How Bad Were The Nissan And GM Electric-Car Sales Shortfalls? Page 2

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2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

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Add to that the high costs of all plug-in cars in the early years of large lithium-ion cell production; the added effort required to install a charging station at home for battery-electric vehicles; and both range anxiety and the highly variable range of electric cars, depending on driving style, temperature, and many other factors.

Then there's figuring out how to market cars with such a radically different propulsion and energy storage system--Hint: "It's good for you and the planet" won't cut it--and the disinterest and occasional cluelessness of many franchised dealers.

Oh, and media eager for headlines who seize on headlines about Fires! Range Anxiety! Disappointing Sales! Fear! Uncertainty! Doubt!

It's enough to make any pioneer sigh.

Here's where we stand: We think plug-in cars will increase their U.S. sales every year, but that adoption will be slow. But the more "butts in seats," the more people will start to understand the allure.

As former IHS Automotive analyst Aaron Bragman said last March, "It may be that the cars are slow sellers, but so was Prius when it first arrived as well."

To underscore the point, the author of this piece has a bet with electric-car advocate Peder Norby that by 2020, conventional gasoline-engined vehicles will still make up more than 50 percent of U.S. sales.

That means that battery electrics, plug-in hybrids, regular hybrids, diesels, and natural-gas vehicles together still won't add up to 50 percent of the U.S. market, which will likely be at about the same 15 million vehicles a year as it is today.

What do you think?

Will Norby win the bet--will gasoline engines be less than half the market--or will I?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (34)
  1. Last I checked, electricity still is made using coal. So it may feel good to pay less for charging but don't think it all that much better than just getting a hybrid that charges while you drive. This is great for those homeowners that have solar panel roofs that charge their car using their created energy. But going forward I think we need to get more hybrids, solar, and hydro technology. Natural Gas is OK, but it is a short term fix for the US.

  2. @Gas Guzzler: Actually, we've covered this numerous times before on this site. Even on the dirtiest grids in the nation (WV and ND, IIRC), there's less overall carbon emitted driving 1 mile on grid power than driving the same mile in a 25-mpg car. In a 50-mpg car like a Prius, it's slightly better to burn the gasoline.

    But in CA, which will buy more plug-in cars than the next 50 states combined, you'd have to drive 100-mpg car to equal the cleanliness of driving on grid power.

  3. Here is the link to the official UCS report:

  4. "But in CA, which will buy more plug-in cars than the next 50 states combined"

    Unless I missed some big news, there should only be 49 states other than California.

  5. @Doug: WHOOPS! Ahem. Yes, that was meant to be "next FIVE states" combined. Oh, dear. [chuckle] Sorry 'bout that, and thanks for catching the typo.

  6. Great information, thanks John.

  7. There are more comments in this thread
  8. Do you know about base load and demand? About EV drivers buying Solar PV arrays at home to help offset their additional usage? About their conservation steps to cut electrical use before buying an EV?

    Coal coal coal - it's all you guys think of.

  9. There are of course other concerns besides environmental. At least coal is domestic energy.

  10. And home "cooked cocaine" has a domestic quality, but that doesn't argue for it's use.....or "homegrown pot" either.

    We should be asking "what is best for the environment and trying to move, as much as we can, individually, afford in that direction. Don't you think?

  11. There are more comments in this thread
  12. If people made decisions and bought cars based on careful logical analysis, then 50% buying an electric car by 2020 would be a slam dunk. But 47% of the voting public voted for Mitt Romney in the last election - I am not optimistic.

  13. With plug in Electric SUVs coming around the corner (VW just previewed the Cross Blue) - things look up for variety.

  14. Hybrid and EV adoption will be driven in part by how the economy goes and gas prices. if Gas prices stay north of 4 or we have spikes to 5 per gallon,
    i think a lot of commuters will bite the bullet and buy a hybrid or plug in.

    also, the hybrids continue expanding in platforms, if we have more hybrids in the entire Toyota Line Up we will pass a tipping point.

