The electric car is not a new concept. More than 100 years before the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf began sucking down electrons, the first electric cars were vying for road space against horse-drawn carriages. Fast forward a century or so an we have an electrification revolution of the automotive industry on our hands.
With the ever controversial gas prices and endless debates on pollution, electric vehicles are projected to dominate the automobile world in not so distant future. Not just as a remedy to the energy crisis, but as a beacon of engineering innovation as well.
The U.S. has the leading number of EV consumers with 46,425 all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars sold here only during May of 2019. Yearly sales of electric vehicles in the U.S. amounted to 361,307 units during 2018. At the same time, 2,018,247 EVs and plug-ins have been sold throughout the world (including the U.S.) last year. Needless to say, the electric vehicle sales are only going to grow as they’ve been exhibiting a constant growth rate year in – year out for a while now.
This new craze has replaced the shaky beginnings of the earlier models like Coda and Think City. All luxury outlets like Jaguar, Porsche, and even Polestar are geared towards churning out models that will compete with the Model S and Model X in the electric car market.
Of course, as it’s often the case in the automotive world, some electric models never made it to mass production or they simply failed miserably when it came to making their mark on the industry. This time we’ll focus on both the most successful electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in recent years, and those unlucky ones that have been all but forgotten by now.
15 of the Best-Selling Electric Cars in the U.S. (Dec. 2010- Apr. 2019)
Though the Chevrolet Bolt has set standards and has undoubtedly paved the way for other future models, it is worth reflecting on the steady evolution of EVs to the world market. The following 15 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids hold a track record as the best-selling EVs since late 2010. The data is derived from InsideEVs.
15. BMW 5 Series 530e
The BMW 5 Series 530e only became available in 2017 with the introduction of the seventh G30 generation. Nevertheless, the luxury mid-size plug-in hybrid went to work immediately and quickly accumulated 14,805 sales.
It combines a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder engine with an electric motor and 9.2-kWh lithium-ion battery pack for an estimated all-electric range of 16 miles. The BMW faithful, however, don’t seem to mind the 5 Series hybrid’s low range apparently.
14. Volkswagen e-Golf
The e-Golf was Volkswagen’s hybrid car, improvised by installing a battery inside. In the 2015 road test, it did well in a city ride but failed as a conventional family car. It took more than four good years for American consumers to buy a mere 14,941 units. The e-Golf’s range is estimated at 125 miles on a single charge.
Nevertheless, it holds Volkswagen’s place as some of the pioneers of electric cars. Volkswagen still harbors grand plans on producing more EVs.
13. BMW X5 xDrive40e
The X5 is the Bavarian automaker;s first ever SUV, having debuted way back in 1999. Correspondingly, the xDrive40e version of the luxury SUV is the company’s very first plug-in hybrid vehicle – something that they’re aiming to build upon.
Not only was it quite powerful, but the X5 plug-in also offered 54 MPGe which was obviously a plus for 16,818 buyers that went for one between 2014 and 2018. With the new generation of the crossover debuting in 2019, the xDrive40e has been replaced with a more powerful xDrive45e which aims to continue where its predecessor has left off.
12. Honda Clarity PHEV
The upscale mid-size car from Honda is available either as a plug-in hybrid, fully electric, or a fuel-cell vehicle. Needless to say, the plug-in is the most affordable, hence it’s also the best-selling of the three. Honda has marketed 25,018 units since December 1, 2017 surpassing a number of veteran electric cars on its way to the twelfth spot of the best-selling electrics in the U.S. since 2010.
The Clarity plug-in hybrid combines a 1.5L inline-four gasoline engine with a permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor for a combined output of 212 horsepower. It also boasts a 17-kWh lithium-ion battery pack which gives it 47 miles of all-electric range and combined fuel economy of 110 MPGe.
11. Fiat 500e
Its small size notwithstanding, the Fiat 500e surprised many when thousands of units were sold in the U.S. in 2016 alone. The late Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said the car was a money-loser but his word was lost in the vigor and appeal of the 500e the buyers found enthralling.
At 26,868 units sold since its inception in 2013, the Fiat 500e mortified similar models like Ford Focus Electric and Chevy Spark EV in two states. It currently boasts a range of 84 fully electric miles which makes it a great city car.
10. BMW i3
The BMW’s approach to EV production was slightly different than it was the case with other manufacturers. They fused both pure EV and plug-in hybrid systems into the i3. This innovative method ensured the car’s gas engine range to be nearly equal to its EV range. This gave drivers a choice: you could use the weaker gas engine and then charge when the gas runs out.
