What Will Be America's First Best-Selling Electric Car?

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We have relatively affordable electric cars. We have relatively popular electric cars. But we have not yet had the best-selling car in America be electric.

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I think it’s no great stretch of the imagination to think that, at some point, our best-selling car will be all-electric. The only alternatives would be that we quickly leapfrog all-electric power to something else, or we give up on cars altogether before the transition takes.

The former situation I highly doubt, as hydrogen fuel cell cars are fundamentally EVs but with hydrogen acting like a battery. The latter I doubt as well. Burning hydrogen seems like a lot of work in comparison to using fuel cells, and biofuels don’t seem to have the investment backing like battery tech. They might be better, but investment is what counts. When the auto industry as a whole moves to support one major design, it really leaves the rest in the dark. That’s what we saw with the great disinvestment from electric technology a little over 100 hears ago.

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I suppose that whole past timeline of EVs negates my question altogether. I know electrics were about a third of the American car market as a whole at the turn of the 20th century, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a Pope or Columbia briefly held the top sales spot.

In all of my thinking and writing about EVs new and old, it never quite occurred to me to wonder what the first best-selling modern electric car will be. I never gave much thought as to which company would produce it, or what kind of vehicle it would be.

Right now, two pieces of evidence would point towards one conclusion, but I don’t think it makes a ton of sense. The electric car Americans buy the most of at the moment is the Tesla Model 3. The type of vehicle Americans buy the most of is a pickup truck (the Ford F-Series). It stands to reason that when Tesla gets its electric pickup on sale, it would take that top spot, but I somehow don’t see Americans buying more Cybertrucks than anything else. I also don’t know if Tesla as a company can produce that many of the things, and I don’t know if the current lithium industry is capable of supporting it. I guess the same could be said of Ford’s upcoming all-electric F-150.

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I know I asked this question in The Morning Shift earlier, but I’m still wondering: If the best-selling car that happens to be electric is farther down the road, what will it be?

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

  1. Ford F-Series: 896,526 Units.
  2. Ram Pickup: 633,694 Units. ...
  3. Chevrolet Silverado: 575,600 Units. ...
  4. Toyota RAV4: 448,071 Units. ...
  5. Honda CR-V: 384,168 Units. ...
  6. Nissan Rogue: 350,447 Units. ...
  7. Chevrolet Equinox: 346,048 Units. ...
  8. Toyota Camry: 336,978 Units. ...

Source: https://www.motor1.com/features/358016/20-bestselling-vehicles-2019/

Looking at the above, the answer will be the first manufacturer who can build an electric pickup truck that suffers no performance compromise— real OR perceived— from a gasoline pickup.

I predict that is impossible to occur for at least 10, if not 20— or more— years to come, given what many of those trucks sold are asked to do: *work*.

Also, never forget something that is unfortunately inexplicably forgotten here by Jalopnik’s electric-cheering authors: automotive purchases are always, ALWAYS, aspirational. People everywhere, even those at the most functional, car-ignorant end of the spectrum, still buy a vehicle for their INTENDED uses, not their actual uses. Even the most rational consumers are affected by emotion, because the most rational consumer is still an irrational human being. Which means in practice that many of the people who buy pickup trucks buy it for the image that they convey, and the performance *they could someday use it for*.

That thought process means truck buyers everywhere consider things like towing capacity (“I might want a boat someday”), ability to travel far distances (“Hey, remember that trip we took to the lake? We should go back this summer”), ability to efficiently carry cargo (“I need a pickup for mulch trips”), and ability to do things they can’t otherwise do (“Man, it’d be sweet to hit Moab and go off-roading”).  In practice, the consumer may not do any of those things at all, but the moment you attempt to sell a product that tells the consumer they CAN’T do those things, they will look for alternatives that still give them the option of maybe, someday, possibly using their truck in the way they once fantasized about using that truck.

The problem is, each of those aspirational goals are defeated in 2020 by the compromises required by electric vehicles. They won’t be so forever, but they will be until either one of two things occurs: electric vehicles equal or surpass ICE vehicles in ALL factors of performance, to include range and recharging; or governments outlaw ICE vehicles.

Sadly, the latter is more likely to occur long before the former.