    Also the industry is being driven towards a high CAFE standard, that means they will need hybrids to get there.

  15. Anyone who thinks that BEV/EREV/PHEV is going to take off like "hot cakes" is a "crazy nut". And this is coming from a BEV/EREV/PHEV advocate.

    Here is reason why:

    1. today, hybrid total sales account for less than 3% of the entire US auto sales. Why would they expect the sales of plugin cars to be better than that? Cost wise, plugins's biggest enemy is hybrid. Hybrids already demand a premium over regular ICE cars. Most people who buy cars don't care about or aren't willing to pay more for just "saving the planet"...

    2. Selection and price point. There are ICE choices for just about every segment of the car sales. You don't have enough choices and price points for every segement for plugins. Less choices == less sales.

  16. 3. Initial cost and Gas price. It just isn't "enough" incentives to go full Electric.

    4. Lack of infrastrutures for plugins. # of public gas stations vs. Charging station.

    5. Lack of familiarity

    6. Lack of understanding, general ignorance.

    7. "Negative" Publicity

  17. Biggest problem of all is - people are afraid of change.

  18. Well, I disagree.

    iXXX devices didn't face the same requirement of "change".

    People doesn't like to change for the "worse". If they have to worry about range, worry about cost/filling up, worry about heat/A/C, then they are NOT going to leave their comfort zone.

    Change without compromise is the ONLY way to go.

    That is why Tesla S is in highly demand despite its price tag.

  19. When the cars are faster, have a greater or same range, and command no more than a 20% premium on the price of conventional petrol car, they will sell as many as they can build!

  20. Points 5,6, and 7 are really, IMHO, major. Here in "sunny Sacramento," we keep finding the vast majority of other drivers simply do not understand their choices in EVs and PHEVs or even HOW these new options can function FOR them. Sadly "ignorance is bliss" seems to be all too common relative to our environment and WHAT individuals can do to lessen our collective negative impact.

  21. How bad is tripling your sales in one year?
    GM sold three times as many Volts this year as they did last year.
    It is costing me 3cents per mile to fuel my Volt.
    The Volt was voted the best engineered car in the WORLD by over 128,000 AUTOMOTIVE ENGINEERS (SAE)

    I totally agree!

  22. Another thought... GM tripled sales of the Volt in one year even thought all other countries put huge tariffs on the VOLT. While we pay Nissan $7500 per car to sell Leafs in the US they put a $40,000 tariff on the Volt in Japan. How many Leafs would have been sold if we put a $40,000 tariff on them?

  23. I think the fuel costs are only part of this question, Electrics ride great, and that counts alot with more and more people. The C-Max from Ford is also going to make an impact on public is another question- will EV's help keep the US from a war with Iran?

  24. The two biggest deterrents to EV innovation are the unjustified high price and the quality of the batteries. There are several battery variants in the pipeline that promise considerable enhancement in quality and range and price reductions. However, these are not due to emerge on the market before the next three to five years. Also, for my part, I can refrain from many of those "bells and whistles" being implemented in EVs that contribute to the unecessary high prices. Get rid of all the gadgetry and present a solid EV and sales will avalanche.

  25. I think initial EVs had to be upscaled to allow for features to later be removed. Now, we see Nissan with a "stripped down" cheaper USA-made Leaf for 2013 and a sustained MSRP for Volt into 2013 with hopes of lower into 2014 now that they have higher sales.

    Out of pocket, my Volt was $25K. That was after using a GM Card and other incentives - but I say that's a very fair price for the amount of technology that is in the car. Ramp up scale and prices will drop. This is happening now and soon you will see $30K EREVs and $25K BEVs.

  26. GM could have done a much better job on the Volt than they have done so far.
    Presently, downsized and well-balanced three cylinder motors are appearing on the market. Such a motor, primed for the use of CNG with approx. 100kW output, could have been implemented in the Volt for an interim period to be finally replaced with a FC. That would have been an ideal solution; less weight, sufficient power and no range anxiety.