38,868 models were bought in America from May 2014 when the i3 hit the market. As of 2019, the BMW i3 boasts a range of 153 miles which is a significant upgrade over the initial model’s 81 miles.
09. Ford C-Max Energi
Ford briefly stopped making plug-in hybrids after the Focus Electric, Fusion Energi, and C-Max Energi came out in 2012, but will pick things up after 2020. The Max’s unique feature of running 20 miles on electric power before switching to gasoline made it a hot cake on the U.S. market.
It ranked fifth in 2013 and remains top ten to date. So far, Ford has sold 42,231 units of the C-Max Energi but won’t be selling any more of them since the C-Max got the axe in 2019. The plug-in Energi was discontinued even earlier, back in 2017.
08. Chevrolet Bolt EV
The Chevy Bolt was unveiled in late 2016 and already finds itself in the top 10 best-selling EVs and plug-ins in the U.S. since 2010 (or pretty much all-time if you will). With 48,517 units sold since, the city car is expected to remain on the list for foreseeable time. Chevrolet will, however, face the federal tax limit soon, so they’ll either have to lower Bolt’s price or risk buyers looking elsewhere.
Rated at 238 miles on a full charge by the EPA, the Bolt EV is one of the best cars on the market in that segment. Coupled with a relatively affordable price, it’s no wonder that its sales are picking up.
07. Ford Fusion Energi
The Ford Fusion Energi offers you the luxury and comfort of any regular car; with 25 miles of electric driving to boot. A plug-in model like its sister model, the Ford Fusion struck a chord among consumers upon its release. The Fusion gained momentum in 2016 when Ford revamped already existing models and old ones.
Much like the discontinued C-Max, the Fusion Energi too arrived in 2012 and has managed to accumulate 63,964 sales by now. Unlike the MPV, the sedan won’t be going anywhere for at least a year or two – even though Blue Oval is scrapping pretty much its entire car lineup.
06. Tesla Model X
The Model X’s meteoric rise among the best-selling electric cars is nothing short of a surprise. Just a year after its intense production process which was completed in 2015, it sold 14,562 units. A number that’s currently standing at 72,127 in 2019. That record sale made the Model X a threat to other EV models at the time – a threat that proved to be true. The next tallying is expected to push its demand higher.
Tesla vehicles are receiving constant updates and modern-day Model X exhibits different battery configurations and range than the early models. At the moment, Model X can cover up to 295 miles of driving range, but also comes in performance and “Ludicrous” modes which focus on… well, performance.
05. Toyota Prius Prime PHV
The Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid is still one of the best-selling models in the EV generation. Though not red-hot as the conventional hybrid models, the Prius Prime still managed to sell 100,759 models between its introduction to the market in 2012 and early 2019.
The latest generation of Prius Prime boasts up to 25 miles of all-electric range and 133 MPGe. Or 54 mpg in hybrid mode if you will.
04. Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf has dominated the electric car market for what seems like an eternity. Its electric power range (226 miles), road performance, and cost couldn’t possibly be pitted against any other EV. It remained a favorite among the first-generation EV consumers.
The peak of its sale at 30,200 units in 2014 set a pace for a while (until the Tesla Model 3 arrived). As of now, the classic Nissan Leaf has a whopping 134,392 sales since its tires touched the road, making it one of the best selling electric cars in the world. It’s worth noting that its sales figures have more than halved since 2014.
03. Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S has no doubt set pace in the advent of EVs. An iconic symbol of cars in its stature, it has fulfilled the Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s aspiration of making EVs a part of our lives. The Tesla Model S has ensured the pulse of electric vehicles keeps pumping.
It so happens to be the most expensive EV model and a guaranteed best-seller at the same time. OK, a second best-seller behind another Tesla. As of November 2016 onward, Tesla sold 149,367 units of Model S. This figure is expected to rise significantly in the future.
02. Chevrolet Volt
Even though the Chevrolet Volt is not purely electric, its range extender capability places it at the top. It has a gas engine that remains as effective as an electric system. These seemingly contrasting features have earned the Volt undue criticism; but as they say, numbers don’t lie. If anything, drivers who own the Chevy Volt use more EV range compared to the Nissan Leaf drivers, and that alone should dispel the skewed perceptions towards this EV maverick.
