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Will High Summer Gas Prices Be Good for EV Sales?

The recent projections of $4 – $5 gasoline this summer has been flooding the news, with repercussions predicted for everything from vacation trips to the housing market. This may be especially hard for consumers to stomach after 2011, which saw the most expensive average cost ever for a gallon of gas, at $3.513 per gallon.

But could this be good news for particular vehicle fleets, like electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids?

Last year, consumers bought just more than 17,000 Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt electric cars (2011 was the first year they were available). Of course this is a blip on the screen compared to the entire car industry, but let’s go back to the year 2000 when the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius hybrids debuted: fewer than 10,000 were sold that year. Now sales are more than 2 million.

EVs will get an even brighter media spotlight this year as 10 new models come onto the market. The analyst firm IDC Energy Insights predicts there will be 120,000 plug-in vehicles sold in North America this year – a huge jump. And Tesla Motors is crowing about the $40 million in advance orders it’s received for its new electric crossover, the Model X. And with electric vehicles now out and about on the road (I was shocked to see a Volt recently), the stage is set for an increase in sales.

But there are few factors working against EVs: Nissan is increasing the sticker price of its Leaf this year and some of the Volt’s previously standard options are now ones the buyer must pay extra for. Furthermore, other auto makers are cutting the cost of some gas vehicles to counteract a sluggish economy. This last fact could make the financial case for EVs an even tougher one among the masses.

Amid the more established fuel-efficient cars (and those with a comparatively lower price point) like the Toyota Prius, many are optimistic about sales numbers this year specifically because of the predicted higher gas prices. Hybrids and more fuel-efficient gasoline vehicles are likely to be more attractive than EVs to consumers than who want to keep their gas costs as low as possible but who are also looking for something affordable on the front end.

Article by by Maria Surma Manka, appearing courtesy Earth & Industry.