  27. Great, an unproven (to GM, which would need to do its own new validation tests, costing in the millions, to start with) 3-cylinder engine for an extremely heavy vehicle... I'll pass. As for CNG, are you intentionally trying to drive the cost much higher? Where exactly do you think GM/Ford, and other OEMs outside Honda, are with CNG in their vehicles?

    I drive a Volt, but if it had either a 3-cylinder engine or ran on unproven CNG, I would have passed for the next several years, instead of looking forward to my next EV/PHEV. In a few years as CNG testing & development improve (GM is already going to put them into pickups), your comments might work. Right now, you're someone who seems oblivious to what your approach would cost, much more.

  28. yoat mon, where is your engineering degree? What research and operating scenarios are your engineering decisions based on? How many decades of automotive engineering experience do you have? The engineering choices GM made for Volt were done after a lot of careful thinking. Its engine is a proven, off-the-shelf design, keeping costs low while providing enough power to generate the energy needed to theoretically propel a car with four large adults and their luggage up Pikes Peak. Its fuel is easy to get anywhere, counter-balancing the electric stations that are very scarce. I think powering a hard-to-fuel EV with a range extender that is also relatively hard to fuel would be a sales nightmare. So did GM. I think they made the right choices.

  29. Well, some people can't do less than with a V8, preferably a V12 with several tons to equate the power rating. The eternal yesterdays that can't break with their bad habits of the past decades.
    As far as my E.D. is concerned, I don't give hoot about it anymore since I've retired. But I do care about the future of my children and grandchildren. You probably don't; more than likely you don't have any.
    Purchase a Hummer or a tank.

  30. We live in northern California and all our electricty is from hydro. We fuel our leaf in the night with 110 volts with a separate meter and our bill for the month is about $5.00 At $5 a gallon we get about 140 miles to a gallon

  31. I think the entry level pricing of the 2013 LEAF will be the game changer. Nissan was a bit over the top in their projections simply because they underestimated the reaction to the high sticker prices. I would have to guess that many current LEAF drivers are driving their first ever leased vehicle as am I. But it does allow me of very modest means to get into the EV game and for that I am grateful.

    Look to see the Basic LEAF model going in the low 20's after incentives. should be a very popular choice for fleet vehicles wanting to go green and be protected against random extreme gas price spikes which seem to happen a few times a year lately

  32. I'm going to talk to our local Nissan dealer to see what pricing I can get for a USA-made Leaf. This would add to our Volt. I won't buy a Japan-sourcd Leaf but may do it if I can get a good deal on a USA-made one.

  33. I think the 50k sales worldwide sales figure for the Leaf needs some qualification - what % are non-Japan sales - before it can be used to make any meaningful predictions of its acceptance beyond its highly protected home market of Japan. The jury is still out on the Leaf in the USA - Nissan had to resort to heavy discounts in order to reach 2011 total sales numbers. And if one considers that all those sales figures added up ends up being slightly less than the number of people who forked over $99 reservation deposits to buy a Leaf, you would have to say the jury is still out as to its future.

    John, why did you focus on the Leaf and virtually ignore talking about what the giant increase in Volt 2012 sales means to the future of EVs?

  34. I have recently posted to Chevy and Nissan to encourage them to send current Volt and Leaf drivers a complimentary "dash/windshield SUNSCREEN. This sunscreen could have appropriate signage that highlights that this is an electric driven vehicle..that the driver is MOST proud of and willing to share their experiences about. Such "first person" testimonials and on the direct basis have been shown to be HIGHLY effective in generating attitude change for new products, but have Nissan or Chevy actually picked up on this suggestion?

    Of course not. Just more of the "same old, same old" from their marketing people EVEN when their own studies have shown that grass-roots contacts are more persuasive than mass media adverts.

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