporting EV market growth. Atlas has been tracking utility filings with regulatory commissions from around the country—see the dashboard below—to get a handle on how various companies are engaging in the market.

Utility Filings with Regulatory Commissions Dashboard

Of all the market developments from 2016, the potential for greater utility engagement in EV infrastructure could bring about the most change in the coming years.

Utilities have started to make the (counterintuitive) case that an increase in electricity use from EVs will benefit all ratepayers. The proposition is that EVs mostly charge at night—when the demand for power is low and some generation assets are sitting idle. Increasing the utilization of these assets can lower the average cost of delivering electricity at all times, thereby putting downward pressure on rates for everyone.

A pivotal moment came in December 2015 when the California Public Utility Commission revised its position on utility ownership of infrastructure, opening the door for ratepayer-funded investments in charging equipment in the largest EV market. All three utilities had submitted proposals and successfully made the case that EV investments were good for the grid.

Nationwide, utilities have taken various approaches to defining their role in this market—with most sitting things out for now. Of those that have engaged, some are looking to own and operate charging equipment using shareholder funds. Others are partnering with third-party charging service providers to deploy charging networks, partially funded by ratepayers.

Utilities activity is worth paying close attention to, even though the cars tend to get the headlines.

2017-05-08T12:59:11+00:00