Research conducted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (sub. req.) suggests that price, at least in the short term, will be the most important factor for plug-in vehicle sales. Bloomberg's study shows that plug-in vehicles have the potential to capture nine percent of new car sales by 2020 and up to 22 percent by 2030, but achieving growth of that magnitude will only come if battery costs dip and fuel prices rise.
Bloomberg compared the median base price of vehicles sold in the U.S. between July 2009 and June 2010 to that of plug-in vehicles expected to hit the market soon. Autos sold in the U.S. during that time cost, on average, $21,800. For comparison's sake, the 2011 Nissan Leaf rings in at $32,780 ($25,280 after federal tax credits) and the much pricier 2011 Chevy Volt comes in north of the $40K with an MSRP of $41,000 ($33,500 after federal tax credits).
Bloomberg's plug-in vehicle growth numbers are based on identifying possible buyers – something called the addressable market – who have the financial means to purchase such a vehicle, who travel within the range constraints of a typical battery-powered auto and either do, or could feasibly have, access to a charging system. Bloomberg estimates that the Volt's addressable market in the U.S. in 2011 is seven percent of new car buyers and pins the Leaf at a healthier 11 percent. The addressable market only indicates the proportion of consumers that could purchase a vehicle and in no way does it imply that any of them actually will. The numbers simply suggest that more buyers have the means to own a Leaf, compared to the Volt, indicating that price could be the clincher.