Top Two Plug-in Car Sales 46% Up From Last Year, Led by Volt

By · March 01, 2013

LEAF Volt

Sales of the Nissan LEAF are still hampered by supply, but Volt sales seem to have returned to a stabilized level.

February sales numbers for the top two plug-in vehicles are in. The figure once again reveal how the vagaries of the market—such as inventories, model year changes and seasonality—can create ups and downs not necessarily reflective of demand, or the long-term viability of a particular car. Expect advocates and detractors to read something deep into the fact that Volt is up and LEAF is down in February, but who knows what it really means? And the numbers are generally low enough that relatively small fluctuations are interpreted as big swings. For example, the combined year-to-date 2013 tally of Volt and LEAF sales are up 46 percent compared to this time a year ago.

Chevy Volt sales rebounded in February with G.M. reporting sales of 1,626 units, after January 2013 brought a 12-month low of only 1,140. That's a roller-coaster ride continued from late 2012 when General Motors reported 1,519 sales in November, but jumped way up to 2,633 units in December. Year-over-year numbers are probably even less useful because of the rapid evolution of the market, especially in terms of general public perception, but you could benchmark February 2013 sales of 1,626 units as a big jump from February 2012 when G.M. sold 1,023 Volts.

Reading the tea leaves with the Nissan LEAF is even tougher, considering the shift to the improved 2013 model, and the start of production in Smyrna, Tennessee. That might explain why February 2013 sales of the Nissan LEAF were paltry with only 653 units sold, only three units more than the 650 units sold in January. Before the supply concerns, in the last quarter of 2012, LEAF sales moved at a very stead clip of 1,579, 1,539, and 1,489 units respectively in October, November, and December 2012. This is well below the pace Nissan wanted, and given the slow start in 2013, could make it difficult for the company to make big gains in 2013, even as Tennesse-based production comes on line.

"The pipeline is filling with 2013s now, the bulk of which are being transported by rail to the West Coast, our largest market for LEAF, which also has the longest transit time," said Travis Parman, Nissan director of corporate communications. "We will start to see dealer inventories ramping back up toward the end of March and April." Parma added that the February mix of LEAF sales was about 60 percent for the 2013 model and 40 percent 2012s, which will obviously shift to a stronger mix of 2013 LEAFs in the next month or two.

In terms of year-to-date results in 2013, sales of the Chevy Volt now stand at 2,766 units, with YTD LEAF sales at 1,303 units. That combines for 4,069 units—compared to combined Volt-LEAF sales a year ago at this time of 2,780 units. The decent jump is primarily carried by the Volt.

The total 2013 tally so far for all plug-in cars will include the Tesla Model S, Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, Ford C-Max Energi and others, and will therefore represent a more dramatic overall increase in EVs and PHEVs, as the market not only advances with greater sales for each model, but continues to add more choice for consumers wanting a car that uses grid-supplied electricity for fuel.

Comments

· · 4 years ago

I can speak to the sales of the LEAF, at least in LA. Our dealership ran out of 2012 LEAFs about the first week in January, and after calling around to other dealers, most all were out about the same time, so that accounts for low sales that month.

We didn't get any 2013 LEAFs until last week, so most of February was dry. We've received 8 LEAFs since last week and 6 have been sold. I think that once you see deliveries pick up, the numbers for March will be well over a thousand units. And the new "S" model is going to be very popular at $21K after incentives.

· · 4 years ago

I'll back up Paul Scott's comment regarding the Leaf. Through most of February there was only ONE ... yes, one ... new Leaf in Colorado, and that was a vehicle at Tynan's Nissan that was reportedly damaged while unloading from the transport truck and thus unavailable. And although I was seeing 2013's showing up on Autotrader.com (primarily on the east coast) only one showed up in Colorado during the month of February.

March will be the test. There are 40-70 new Leafs showing up every day on Autotrader.com nationwide. Supply is plentiful in many areas and this should be true nationwide by mid-month.

The other question is whether dealers are wiling to ... you know ... deal. In my search for a second Leaf I've encountered many out-of-state dealers happy to hold on to an old Leaf - even some unsold 2011s - hoping to get a top-dollar price - often pricing them so that they are effectively higher than MSRP after factoring in manufacturer-to-dealer incentives. I suspect that the EV market has many people who are sufficiently price savvy to wait until the prices get competitive.

· · 4 years ago

The biggest challenge with Volt sales in Colorado is going to be the state tax credit. Colorado offers "up to $6k" credit on "innovative" fuel vehicles. There are all kinds of calculations and phase-outs involved - for the Leaf in 2013 this means an additional $4815 tax credit on top of the $7500 from the feds (assuming you have that much owed federal taxes in 2013 - the Colorado credit provides for a refund if appropriate). The Volt used to be $6k but as of December that is now zero.

