April Electric Car Sales Lower; Plug-In Prius Leads Sales

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2012 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevrolet Volt

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Sales of plug-in electric cars fell last month, with especially low sales of the Nissan Leaf, following their strong showing in March.

Last month, just 370 Nissan Leaf battery-electric cars were sold, down from 579 in March, and bringing this year's Leaf sales to only 2,103 in the first four months. Last month's Leaf sales were the lowest monthly number in more than a year.

Nissan has sold 11,796 Leafs in total since the car went on sale in December 2010. Nissan has said it will sell 20,000 Leafs in the U.S. this year, but that will require it to sell 2,500 each month from now through December.

GM had a decent but not spectacular month, with Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car sales falling back from last month's 2,289 but staying in four figures. The company sold 1,462 Volts in April, bringing total 2012 sales to 5,377.

Chevy has sold a total of 13,374 Volts since its sales, too, began in December 2010. The total so far in 2012, however, would indicate that it will sell between 15,000 and 20,000 Volts in the U.S. this year unless sales improve over the summer.

But the big winner in April was the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, which logged 1,654 sales in just its third month on the market. Its April sales beat the Volt by 192 units, and were more than four times the month's sales of Leafs.

Toyota has now sold 2,552 plug-in Priuses since late February.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, production version road test, San Diego, CA, Jan 2012

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, production version road test, San Diego, CA, Jan 2012

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Among those top three models, the sales total for April was 3,486 plug-ins--versus 3,759. If all three models stay on pace, that means that U.S. plug-in sales might go as high as 40,000 for the year, versus about 17,000 last year.

In the second tier of electric-car makers, April sales of the Mitsubishi i minicar were 79--the best monthly number yet, bringing the year's total to 215 (plus another 80 late last year).

At the time this article was published, Ford had not responded to our query on April sales of its Focus Electric hatchback. The company sold 12 of the cars in December and January combined, but none in February or March.

As always, both Fisker Automotive and Coda Automotive declined to comment on sales of their plug-in vehicles.

We'll be curious to see whether larger media press those companies on this issue, or whether the world simply stops paying attention.

As always, and we wrote several weeks ago, electric car sales will rise--but it will be slow.

Still, with more than 27,000 plug-ins now running on U.S. roads, the progress is steady and the demand--if low--is definitely there.


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Comments (19)
  1. 370 Leaf sales! wow that is low.

  2. If there was no such thing as Tesla Motors and the Model S, then I would have considered buying a Leaf, but since there is a Model S, I would be a fool to purchase the Leaf for close to $40k and 80 mile range and it's kind of ugly. The Model S is breathtaking in comparison, is a luxury car, has double the range for about $15k more and it performs better then my Honda Accord EX V6 at that price!

  3. I like the Model S, but, it's not in production yet, and Price points matter.
    Of course, Apple has proven that with gorgeous design, you can sell at a premium.....I think Nissan needs to have a Leaf Wagon, and spread the platform much like Toota has done with the Prius.

  4. In California, the Volt scrapes by at an 8 day inventory level, essentially zero. Chevrolet would have sold another few hundred Volts in April if they were just available at the dealerships. Almost all dealerships are sold out of Volts in California.

  5. I've heard this same thing before Anton, and it continues to baffle me. Why on earth doesn't GM allocate more Volts for heavy sales markets? How difficult is that to understand?

  6. I wonder if the Leaf is getting killed by the "Osborne Effect", where the announcement of the 2013 Leaf, is killing sales of the 2012 leaf. Unfortunately, the Leaf is somewhat range challenged, and Leaf buyers are seeking to climb a performance curve, for range, charge rate, cold weather performance, cost, weight, size. This means that the users who are performance seeking, will drop sales from this year in favor of next years model. Perhaps if the 2013 announcement were structured as a Leaf, Leaf XL and Leaf Wagon, so buyers don't swap from one performance point but rather to another model,but this is in part why Apple utterly, refuses to announce spit about new models until the rollout.

