As More Hybrids Hit the Market, All-Electrics Still Trying to Catch On

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We're just not feeling this whole charging station thing.

Nevermind high gas prices and government incentives: We just can’t seem to get over the idea of driving a car without gas.

Over the next 12 months, a number of new electric and hybrid gas-electric vehicles will enter the market. While Ford will launch its C-Max Energi hybrid later this year and its Fusion Energi hybrid in 2013, BMW is currently leasing the ActiveE to the U.S., Audi is testing its A3 e-tron, and VW is testing the E-Golf — all three purely electric.

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But even though the number of available electric vehicles is set to rapidly expand this year, Americans are still struggling to get used to the idea of plugging-in rather than filling up. The latest figures show slumping sales for all-electric vehicles but strong numbers for hybrids.

Sales of the Nissan Leaf, for example, an all-electric vehicle that led EV sales last year, are down 69% in June from the year before. By contrast, sales of the Toyota Prius hybrid models will likely hit company goals of 12,000 sales this year and are currently selling at a rate of about 1,500 a month. The hybrid Chevrolet Volt is also doing much better this year. Sales have more than tripled in the first half of 2012, to almost 9,000.

The problem for all-electrics seems to stem from one over-riding concern: running out of battery power, a.k.a. range anxiety. Drivers still hesitate to buy pure EVs because they don’t know where they can recharge the batteries and are concerned about getting stranded without an electricity source. Hybrids, which generally recharge their own batteries while in motion, don’t need to be plugged in — and therefore ease drivers’ fears about being stranded.

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Nissan says its much-improved 2013 version of the all-electric Leaf will soon hit dealerships, which many expect will dramatically boost EV sales. Even as consumers are concerned about driving EVs long distances, the automaker expects to sell 20,000 by the end of this year. Some auto industry analysts don’t believe the automaker will be able to hit that mark, but that it could hit 15,000.

Still, with all the new electric vehicles coming onto the market as automakers expand their product lines, 2012 sales overall are likely to far surpass those in 2011. Last year only about 18,000 EVs sold in the U.S. This year, according to The Street, analysts expect about 62,000 to sell, including 20,000 Chevys, 15,000 Nissans, and 14,600 Toyotas.

But as more electric vehicles hit the road, we’re still tied to the pump  — and likely will be for decades. Even if car makers do sell more than 60,000 EVs this year, that number will account for less than 1% of the U.S. car market.