Ford and Toyota will lead the US PEV market from 2012 to 2020, a local study found.

Assembly lines in Japan and the United States produced more than 20,000 plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in 2011, an all-time record for such vehicles. But optimism about the market for PEVs has gradually been replaced with a better understanding of the practical challenges of launching new models and expanding PEV sales to mainstream consumers unfamiliar with the technology. A recent report from Pike Research said sales of PEVs in the US would climb steadily over the remainder of this decade.

“Despite the early introduction of the Leaf, from Nissan, and the significant marketing push behind it, we expect Nissan to trail Toyota, Ford, and General Motors by a significant margin through the end of the decade,” said research director John Gartner. “Although Ford has been relatively slower than some competitors to enter the passenger PEV market, its future plans are ambitious, and it will be the only automaker to surpass 400,000 PEVs sold in the United States through 2020.”

PEV sales in the US will reach nearly 48,000 units in 2012, making it the country with the highest number of PEV sales. It will maintain this leading position at least through 2020 – and beyond, according to the report.

Worldwide sales of PEVs are expected to pass 1m units in 2017, after seven years in the market – about half the time it took hybrid electric vehicles to reach that level.