  7. Congratulations to the PiP. Given the enormous installed customer base of the Prius, I am amazed that the Volt and PiP are so close. Wonder if the Prius is constrained in supply at all, as the Volt was. I know this is only their 2nd month of sales, so the rollout may still not be complete, so things will continue to get interesting. No doubt, the market is well served with a broad selection of configurations and brands to meet the consumers' needs. Guess this shows that PHEV's are a more attractive choice to American car buyers than EV's - even electric bikes and scooters aren't selling nearly as well in the US as in Asia and Europe. I still think the electric quadracycle will be the coniguration that Americans will choose near-term.

  8. Yes, PiP is available only in the 13 launch states. These sales are pre-order deliveries. You should be able to walk in and purchase one soon, as the pre-orders are almost done.

    Yup, I follow Priuschat closely. :)

  9. Dennis, thanks for the info. Considering the Volt has only an 8 day inventory in California, the real battle will be there, so I'm looking forward to Volt's orders to finally arrive this coming month. The number of Volts in Cars.com inventory keeps dropping by bigger amounts in the last few days, so hopefully, GM has figured out that they need to build CA HOV Volts and Opel / Vauxhall Amperas.

  10. " so I'm looking forward to Volt's orders to finally arrive this coming month." This month not so much considering inventory lags. Next month, could have been, but GM is dropping orders out of the system and sending them to 2013's. The line in Hamtramck has restarted, yet inventory continues to drop, even though sales don't look spectacular at all. Anybody know what the heck GM is doing here?

  11. Jeff, what makes you think GM is sending 2012 orders out to 2013? I'm not trying to question the information, just wondering how accurate or useful it is, so I wonder about the source.

    Inventory has dropped due to two decent sales months but there's no obvious reason to push 2013 models that haven't even been built yet when, even after better recent sales, it will be a hard sell to reach 45k sales here this year.

    There could be some fleet sales finally kicking in, but I doubt that is a major factor yet. Just guesses, though.

    I did lease a Volt 5-6 weeks ago and inventory wasn't great, even in suburban Detroit, not far from the factory. Better than in 2011 and pricing was MUCH better, but inventory is an ongoing battle, it seems...

  12. John,

    Considering that the PiP sold so many vehicles, is it really true that plug-in sales are down overall? Certainly, EV sales are down, but I think plug-in sales may have hit a new monthly high, albeit it only a couple hundred over March, if that.

  13. For Leaf + Volt + Prius Plug-In + Mitsubishi i + Focus Electric:
    - March 2012: 3,815
    - April 2012: 3,565

  14. John, thanks for the tabulation - I went a couple hundred in the wrong direction. Keeping my fingers crossed that the momentum can be maintained. Any indication that Fisker's numbers would move the total significantly? They have supposedly delivered 750 so far. July should be great assuming Tesla Motors starts delivering Model S sedans.

  15. Let's assume it continues at 3500/month for the year. That is 42,000 cars with plugs for the year.

    Let's further assume 13 million vehicles sold in the USA this year. That amount so 0.3% of sales, which, on the one hand is almost nothing and on the other hand, not too bad for the second year of a new technology.

  16. At gm-volt.com, Jeff Cobb reported:

    "Ampera sales reported for April were 557 total units."

    ... so I calculate 2,012 total Volts / Amperas - not counting Volts sold in Canada, Europe and China.

  17. Sheesh, that's 2,019 Volts / Amperas - not counting Volts sold in Canada, Europe and China. John, see why I asked you to tabulate those numbers for me yesterday?

  18. @Jason: This site covers the U.S. market, so we report U.S. sales figures. The total of plug-in cars sold globally is a different number, a different story, and one that we're not prepared to take on with our own reporting at the moment.

  19. Oops, I wasn't very clear on what I was saying. I wasn't chastizing you about overall Volt sales. I was commenting that you are better at adding numbers than I am. I definitely understand the onus of lumping sales from multiple countries together, and trying to draw conclusions, so not expecting that. I do believe that GM is now correctly allocating their current production towards Amperas and HOV California Volts, while slowly offloading regular Volts in other areas.

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