2021 Is Here: Here Are the Top 10 Electric Car Companies
We update this list regularly because the market is changing so quickly. The new models we’ve driven have caused us to rethink the Top 10. We’ll try to keep this up-to-date as the EV market continues to evolve.
Picking the Top 10 electric car makers now involves making some choices as the number of vehicles available increases. Plug-ins are trending in key markets around the country, although much of the action remains focused in California and other West Coast states. This is a good point (October 2021) to take stock as it’s the traditional time of the start of a new model year with several introductions already made. The hard numbers for the Top 10 EV sellers for the first eight months of 2021 are as follows:
- Tesla Model Y 105,445
- Tesla Model 3 80,681
- Chevrolet Bolt 22,799
- Ford Mustang Mach-E 15,938
- Volkswagen ID4 10,685
- Nissan Leaf 10,238
- Hyundai Kona 7,349
- Porsche Taycan 6,822
- Tesla Model S 6,212
- Audi E-tron 5,612
Reflecting back just a few years, this list is amazing. It’s a robust list of a variety of models–the majority of which are focused on the hot crossover segment–with total sales of more than 150,000 from six major automaker groups. The list also reflects the continuing dominance of Tesla in the market, something we acknowledge in our rankings.
This list is subjective and weighted toward functionality with an emphasis on fun, but also factors in sales numbers. Enjoy! Let us know what you think.
Tesla – the 4,800-pound Gorilla
Leading for a Decade, Now Profitably
Tesla is described as disruptive technology, but in reality the company has done what auto companies have done for a little more than a century—build great cars and match them up with owners who appreciate them. The Model S is the best-selling plug-in car in the U.S. for 2016, followed by the Model X. Almost two-thirds of the battery electric cars sold in the U.S. had Tesla badges on them. We recently spent some time in a brand-new ludicrously loaded Model X P100D as well as the newer Model Y and Model 3 and can verify the appeal of the cars.
The roomy Model S luxury sedan now starts at about $90,000 with a 100 kWh battery pack and all-wheel drive, offering 405 miles of range. The only upgrade is the Plaid version that features even faster acceleration from three motors, producing sub-two second 0-60 runs. Production of the Roadster, the company’s initial product, ended after deliveries totaling 2,500, but a new version of the Roadster is due at some point.
Tesla helped former shareholder Toyota to bring back the Toyota RAV4 EV, an electric SUV and also aided its other OEM shareholder, Daimler (which also has since divested its Tesla shares), with the Smart ED and B-Class Electric.
The Model 3 its affordable ($35,000 as it was originally advertised, though most have sold for more), smaller model changed everything. Tesla found the volume (after some initial stumbles) that has moved the company toward fiscal stability. Bolstered by production in China for that key market, soon to be augmented by new plants in Austin, Texas, and Germany, Tesla does not appear to be looking back, but if it did would continue to see other automakers in its rearview mirror. On the horizon is the segment-busting Cybertruck, the new Roadster, a Semi truck and maybe a true entry-level $25,000 model. Technology upgrades like Full Self Driving remain available to buy, but are not delivered via an over-the-air update. Autopilot remains somewhat controversial. First Drive: 2017 Tesla Model X P100D; Tesla Continues to Get Mixed Marks; Flash Drive: Tesla Model 3.
2. The German Juggernaut — the Volkswagen ID4, Audi E-tron(s) & Porsche Taycan
VW and its Affiliate Brands Aim for your Garage
The German automakers may not have fully grasped the electric wave that was coming, but when Teslas started cruising the Autobahn a high rates of speed, some attitudes started shifting. Volkswagen Group (which includes VW, Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley in the U.S.) has fully embraced EVs and, after years of teasing with snazzy concepts, the real hardware is for sale–and is selling well.
The volume lead is the new Volkswagen ID4, which we’ve spent enough time in to truly appreciate, but pricey models from Porsche and Audi are selling solidly as well. In fact, the latest sales figures show the Porsche Taycan outselling not only the venerable 911, but also the Panamera. Audi has already spun off one additional E-tron model, the fastback GT, but others are due shortly. Over at VW, everyone seems to be waiting for the IDBuzz, the reborn microbus, to hit, but we’ve been told we’ll just have to wait. In its cavalcade of concepts, VW also recently showed an entry-level model that appeared to be an electric reincarnation of the Beetle, but without its iconic shape.
Models from Bentley and Lamborghini will come, too, but in the small, expensive numbers in which those brands routinely trade. The VW Group is all-in, so expect to see more news and road tests appearing soon. Flash Drive: Volkswagen 2021 ID4 AWD; Road Trip: Volkswagen ID4; Audi Adds Q4 E-tron Sportback; Audi Lays Out Plans for 20 EVS.
