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

By · March 01, 2013


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.

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