January Dip in EV Sales Due to Low Inventory
January is one of the meaner months of the year, at least if you’re an automaker. With consumers either digging their way out of holiday season debt, or piles of snow, the first month of every New Year routinely ushers in a temporary drop in automobile sales. Yet the dawn of 2013 appears to have been particularly hard on sales of electric vehicles. The Nissan LEAF electric car and Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid recording sales drops of 56 and 57 percent from December levels, respectively. For comparison’s sake: sales of all vehicles in the U.S. fell by approximately 23 percent from December 2012 to January 2013.
Don’t count the EV market as down for the count. A number of fairly mundane factors have contributed to the sales lull, including a lack of dealership inventory and the arrival of new, less expensive trim levels. At this year’s Detroit Auto Show, Nissan announced the entry-level price of the LEAF would drop by more than $6,000. The entry-level price of the 2013 LEAF S now rings in at $28,800—before factoring in federal and state tax incentives. In another first, assembly of the new LEAF has begun at Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, Tenn.
But getting the car to dealerships takes time and, during the wait, sales are bound to fall. “I'm certain the sales drop off is due to lack of available stock to sell,” says Paul Scott, an EV activist turned salesman at Santa Monica Nissan. “I can speak to my dealership's lack of sales because we had five LEAFs at the beginning of the month and they all were gone within the first ten days. Since I only sell the EV, I've been spending my time creating a list of buyers for the 2013 model. There is a lot of interest in the improvements to the LEAF and especially the new low cost S model.”
Scott forecasts a “dramatic increase in February numbers,” provided he has cars to sell. “If we don't get the cars until mid-month, that might prevent us from selling very many during February, so then you'd see the uptick in March's numbers.”
Volt Inventory Is Low Too
A lack of available cars is also affecting sales of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. “Volt sales were down for the month compared to December of 2012 due to extremely low availability in California and the tax credit pull-ahead effect,” said G.M. spokeswoman Michelle Malcho. “California continues to be Volt's largest market. We expect Volt to continue its leadership position as being the best-selling plug-in sold in America as we expect our competitors to be down as well.” In other words, Chevrolet isn’t panicking about Volt sales because the competition has experienced a similar drop. The key now is getting electric cars onto dealership lots and, from that point, getting the keys to EVs into car buyers’ pockets.
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