Limited driving range and lack of public charging are frequently cited as reasons that electric vehicle sales will be limited to early adopters. But the price of gasoline will likely have a much greater impact on the EV market.
Just as sales of the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt were passing the 10,000-unit mark in September, prices at the pumps began plummeting. The national average for a gallon of gas stands around $3.50—down from $3.96 since May. Associated Press reported, “Last week’s plunge in oil prices could push the average to $3.25 per gallon by November.”
The short-term drop in gas prices is noticed by consumers—obscuring the fact that a gallon of gas is about $0.80 higher than a year ago. Americans are on pace to shell out a record-high of nearly $500 billion at the pumps in 2011. Yet, what makes headlines is the slump of oil futures below $80 a barrel in August.
For at least the next year or two, demand will outstrip supply of electric cars, as global manufacturers ramp up production and offer a wider range of plug-in models. But the pace of sales and the length of waiting lists will impact how aggressively carmakers forecast and prepare for more electric models.
Fueling an electric car, as a rule, costs one-third or less than a comparable gas-powered vehicle.
Sales of the all-electric Nissan LEAF can’t seem to build momentum. In September, Nissan tallied 1,031 LEAF sales—down from 1,362 in August. LEAF sales were on a growth trajectory from December through June, but have since been choppy—mostly likely as a result of disruptions due to the March earthquake in Japan.
Sales of hybrid cars have marched in lockstep with gas prices, since the introduction of the Toyota Prius and original Honda Insight more than 10 years ago.
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