December 2010 marked the first sales of the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt — widely considered the first mass-marketed plug-in electric vehicles (EVs). Since that time, additional models have entered the market. To date, more than one million plug-in EVs have been sold in the United States.
The term “EV” is often used loosely and can have different definitions. However, the term “plug-in vehicle” as used here, specifically refers to those vehicles that are capable of being plugged into the grid to draw all or part of their energy. This includes all-electric vehicles like the Nissan LEAF and plug-in hybrid EVs like the Chevrolet Volt. Hybrid vehicles that cannot be plugged-in are not included, nor are low-speed neighborhood EVs.
In 2011, BMW and Smart joined Nissan and Chevrolet in selling plug-in EVs. Over the next few years, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Tesla, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and others were selling models of plug-in vehicles. By 2018, there were 22 vehicle makes and 41 individual models of plug-in electric cars and sport utility vehicles on the market.
With the expansion of models available, sales of plug-in EVs also grew. Nearly seven years from the introduction of the first mass-marketed plug-in vehicles, cumulative plug-in vehicle sales reached 500,000 in September 2016. Cumulative sales topped one million just two years later. In December 2018 there were nearly 50,000 plug-in EVs sold, capturing 3% of the total light-duty vehicle sales in that month.
To fuel the fast-growing number of plug-in EVs, the number of EV charging units grew from about 3000 in 2011 to over 61,000 in 2018. California has 32.5% of all EV charging units nationwide, the most in any state. Many plug-in EVs are charged at the owner’s home either with a standard 120-V outlet or an installed Level II charger. About 66% of occupied housing units in the United States have garages or carports which often have electricity readily available.
Plug-in EVs are driven nearly as many miles a year as other vehicles. The average household vehicle is driven 30.5 miles per day, or about 11,200 miles a year. All-electric household vehicles average only slightly fewer miles — 10,600 miles a year. The range of all-electric vehicles has grown from a maximum of 94 miles in 2011 — the BMW ActiveE — to 335 miles in 2018 — the Tesla Model S 100D.
An all-electric vehicle drivetrain is about three times more efficient than that of a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle. Furthermore, charging an EV consumes less energy than several common household appliances. Annual energy consumption for a typical household shows that home heating consumes by far the most energy (11,300 kWh) followed by water heating (4700 kWh) and charging an electric car (2800 kWh). Based on average driving habits and consumption rates for the Nissan LEAF, charging an electric car consumes just over twice as much energy as a refrigerator which consumes about 1300 kWh annually.
In addition to light-duty vehicles, there were 54 different models of plug-in medium and heavy trucks and buses that were available for sale in 2018. These included vans, vocational vehicles, refuse haulers, truck tractors, shuttle buses, transit buses, and school buses from more than 15 different manufacturers.
More information on EVs and on the transportation sector in general, can be found in the latest Transportation Energy Data Book published by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Additionally, the Transportation Fact of the Week has many good posts of EV information. This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Vehicle Technologies Office Analysis Program.