• Study: EVs are catching on more quickly than hybrids did
  • Study examines first four years of sales for early hybrids, early EVs
  • Tax incentives and consumer awareness likely explain the popularity difference

Electric vehicles are catching on faster now than hybrids did when they were first launched. That's the latest from a new study by IHS Automotive, which compared sales of early Toyota Prius models to the Nissan Leaf EV and the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt.

According to the IHS study, the Prius managed to sell around 52,200 units in its first four years of global availability. That's a big number for a car filled with unfamiliar technology, but it's nowhere near as strong as the Volt's 68,500 units over the same initial 4-year period. And it certainly can't beat the Nissan Leaf's impressive 4-year global sales total of 96,500 units worldwide.

What's the reason that hybrid cars took so long to take off compared to their electric counterparts? One explanation is simple: Before hybrids, most shoppers had little or no understanding at all of electric vehicles. Now that we've had several years to become familiar with hybrids, the jump to an EV or a plug-in doesn't seem so big, meaning more shoppers are willing to take the risk.

Another reason electric vehicles have enjoyed better success might be the fact that they use no gas at all. While some shoppers may have been unwilling to upgrade to a gas-powered hybrid car such as the Prius, others likely wanted to wait for a vehicle that uses no gasoline at all, such as the Leaf, or very little, such as the Volt.

Of course, lease deals and tax incentives have probably also spurred Leaf and Volt sales, at least in the U.S. Both Chevrolet and Nissan have offered several enticing lease offers to Americans, while the U.S. government doles out up to $7,500 in income tax credit to drivers who choose an electric car.

What it means to you: Electric vehicles are catching on quickly -- and that means more models are likely to come.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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