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Driving Today

Hybrids and Plug-ins Seek to Break out of Their Niche

Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles are set to exceed 5 percent of U.S. sales by 2017, says Pike R...

Will hybrid and electric vehicles be able to grow from a niche into the mainstream? Some industry experts are skeptical about their prospects based on current performance, but Pike Research says the early market for electric vehicles is proving that demand for the vehicles exists across the globe. The combination of consumer purchase incentives, rising fossil-fuel costs and exciting new vehicle models is fueling a strong early adopter market, says Pike Research.

One thing for which there is no controversy -- production of electric vehicles -- is gearing up all over the world, and automakers are planning to launch an increasing variety of new models over the next few years. In recent weeks, Chevrolet and Honda have officially launched new electric vehicles bound for the U.S. market, and this marks two steps in a growing trend. Over the next few years, automakers around the world will introduce dozens of new electric and hybrid models, fueling consumer interest and increasing sales of electric vehicles as a percentage of total auto sales.

According to a recent report from Pike Research, hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) will represent 3.1 percent of worldwide auto sales by 2017. Thanks to higher penetration rates in the United States, HEVs and PEVs will account for 5.1 percent of total U.S. vehicle sales in 2017.

“The PEV electric vehicle market is anticipated to miss many of the targets set by governments because vehicle programs have not been launching as rapidly as expected even a year ago,” says Dave Hurst, Pike senior analyst. “Those targets aside, though, the EV market will grow at a rapid clip in the next six years, at a rate of nearly 20 percent a year, compared to fewer than 4 percent for the worldwide market for vehicles of all kinds.”

While electric and hybrid sales are expected to show the greatest growth in North America, the Asia Pacific region is expected to experience the most rapid growth in the number of plug-in electric models. Some 26 electric vehicle models will be available in Asia Pacific by the end of 2011, compared with 23 models in Europe and 10 in North America. However, strong demand for hybrid electric vehicles in North America will lead to the availability of 40 models by the end of 2012, versus 14 HEV models in Asia Pacific.