Just when it looked like electric cars were running out of juice, the return of $4 a gallon gasoline is generating new life for battery-powered vehicles.
Electric-drive vehicles, including hybrids, plug-in models and pure battery-powered cars, were the fastest-growing segment in the U.S. auto market in the first quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Sales of those models rose 49 percent to 117,182 vehicles in the first quarter, from 78,527 a year earlier before Japan’s earthquake and tsunami pinched output.
Electric cars and hybrids are surging in tandem with gasoline prices, which averaged $3.93 a gallon on April 3, approaching the July 2008 peak of $4.11, according to AAA. Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s Prius hybrid and General Motors Co. (GM)’s Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid electric car each had record sales in March. Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn repeated he’s “bullish” that pure electric cars will capture 10 percent of the market by 2020.
“There are a lot of concerns today that the electric car is going to solve,” Ghosn said yesterday in an interview at the New York auto show. “People don’t want to have to go to the gasoline station. They just want to fill their tank at home. They want to make sure they’re not paying too much money for their gasoline bill every month.”
Sales of the Nissan Leaf electric car will take off in August when Nissan begins producing it in the U.S., boosting output and possibly lowering prices, Ghosn said.