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Why are electric vehicle sales slowing down?



Toyota Prius hybrid model cars wait for customers at a Toyota dealer in Hollywood.
Toyota Prius hybrid model cars wait for customers at a Toyota dealer in Hollywood.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

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This afternoon Tesla Motors officially announced it will build its new $5-billion battery factory in Nevada. But when it comes to Tesla sales, they are down slightly this year while the market for electric cars as a whole is down much more.

That bucks the overall trend for car sales, which are up 5 percent this year, But it’s the inverse for electric car sales, which are off 4.8 percent, according to a new analysis from the car-buying website Edmunds.com.

“I was surprised, because like a lot of people I look on the road and see a lot more electric vehicles and a lot more hybrids," said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com.

Caldwell admits that’s probably because she lives in the hybrid capital, Los Angeles.

All-electric and plug-in cars have been selling well, up 34.9 percent and 44.3 percent this year, respectively. But those kinds of vehicles only make up a fraction of the overall electric market, which is dominated by traditional hybrids, which Caldwell says has become oversaturated.

“A lot of people bought a Toyota Prius before because it said something about themselves,” said Caldwell. “It made them feel special and different. Now that the vehicle is so popular, I don’t know if the sentiment is the same.”

Caldwell says the other problem for hybrids is that the good old internal combustion engine is more fuel-efficient than ever so drivers don’t save as much money going green.

The upside is that Caldwell says there lots of good deals to be had on hybrids, which were hard to come by back when they were cool.