Speaking of numbers, the Volt heralds a conquest of 155,477 sales. Bearing in mind that this is a plug-in model, the Volt held the crown of America’s favorite electric vehicle of all time for quite a while. Despite that, GM decided to discontinue it, making it one of the recently discontinued cars we might not see ever again.
01. Tesla Model 3
One of the last electric cars to arrive to the market, the long-awaited Model 3 has broken all sales records and keeps counting. In less than two years between July of 2017 and April of 2019, the latest addition to the Tesla lineup has managed to find no fewer than 187,971 new owners in the U.S. alone.
As of March 2019, this figure climbs by rate of 10,000 and more units per month so it can safely be expected that there won’t be any electric vehicles capable of dethroning the best-selling electric car in the U.S. for quite a while. The only real competition might be the forthcoming Tesla Model Y, but the affordable electric crossover is still ways down the road.
10 Electric Vehicles That Never Succeeded
There has been a wide variety of electric cars produced over the last century. However, most of them never made it to mass production. Here’s our list of the top 10 electric cars that either didn’t make the cut, or never achieved market success.
10. Th!nk City
The Think City (Stylized Th!nk) was made out of recycled body parts, yet it was expensive, uderpowered, and plagued by short range. On top of that, it also sported a rather questionable styling. So, how the hack did it manage to sell more than 2,500 units over the course of 4 years, still baffles me.
To be fair, the Norwegian-made automobile was one of only five registered 100-percent electric cars in the US at the time of its arrival. And all kinds of incentives (including company’s own rebate), could have slashed that hefty $36,500 price tag to more bearable levels.
Still, only 50 hp and 66 lb-ft of torque generated by a petite 34 kW electric motor didn’t do it any favors. Top speed was advertised at 70 mph, although Think City managed more than 80 mph. By doing so, however, the odd-looking hatchback severely cut its already short 99-mile range.
Slow sales and lack of major automaker’s cash flow resulted in Think Global’s bankruptcy, in the end. It was their fourth bankruptcy in as many as 20 years. One would have thought they’ve learned something the first three times!
09. Cadillac ELR
The Cadillac ELR is a proof that even well-established automakers with both means and know-how to create and market something new, can fail miserably at doing so. That’s because the ELR probably wasn’t anything new. It was actually a pimped up Chevy Volt with somewhat plushier interior, Cadillac badging, and a horror price tag of $75,000.
It’s no wonder fewer than 3,000 people bit the bait. What’s more, that wasn’t the first time Cadillac tried passing a Chevy with a Caddy badge (khm, Cimarron). This was Cadillac’s first foray into the electric car market. Judging by the way this adventure has gone, it’ll take some tome before they try something similar again.
08. Toyota RAV4 EV (First-Gen)
The gasoline-powered version of the Rav4 was, and still is a huge success. The public gobbled up the little SUV with its toothy grin and bug-eyed stare. Unfortunately, the electric version did not share a similar fate.
Toyota’s all-electric RAV4 premiered in 1997, but was only offered for lease to fleets and a handful of individuals. The RAV4 EV featured a nickel-metal hydride battery pack and a range of between 80-110 miles per charge. In 2012 a second generation RAV4 EV, a joint project of Toyota and Tesla debuted, and lasted for only two years. Still, it’s not likely that you will ever see a first generation (1997-2003) electric SUV in the wild.
07. ZAP Xebra
The ZAP corporation thought they’d pull one right by the NHTSA, but they miscalculated the percentages. By marketing the ZAP Xebra with only three wheels, they could bypass strict safety regulations as Xebra was legally considered a three-wheel motorcycle. Apart from being a motorcycle (of sorts), Xebra was also either a sedan or a pickup.
Although by now the ZAP Xebra sounds like fun, it wasn’t. Xebra was motivated by 5 kW (6.7 hp) DC electric motor which allowed crazy speeds of up to 40 mph. Range wasn’t much better either. The 1,800-pound “car” could have traversed maximum of 40 miles. The faster you went (as if that thing understood the concept of speed), the lower the range got.
Being built in China, it was also the first Chinese car imported into the US. They went for around $12,500 and came with no airbags, air conditioning, or highway capability whatsoever. Furthermore, they didn’t have functional brakes either. The NHTSA finally figured that out in 2013 and ordered all 700 plus sold Xebras recalled, and either destroyed or otherwise disabled. That’s how we know how many of them were sold.
