NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The numbers are in for 2011. Approximately 18,000 high-performance electric cars were sold in the U.S. in 2011. By "high-performance" I mean those electric cars that have a top speed at least 10% above 75 MPH and can accelerate to that kind of speed at least as quickly as the average gasoline/diesel car.The 2011 electric bestseller was the Nissan (NSANY.PK) LEAF with 9,674 units, followed by the Chevrolet ( GM) Volt with 7,671 units. Tesla ( TSLA) and Fisker combined delivered fewer than 1,000 cars in the U.S. in 2011.
Shades of GrayIn 2012, at least two cars will enter the market that will muddy these distinctions. Let's start with the Toyota ( TM) Prius Plug-In, which is entering production now and should see its first U.S. consumer deliveries no later than March 2012. It has only a small battery -- I think close to 5 kWh, compared to the Nissan LEAF's 24 kWh and the Chevrolet Volt's 16 kWh -- and can therefore only travel approximately 15 miles on a full charge.
Dawning MarketThe Toyota Prius Plug-In isn't the only car to enter the market in this definitional gray zone. The Ford C-Max Energi will also enter the market in 2012, and it may have a similar architecture to the Toyota Prius Plug-In. I say "may" because Ford has not yet provided the crucial engineering details that would enable us to make the final determination -- but most indications are that it will be similar, even though its battery may be larger, which doesn't change the definitional principle here. Ford is entering the market already this quarter with the $40,000 Focus Electric, an all-electric high-performance car. We really don't have a good sense of the sales expectations for this car, except to say that the geographic availability will be limited in the first half of 2012, and expanded to more states in the second half. Let's tally the 2012 sales expectations for the U.S. market for these electric cars. These estimates are my own, using manufacturer guidance as one possible source:
- Nissan LEAF: 25,000 units
- Chevrolet Volt: 45,000 units
- Tesla Model S: 6,000 units
- Fisker Karma: 5,000 units
- Ford Focus Electric: 7,000 units
- Toyota RAV4 Electric: 4,000 units
- Toyota Prius Plug-In: 12,000 units
- Ford C-Max Energi: 18,000 units