3. Ford Mustang Mach-E (& F-150 Lightning & E-Transit)
A Strong Strategy That’s Already Winning Customers
Ford has had little to show in the EV market some some time. A disappointing compliance car, the Ford Focus EV, languished while plug-in hybrid versions of the midsize Fusion and small crossover C-Max sold relatively well, until Ford came up with a real plan. The plan was nothing short of market dominance (something a few other automakers also think they have a handle on). First volley–a recasting of the iconic Ford Mustang as an electric crossover–the Mach-E. So far, so good, as market acceptance has been strong. Take the Mach-E battery pack and drop it into the best-selling Ford Transit commercial vehicle and the E-Transit enters the last-mile delivery market. Finally, take the company and the country’s best-selling vehicle–the Ford F-150–and recast it as an affordable, capable all-electric work vehicle with higher-end consumer versions also available. It’s not here yet, but we’ve ridden in it (as well as the E-Transit) and think Ford’s strategy is solid. Road Test: Ford Mustang Mach-E; News: Ford Introduces the E-Transit.
4. Chevrolet Bolt/Bolt EUV – Waiting for more GM EVs
Holding the Line While Reinforcements Start to Roll Off the Line
General Motors has done something remarkable, enough so that we were tempted to jump them up to the top of this chart until they stumbled recently. They have done two major things to deserve the attention they’re getting. First was to introduce the second generation Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car (which gets tossed in with plug-in hybrids even though its system really takes a different approach). It followed the new Volt with the all-electric 238-mile range Bolt before the Volt was unceremoniously dropped as the company shifted to full-electrics only with the introduction of the Ultium battery platform that will underpin the next generation of vehicles, led by the GMC Hummer EV pickup and Cadillac Lyric crossover.
Beating Tesla to the market with the Bolt was quite a coup, particularly with a car as well-executed as this EV is, but GM has been slow with its follow up. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in this car and think it’s a keeper, but the real story will be in the next generation of GM EVs. Flash Drive: 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV; News: GMC Hummer EV First Edition Sells Out; Cadillac Lyric First Look.
5. Nissan Leaf – the Standard Bearer
Now Languishing; Waiting for Reinforcements
Nissan has been the sales leader of affordable pure electric cars and is staying the course in its commitment to this technology. After a decade with only one EV in the North American market, Nissan is about to launch its follow-up–the Ariya crossover.
The company’s flagship car is the Leaf, a five-door, five-seat hatchback that is the right size and range for many who drive around 100+ miles daily. The Leaf has increased its range, looks and functionality since its introduction and remains a key affordable EV choice while used Leafs offer a low-cost EV alternative. Road Trip: 2020 Nissan Leaf; News: The Nissan Ariya Crossover.
6. Kia/Hyundai/Genesis – Coming on Strong
Don’t forget the Korean plug-ins
Kia had its Soul EV on the market and made its presence known, then added the Niro EV (and PHEV & Hybrid), but now is adding the EV6 crossover. We’ve had a chance to test the Soul and were impressed, as we were with the next EV, the Kia Niro EV. Kia’s parent company Hyundai, Kia is scheduled to launch the Ioniq 5 crossover (joining the Ioniq EV sedan and Kona EV in its lineup). In addition, the ambitious company already has launched the upscale Genesis brand’s first EV, the GV60 crossover. Finally, Hyundai has a unique offering, its Nexo fuel cell electric vehicle , which is available in California. News: Two EV Introduction Paths from Kia/Hyundai; Road Test: 2020 Kona EV; Flash Drive: 2020 Hyundai Nexo FCEV; News: Genesis Intros the GV60 EV.
7. BMW – the Ultimate Electric Driving Machine?
BMW charged into the electric car space with two strong, if quirky, contenders—the hot-selling i3 and the i8 plug-in hybrid supercar. We’ve driven both and are impressed by both, as are many others. But now BMW is shifting to EVs that emulate its traditional vehicles–and aim to replace them, including the hot-blooded M-Series. The first models are just tricking out and BMW also has heavily invested in plug-in hybrid models, so the next page of this story is just unfolding, but expect it to be as road-worthy as any of the traditional Bavarian models. BMW Takes Middle Path to Electrification; Road Test: 2014 BMW i3. Road Test: 2019 BMW i8 Roadster.
