The Chevy Bolt is Killing Hybrid Sales in California

If the automotive market were a foot, electric vehicles would be the curled-up toe on the outside edge. It doesn’t take up a lot of space, you’re not entirely sure what it’s there for, and some people think it’s weird. Still, it clearly has a purpose to serve and it’s hard to imagine the foot without it. There’s potential in that digit.

Strong Chevrolet Bolt deliveries in California pushed up the state’s EV sales by 91 percent in the first quarter of this year. It may still account for only 2.7 percent of the Golden State’s new vehicles, but it’s still more than many of us expected to see this soon. Sales of the more-affordable, longer-ranged EV seem to suggest the market might begin to gobble up plug-ins as more affordable models with superior range continue to arrive. 

“If they can actually deliver, that will be the best opportunity to draw in new buyers.” Kelley Blue Book analyst Rebecca Lindblad told the Los Angeles Times.

General Motors is already cleaning up on the West Coast. Of the 13,804 pure electrics sold in California last quarter, 2,735 were Bolts. However, Chevy is just the tip of the iceberg. Tesla, which currently only sells the pricier Model S and X, is readying its $35,000 Model 3 for end-of-year deliveries while Nissan is prepping the next-generation Leaf (with a competitive 200-mile range) for a fall debut. But things aren’t happening as quickly as California regulators would like.

With 15 percent of all Californian cars sales required to be zero-emission vehicles by 2025, all of the upcoming EVs will need to be hits. “We’re a long way from getting anywhere close,” Lindblad said.

California is also the exception, not the rule, for electric vehicle sales. While EVs are much more popular there than in the other 49 states, it’s still only a sliver of the overall market. Still, the California market reflects a consumer trend seen throughout the United States. Pure EVs are gaining in popularity while hybrids are losing ground. Regular hybrids were down 9.2 percent while plug-in hybrids were up a whopping 54 percent.

Toyota’s Prius is a perfect example. Sales of the Prius have taken a severe beating in 2017, with the plug-in Prime variant the only model to have made any positive headway. Obviously, its updated styling hasn’t helped its appeal, though annual sales have been shrinking by a considerable margin every year since 2014.

Are former hybrid owners migrating to BEVs and PHEVs, or are they making their way back to more efficient traditional powertrains while new customers go for the plug-ins? It’s a question automakers would like to know the answer to. Certainly, Toyota is considering changes to its one-time green leader as the market continues to shift.