Aug Electric-Car Sales: Nissan Leaf Rises, Chevy Volt Creeps Back

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Ray Lane takes delivery of the first Fisker Karma

Ray Lane takes delivery of the first Fisker Karma

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New-car sales overall weren't great in August. The economy continues to be shaky, consumer confidence is down, and Hurricane Irene kept buyers away from dealerships.

But electric-car sales last month improved on July's numbers, although they were far from their spring heights due to continued constraints on the supply of Chevy Volts.

Leaf and Volt both up

The Nissan Leaf racked up another 1,362 sales (an improvement over July's 931), which brings the Leaf's 2011 total to 6,168 (plus another 19 sold in December 2010, the month when Nissan delivered its first 2011 Leaf).

The Leaf is thus trending at roughly 1,000 per month, which will put Nissan on track to achieve its post-tsunami goal of about 12,000 Leafs delivered in the U.S. this year.

The Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car continued at a low level. It more than doubled its July sales low of just 125 sales, with 302 deliveries in August, but didn't come close to crossing the Leaf's 1,000 benchmark.

GM expects Volt sales numbers to rise sharply during the last four months of the year, as the dealer pipeline starts to refill with 2012 Volt models, which are now rolling off the lines at a rate of 150 per day.

First 2011 Chevrolet Volt delivered to retail buyer Jeffrey Kaffee, in Denville, NJ, December 2010

First 2011 Chevrolet Volt delivered to retail buyer Jeffrey Kaffee, in Denville, NJ, December 2010

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The low sales months are due to a four-week July shutdown of the Detroit-Hamtramck plant where the Volt is assembled. The retooling that resulted should allow Chevy to build as many as 5,000 Volts per month.

The August numbers brings the Volt total to 3,172 for the year, plus 326 more last December, when the first Volt was also delivered.

It's about the supply, stupid

As we've noted several times (here and here, for instance), it's not lack of demand for Volts and Leafs that are keeping their sales low. It's lack of supply.

(So don't believe everything you hear about how "electric cars are a FAILURE !!!" in, ahem, certain portions of the media.)

Nissan can only build 50,000 Leafs this year and next, and that's the supply for the entire world--not only the U.S. (and now Canada) but also Japan, the rest of Asia, and Europe. And that's before the devastating impact of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in February.

Chevy plans to build up to 60,000 Volts and Opel/Vauxhall Amperas next year, up from a maximum capacity of 16,000 this year.

John Duncan takes delivery of one of the first 2011 Nissan LEAF EVs, near Portland OR, 12/15/2010

John Duncan takes delivery of one of the first 2011 Nissan LEAF EVs, near Portland OR, 12/15/2010

Enlarge Photo

Lengthy waiting lists

Both cars have lengthy waiting lists, and at the moment, neither car is available throughout the U.S. Chevrolet says the Volt will be available--at selected dealers--throughout the country by the end of this year; Nissan says the Leaf will be available nationwide by the end of next year.

Critics note that hundreds of Volts are listed as available at dealers, which may be true. Some of those dealers, however, are price-gouging: tacking hundreds or thousands of extra dollars onto the sticker price of those cars, which buyers are--naturally--resisting.

Fisker, finally? Not so much

Another company, Fisker Motors, didn't make it onto the electric-car sales roster this month. It should have logged a dozen or more sales of its Karma range-extended electric sports sedan.

The first Fisker Karma deliveries came last month--to actor and environmental advocate Leonardo DiCaprio and noted venture capitalist Ray Lane, chairman of Fisker's board--but the company had to wait for full regulatory approvals before logging those cars as sales.

It is still waiting.

Small numbers of plug-in vehicles from Tesla, Think, and Wheego may also have been sold; none of those makers reports monthly sales, as do conventional car companies.

Next month, it is likely that aggregate 2011 U.S. sales of plug-in cars will exceed 10,000. That's almost surely more than the combined sales of all plug-ins over the 80 years from 1931 through 2010.

And it will likely be just the beginning.


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Comments (21)
  1. What no bad puns like "Nissan raked up sales of 1,362 Leafs this month."

  2. Great Leaf numbers and hoping to have a half dozen models reporting sales by the end of the year. the EV market is really starting to emerge!

  3. About 15,000 EVs is a modest but real start for these vehicles. Soon the Ford Transit Connect and Focus EVs will join them. Then there are the electric trucks like the Smith EV and the Navistar eStar. The EV pipeline will be filling just in time for the next petroleum price spike. I think the American public is fed up with $60 fill-ups every week. EVs, here we come.

  4. Yes,this site did point out time and again that it's supply, not lack of demand for Volts and Leafs that are keeping their sales low but Jalopnik suggests that's only true for the Leaf. The Volt might have a problem:

    "While GM said it had almost no Volts in stock at the end of July, it built 2,395 in August; now lists more than 1,200 for sale. The numbers alone suggest Chevy has a far larger supply of unsold Volts than typical for a new vehicle, especially one that's supposedly in high demand."


    I wonder if GM's explanation (demo program, logistics) really fully explains Jalopnik's figures.

  5. GM had a ton of limited number GTOs sitting on dealer lots back in 2004 too... No one wanted them at 5K-10K over the sticker, so I snatched one up in December of that year for $121/month. The same is going to happen to the Volts and they will be forced to discount them soon enough.