8. Daimler Begins an Electric Onslaught
In America Starting with the Big Guns
Daimler is the automotive giant that owns Mercedes-Benz and Smart and also was a Tesla stockholder. While it has had two pure EVs on the market for a while, then added plug-in hybrids—the C350We, GLE 550e and S550 Plug-in–as a placeholder until this year, and after a hiccup where an electric SUV was introduced, but never brought to the U.S. market. We just got out of an extensive two-day drive of the Mercedes EQS (report coming soon) that is clearly positioned as the successor to the ICE S-Class. Sneak preview: There’s no reason why it can’t do almost everything an S-Class owner would expect–quieter and with more power. It’s the first of a line of EVs that will initially sell alongside their gas and diesel siblings, then eventually replace them. There’s no reason to believe Mercedes won’t make the shift to an EV lineup quickly and with little disruption of its solid market, based on our initial experience. In fact, there may be a good chance it will be able to expand its slice of the market if the vehicles come out quickly and are as impressive as the EQS. News: Mercedes EQC Introduced; First Drive: 2016 Mercedes-Benz B250e; Smart Fortwo ED;
8. Toyota – Big in Hybrids; Betting on Fuel Cells & Electrics
Toyota, blasting past 10 million hybrid sales worldwide, has dabbled in both plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars, but is focused on fuel cell electric cars, which use hydrogen to produce electricity on board and power the electric motors. The company also continues to promise volume EVs for consumers, but appears to plan to do that on its own timetable, which may be based on the development of a new generation of batteris.
Toyota’s Prius Prime and RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrids are distinguished from the standard Prius and RAV4 and seem to have found a sales niche. Toyota offered a limited model RAV4 full-EV in California: the RAV4 EV, with an advertised 150-mile electric range (produced with some help from Tesla, in which Toyota was a shareholder at the time) and earlier did a limited EV run of its minicar, the iQ. Now on the market is the second generation Mirai, a fuel-cell sedan with a 350-mile range and a $57,000 price tag. Toyota offers 12 hybrid models (Toyota & Lexus) with similar electric motors and advanced battery packs. We’ve tested most of those. First Drive: 2013 RAV4 EV. Road Test: 2021 RAV4 Prime PHEV; Flash Drive: 2021 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle.
Stellantis (Jeep/Fiat/Chrysler) – Slow, But Picking Up Steam
Even thought Stellantis, the megacompany formed by the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA of France, appeared to be slow on the shift to EVs, they’ve been playing a good game of catch-up. Since the merger, Jeep has shown two new production plug-in models, one of which is already on the market. An updated version of the cute Fiat 500e is due soon and more EV models are promised. Given the heft of the company and its track record with EVs, as well as the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid platform among others, we expect to see more from this new alliance. The 500e remains one of our favorite city cars as it manages to carry through the Italian charm and personality found in the company’s gas models. The major drawback, which could be an advantage in an urban location, is the small size of the vehicle. As a two-door with a small back seat, its capability of carrying four adults is limited. Road Test: Fiat 500e.
That’s the Top 10, but the good news is there are even more models on the market and some have come and gone already. Coda Automotive, with its warmed-over Chinese sedan, has departed, but Fisker (now Karma) Automotive has revived its high-end plug-in hybrid under new Chinese ownership. Henrik Fisker has vowed to return with his own California-themed model under his own name.
Honda sold a limited number of its Fit EVs; it appeared to be focusing on the Clarity fuel cell electrics as its main EV strategy going forward, but since has pivoted with a GM deal that promises unique Honda and Acura EVs based on the GM Ultium battery platform.
Volvo and its sister company Polestar has just started selling its EVs. The former just introduced the XC40 Recharge and C40 Recharge, while the latter has a limited edition Polestar 1 PHEV and the more affordable Polestar 2 that we’ve tested and came away very impressed. Volvo and Polestar have indicated more plug-in models will follow.
Rivian and Lucid are two start-ups that are well-funded and have started production and delivery of their first models to customers. We’ll be keeping an eye on them to see whether they become the next Tesla or fade away like so many others.
Mitsubishi finally brought the a plug-in hybrid version of its Outlander SUV to the U.S. and has had some success. A refreshed version is due this year.
More EV start-ups continue to show prototypes and raise funds, so there is a constant promise of more diverse vehicles that may make it to market. We’ve seen enough of these companies come and go during the past decade to decline to put them on this list until they produce vehicles and establish their presence in the marketplace.
California and seven other states reaffirmed their goal to have 3.3 million electric cars (including plug-in hybrids and fuel cells) on the road by 2025. The numbers are basically accounted for in the ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) mandate that the states have in place, but rely on a steep ramp up of sales after 2020. Based on sales reports, more than 500,000 plug-in vehicles have been sold in the U.S. since the Tesla roadster was introduced in 2008. More than half of them were in California.
There is a lot of innovation from around the world that did not make this Top 10 List, which focuses on the current U.S. market. Please bookmark this Top 10 List and check back as we update. Exciting new electric cars are being driven on the U.S. streets and freeways. Nissan is an early mover with battery-electric cars, now eclipsed by Tesla, but competition is heating up and new models due during the next year or two could dramatically alter the field. The winner will be the customer.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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