EV Sales Continue to Soar, But a Surge in Production Could Lead to a Glut for Some Models

Source: By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News • Posted: Thursday, July 27, 2023

Waiting lists may be a thing of the past for many EV models as automakers try to balance supply and demand. One positive outcome: lower sticker prices.

Volkswagen ID.3 electric cars in a storage tower.
Volkswagen ID.3 electric cars in the storage tower following assembly at the production facility in Dresden, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

For years, many people who wanted electric vehicles had to get on a list and wait for months to take delivery—the result of demand that exceeded supply.

This equation is now changing. Automakers have ramped up EV production, and dealer lots have gone from a scarcity of options to, in some cases, a glut.

The shift to EVs needs to happen quickly if the United States and the world are going to make rapid progress in cutting carbon emissions. But we don’t yet know how large the public’s appetite is for electric vehicles, or whether auto dealers are ready to sell them in large numbers.

The stakes and the uncertainty can be overwhelming, but there are some encouraging signs.

In the first half of 2023, U.S. customers bought 556,707 electric vehicles, which was up 47 percent from the first half of last year, according to Kelley Blue Book.

EV market share was 7.2 percent of the U.S. market for cars and light trucks, which was up from 5.7 percent in 2022 and 3.1 percent in 2021.

But some indicators are less encouraging.

One of them is how demand for some EV models is not keeping up with the growth in supply.

“While demand is increasing, production is increasing faster,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst for Cox Automotive.

This month, U.S. dealers have an average of 103 days of supply of EVs, which is roughly double the average of 53 days of supply of all models on the market, according to Cox Automotive.

This is a metric that considers how long it would take to run out of a model if the sales rate remains the same and no new inventory arrives. A good rule of thumb is that 60 days of supply, or two months, is optimal. Note that the figures don’t include Tesla or Rivian, since those companies’ direct-to-consumer approach to sales limits the ability to collect data.

The Kia EV6, Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen ID.4 are among the EV models that have at least 120 days of supply.

One way dealers can stimulate sales is to cut prices, and that’s happening for some EVs. Tesla and Ford are among the automakers that have reduced prices.

Ford said its price cut for the Ford F-150 Lightning is a response to gaining efficiencies from an increase in production and because of a drop in costs for battery materials. Pricing for the Lightning now starts at $49,995, down about $10,000 from before this month’s price reduction. This number doesn’t include a federal tax credit of up to $7,500, which is also true of the other vehicle prices I’m listing today.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the price cuts were a response, in part, to rising interest rates. His company has had several rounds of price changes, most of them cuts. The Model Y, the country’s top-selling EV, now has a base price of $47,490.

“As interest rates rise, the affordability of anything bought with that decreases, so effectively increasing the price of the car,” he said last week in a conference call with analysts. “So, when interest rates rise dramatically, we actually have to reduce the price of the car.”

His company has one of the most highly anticipated new models, the Cybertruck, which began production this week, but is not yet widely available.

Musk had this to say in the call about his expectations for Cybertruck sales: “Demand is so far off the hook, you can’t even see the hook.”

The Tesla Model Y and Model 3 have the top two spots on the U.S. sales chart for the first half of the year, far ahead of their closest competitors.

But as more companies introduce EVs and put marketing muscle behind them, Tesla is becoming less dominant than before. In the first half of last year, the company had about 70 percent of the U.S. electric vehicle market based on unit sales, according to Kelley Blue Book. This year, its share is down to about 60 percent, even though its sales have risen.

One of the models that’s got my attention is the Chevrolet Bolt, which is in the middle of a comeback story. The model had a major battery recall in 2021 and a long pause in production, contributing to stretches of poor sales.

General Motors, which owns the Chevrolet brand, said in April that it was planning to discontinue the model, citing the need to retool the Bolt’s factory in Michigan to build other EVs like the Silverado EV pickup.

Meanwhile, the Bolt was turning into a strong seller. The model more than tripled its sales in the first half of this year compared to the same period in the prior year, and it is now the country’s third-highest selling EV.

This week, GM CEO Mary Barra said the company has changed its mind about discontinuing the Bolt. Instead of going away, the model will get a redesign that will include technology upgrades.

“Our customers love today’s Bolt,” she said. “It has been delivering record sales and some of the highest customer satisfaction and loyalty scores in the industry.”

The company didn’t say when the new Bolt would go on sale. The current versions are likely to stop production late this year, followed by a hiatus until the new design or designs become available.

The Bolt is an important vehicle in the EV market because of its relatively low price, with the subcompact hatchback version starting at $26,500 and the subcompact SUV version, called the “Bolt EUV,” starting at $27,800. The model also has long range relative to the price, with a battery capable of going more than 250 miles on a charge.

And the Bolt is an example of an EV that is selling about as fast as dealers are getting them, with 30 days of supply for the hatchback and 23 days for the SUV, two of the lowest numbers in the market.

Krebs of Cox Automotive said to expect ups and downs as automakers feel their way through the shift to EVs.

“We have to understand this is the biggest transition in the history of the auto industry since Henry Ford made the moving assembly line,” she said. “It is not going to be linear. There are going to be big bumps in the road.”

Dan Gearino covers the midwestern United States, part of ICN’s National Environment Reporting Network. His coverage deals with the business side of the clean-energy transition and he writes ICN’s Inside Clean Energy newsletter. He came to ICN in 2018 after a nine-year tenure at The Columbus Dispatch, where he covered the business of energy. Before that, he covered politics and business in Iowa and in New Hampshire. He grew up in Warren County, Iowa, just south of Des Moines, and lives in Columbus, Ohio.