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Electric and hybrid vehicle sales jump 81 percent

Consumers preferred hybrids over fully electric models two-to-one in the first quarter

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Automakers that are going all-in on electric vehicles are finally being rewarded. An analysis of sales data by Cox Automotive and Kelley Blue Book shows sales of both electric and hybrid vehicles grew faster than the overall market in the first quarter.

Electrified vehicles accounted for 7.8% of the total U.S. market, up from 4.8% in the first quarter of 2020 -- a growth rate of 81 percent. Broken down for plug-in battery-powered cars only, sales grew 44 percent year-over-year, reaching a record 100,000 units.

But according to the auto analysts, it was hybrids that drove the overall increase. Hybrid sales totaled more than 200,000 vehicles, twice as many as pure EV sales. Total auto sales grew 11.4 percent in the first quarter.

The Kelley Blue Book data team counted 3,908,738 automobiles sold in the first quarter of 2021, topping last year’s total by a wide margin, and was helped by a late-quarter buying surge in March.

“Sales to fleet buyers were off notably last quarter – down 28% percent from Q1 2020 – but robust retail sales more than covered fleet’s shortfall and provided reason to believe new-vehicle sales have recovered from the pandemic meltdown,” the analysts wrote. 

Sigh of relief

The significant increase in EV sales probably came as a relief to auto industry executives who have committed their companies to transition to only building and selling EVs in the near future. To date, consumers have shown a lack of interest.

A year ago, J.D. Power issued a “reality check” for automakers, reporting that consumer’s enthusiasm for EVs remained at 55 on a scale of 100.

“Frankly, we’re concerned for automakers,”  Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & human machine interface research at J.D. Power, said at the time. “They’re pushing forward with technology that consumers seem to have little interest in.”

The first quarter of 2021 may or may not signal a change in attitudes. But while the jump in sales of EV and hybrids in the first quarter is eye-popping in terms of percentage, it adds up to about 300,000 units out of the nearly 4 million cars and trucks consumers purchased.

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