  6. At 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway for the 2004 GTO, no wonder you want a Volt :)

  7. Like I keep saying, "It is the Leaf, and others like it, that Americans are looking for, not the Volt and others like it." All Americans, except those in the GOP, want to get away from foreign oil and the loss of 2/3 of their payday every month at the gas pumps, and the Volt will never allow us to get away from foreign oil. I would buy the VW Nils ( before I would the Volt. If the VW Nils had two seats, I would snatch that baby up in a heartbeat. I wish Ford would make the Evos ( all electric.

  8. Ford is making EV's. Take a look at the Focus EV coming out next year.

  9. If Volt sales are lagging because of "price gouging" (probably a few thousand bucks) then think of the negative effect if Volt owners were not allowed to gouge their fellow taxpayers out of $7500 from the Feds plus subsidies for their charging machines plus state subsidies. I don't believe GM could sell any Volts
    without such massive govt welfare. Let's hear a counter-argument.

  10. The difference is that people know if they wait long enough and keep searching other dealers, they'll find a volt that is not being price-gouged. When the federal credits expire, the price will go up but it will be an even playing field at all dealers.

  11. My problem is that the Leaf is what I want as far as I want an all electric vehicle. But, the Leaf is ugly. I can't stand to look at it. The volt doesn't look bad, but I don't want a hybrid. The Ford Focus EV is a step in the right direction. The Tesla Model S is nice looking, but I am not interested in buying a car from a small company with a small dealer network.

  12. GM needs to crack down on greedy Chevrolet dealers who are gouging prices. I had to look at three different dealers before I found one who wouldn't mark up the vehicle's price on my Volt. I'm not so sure "ALL AMERICANS" want a Leaf. My gasoline engine comes on *maybe* once a month, when my normal driving routine is thrown off by a lunch meeting, a extra long, unplanned trip, etc. It's a handy thing to have in a pinch.

    When you drive all electric, which I do 95% of the time, it's easy to live in a bubble and think you can do it forever. One little emergency trip can put an end to that thinking in a hurry.

  13. That is some good first hand feedback. Thanks

  14. I'll only feel bad about the $7500 federal tax incentives when big oil stops getting their multi-billion dollar breaks annually. That's the real government welfare program. I'm glad a tiny portion of my tax dollars are finally being spent well.

    My Leaf dealer at first tried to gouge me $5000 after a verbal agreement to buy the night before. Stand firm. I love the car - went from $180 in gas to $40/mo in electricity.

  15. Drink your own bath water if you wish. Volt sales are a disaster and will remain so for an over-priced and under performing car that the average car buyer will avoid for more cost-effective transportation. And, contary to wishful thinking, it's demand, stupid. It's a niche market which will only be supported by greens with more money than sense or by government agencies directed to buy them with taxpayer's money. Everyone likes "green", but few are ready to bust their own budget for it.

  16. John, I've read with fascination your reliance on GM PR to formulate your opinions. For example, in your own words (2/1/2011)..."It won’t be until 2013, when Nissan quintuples its global Leaf production capacity to 250,000, that true market demand for plug-in cars starts to become apparent. Until then, early adopters and green-minded organizations are likely to snap up every one that hits a showroom floor." In point of fact, as of 9/5/2011 there are 1,429 Volts available nationwide. More specifically, 57 and 17 within a 30 mile radius of TriBeCa and San Francisco, respectively. Looks like they've left a few on the floor, eh John?

  17. "Get it straight, guys: Chevy always said it would build 12,000 Volts in 2011, and they've just boosted that to 16,000 based on demand." - John Voelcker. Really John? Wan't more like 25,000 units? Well, isn't that what GM spokesman said on 1/26/2011?

    Let's see: "Last week, General Motors CEO Dan Akerson stated that he intends to sell 25,000 Volts this year, followed by 120,000 units in 2012." John, you really need to drop the facade of being a journalist and simply admit you are a paid lobbyist for GM. There's is no way an automotive journalist could survive with his reputation intact considering all the lies your represent as facts to buttress your positions.

  18. @Greg: Link for the Akerson quote on 1/26/2011 that you cite, pls? Also, see this context saying what Akerson wants may or may not be possible:

    As for the 1,429 Volts available nationwide, I agree with my vociferous critics (you included) that if Volt sales numbers don't start rising in Sept, Oct, and beyond, there's a problem. It may be that GM's dealers asking far more than sticker price for some of those cars (aka "gouging") which will be a self-correcting problem sooner or later. They paid for 'em, they'll sell 'em at market price ... sooner or later.

    (1 of 2, continued below ...)

  19. @Greg: (2 of 2, continued from above) Note also, please, that GM *requires* Volt-certified dealers to keep at least one car at the dealership as a demo to show all the curious people who come in because they've heard GM has a plug-in car--even if they have no intention of buying. That is a car that the dealer owns but it cannot sell. There are just over 3,000 Chevy dealers in the U.S. (; not all are certified to sell the Volt. Hmmmmm ...

  20. How can you be so critical of Volt sales. Most states in the USA don't even offer the Volt for sale yet. Here in Massachusetts, we cannot even but Volts yet.

    No, really I think that the first sign that Volt or LEAF sales are in trouble will be an accelerated roll-out to more states. It only makes sense. If GM or Nissan end up having sales problems, their first reaction will be to start selling in all 50 states. That has not happened yet.

  21. That's the automakers faults!

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