From what I can glean from various write-ups the loss of the Volt credit is due to two factors. First, hybrids - which once got great Colorado state tax incentives - are having their tax credits rapidly phased out. This makes some sense, as hybrids are now common and able to complete on price with non-hybrids. But as the Volt is considered as a hybrid it is included in this group. Second, the economics of the Volt (notably the $7500 federal tax credit) mean that instead of being worth a few hundred in state tax credits in 2013 it's worth nothing.

I was shocked to learn this, as I test drove a Volt recently and was suitably impressed. Unlike parallel PHEVs the Volt serial PHEV will typically use very little gasoline so, IMHO, should be treated differently than other PHEVs. But that's not how Colorado sees it.

I do believe this will hurt Volt sales in Colorado, relative to BEVs.

· · 4 years ago

It's going to be interesting, the lower Leaf price is certainly going to make a big difference. Higher gas prices help as well, and I think in the short term the Volt EREV "insurance policy" generator will seem atractive to newbies. But I am also already hearing early Volt owners saying how seldom they need the gas engine, range is improving on new EVs, and you have to wonder how much the "insurance policy" is really worth when a rent-a-car is so available and cheap. We live in interesting times.

· · 4 years ago

Dave K wrote: "But I am also already hearing early Volt owners saying how seldom they need the gas engine, range is improving on new EVs,"

Seldom doesn't mean never. Renting a car just for a trip is a pain. The average for all Volt drivers is around 65% electric. That means that many of them still use some gas.

Personally, I have over 13,389 miles on my Volt in just over 8 months and I have used 100 gallon of gas. Leaf wouldn't work for any of my gas trips except for one. That is why Volt still makes sense.

Also, range is NOT really improving much on the EVs at all. No BEV has gotten a larger battery. Most of the improvment are "superfacial". None of them makes big impact on hwy cruising speed during a cold winter.

Until they have an "affordable" BEV that can do easily 200 miles per charge, it is still a limited use vehicle. A 200 miles range with 70% degradation, 70% winter usage and 80% max charge rates will become a 78 miles BEV in the winter with hwy speed cruising and charge up to 80%. Even if you do 100%, it is barely a 100 miles car in the real world of "cold winter"...

· · 4 years ago

MMF wrote: "A 200 miles range with 70% degradation, 70% winter usage and 80% max charge rates will become a 78 miles BEV in the winter with hwy speed cruising and charge up to 80%."

Aren't you double-discounting there? The 80% max charge rate is for extending the life of the battery. If you do that consistently then you shouldn't see the 70% degradation. OTOH, if you are seeing the 70% degradation then you probably aren't using the long life mode so won't be limited by the 80% max charge rate.

And there may be some over-discounting there as well. We're seeing a 1/7th drop-off in range for "winter" driving - specifically comparing 50 degrees F days to 10 degrees F days. Roughly speaking that's about 85% discount for winter usage, not 70%, and most of that reduction comes from the heater (as a rule we don't turn off the climate control unless we're trying to squeeze out an extra few miles).

Granted, your point about "limited use vehicle" still applies. However, if you are in a household where the people have multiple cars and treat them as a shared pool, instead of each one having their own car, then the BEVs can be chosen for the trips that are appropriate. In our household the Leaf has been logging over 80% of total miles because it is chosen for round-trips where it makes the most sense - and it could be 95% if we had a second Leaf. In fact we're logging miles at a pace of 18,700/year - which is a problem given that the lease is for 15k. So this week we picked up a second Leaf and plan to sell off another ICE car.

· · 4 years ago

I have had my Volt now for 16 months. I have 8,700 miles on it and I have burned 12 gallons of gas. I just use it around town. I am retired so I don't have to drive to work everyday. I use a household outlet to charge it. We do not have very high or low temperature extremes here (southern California) so I average 40 miles per full charge driving it carefully. It works for me. I can't talk my wife out of her Prius or we would two.

· · 4 years ago

I have had my Volt now for 16 months. I have 8,700 miles on it and I have burned 12 gallons of gas. I just use it around town. I am retired so I don't have to drive to work everyday. I use a household outlet to charge it. We do not have very high or low temperature extremes here (southern California) so I average 40 miles per full charge driving it carefully. It works for me. I can't talk my wife out of her Prius or we would two.

· · 4 years ago

It would seem Nissan is running a Leaf FIRE SALE! teevee ads trumpeting $21,500!

Not a good thing for nissan. could it bee range Anxiety??

· · 4 years ago

I agree. $21,500 is a game changer for sure. You can't beat the fuel economy on these cars. I was just reading a bit on a classic car forum and some people talk about 8 miles to the gallon! Terrible!

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