06. Aptera Motors 2 Series
Although the California-based company existed between 2005 and 2011, they never actually managed to produce a mass market car. Wild prototypes were where they excelled, and the closest they got to a finished product was the oddball three-wheeled Aptera 2 Series consisting of models 2e and 2h.
The all-electric 2e only used a Remy-sourced 82kW electric motor, while the plug-in 2h combined a small gasoline generator with an electric motor. The latter would only use the engine to power the batteries and Aptera quoted a range of up to 700 miles. The 2e’s range, on the other hand, was estimated at 120 miles which in 2011 wasn’t all that spectacular.
In the end, the company went under shortly after confirming they’ve finally finished working on the 2 Series. We’ll never know what might have happened have they remained solvent, but in all honesty, I think we all know the 2 Series would have been a bust anyway.
05. Baker Electric Car
Picture the lovechild of a Model T and a Toyota Prius plug-in, and you’ve got the Baker Electric Car. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Baker rolled out their first electric vehicles around 1900 and sold one of them to none other than Thomas Edison.
However, advances in gasoline vehicle technology after the turn of the century swayed the public towards the internal combustion engine, killing the battery operated horseless carriage.
Oh yeah, one other cool fact: Jay Leno owns a Baker Electric car.
04. Fisker Karma
While not a purely electric vehicle, the Fisker Karma was a plug-in hybrid capable of operating solely on battery juice. It featured two electric motors and a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine producing a combined 403 horsepower, as well as an appearance that would make most Ferraris look dull.
The Fisker has even been the star of a celebrity crash: In 2013, Guitarist Carlos Santana made the news when he totaled his Fisker Karma in Las Vegas after falling asleep at the wheel. Despite its good looks and fame, the Fisker was plagued by electrical gremlins and reliability issues, and was subsequently discontinued after just a couple of years in production. A little over 2,000 units were ultimately sold.
03. General Motors EV1
The GM EV1 is arguably the most famous by far of all electric vehicles that never made it. This battery-driven car has been the subject of many books, movies and conspiracy theories. Produced between 1997 and 2003, the first generation model was available in some areas of California and featured a lead acid battery that gave drivers a range of up to 50 miles per charge.
The second generation entered production in 1999, and utilized a nickel-metal hydride battery that almost doubled the car’s range. The EV1 was available for lease only, and when the car was discontinued all vehicles were reclaimed by GM – hence the conspiracy theories (of course, it didn’t help the car also looked like a flying saucer). A total of 1,117 units were ultimately produced.
02. Chevrolet S-10 EV
Who says pickup trucks are just for cowboys in Texas? In 1997, GM released an electric version of its compact S-10 pickup truck that would be more at home in Silicon Valley than on the ranch. The first generation version had a lead acid battery that delivered roughly 40 miles of range. In 1998, the option of a nickel-metal hydride battery that doubled the truck’s range was offered.
GM pulled the plug (pun intended) on the S-10 EV in 1998. Only 60 units were actually sold, although 492 in total were made. Rest were leased; mostly to fleet customers. When that lease expired, they were recalled and destroyed in order to “protect the GM’s proprietary EV technology.”
But the truth, as it’s often the case, was somewhat deeper. By destroying most of EV1’s and S-10 EV’s, in one fell swoop, GM also protected themselves from liability lawsuits. After all, the S-10 EV had 312 volts on board. Moreover, they also protected their dealers from having to service discontinued electric vehicles with deficitary parts.
The electric sedan entered the California market with much enthusiasm and managed to sell a total of… wait for it… 117 units. All that between March 2012 and April 2013. The car was based on the Chinese-built 2005 Hafei Saibao, which in turn sports a 1997 Mitsubishi Lancer chassis. Coda Automotive only updated front and rear fascias and hoped they’d done enough. Well, they didn’t.
Coda Automotive claimed their offspring could travel up to 125 miles on a single charge. Although the EPA disputed that and lowered the bar to 88 miles, that was still one of the longest all-electric ranges available back then.
Price was set at $37,250 which was a bit too much for a Chinese electric car with the 1990s Lancer chassis. But that’s not where the story ends. Mullen Technologies Inc. actually bought off the remaining unsold units and is currently trying to sell them as the Mullen 700e. In their words, the all-new electric car (yeah, right) now sports a 180-mile projected range and costs… Well, they never disclosed the price. You’ll have to contact them in order to find out. But lem me ask you something: how much would YOU spend on a car that’s been recycled… twice?