March Plug-In Electric Car Sales: Tesla On Top, Leaf Roars Back (FINAL UPDATE)

Follow John

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

Enlarge Photo

The big news in plug-in car sales for March was Tesla's statement that it delivered "more than 4,750" Model S electric cars from January through March.

That news early Monday not only sent stock in Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] soaring, it also cued up an interesting three-way horse race.

Those sales put the Model S on a par with the Volt, ahead of the Leaf, and add roughly another third or so to the total number of plug-in cars from established makers that were delivered for the quarter.

Would Chevrolet manage to deliver more than 2,000 Volt range-extended electric cars to outsell the Model S?

And how quickly would sales of the 2013 Nissan Leaf rise now that cars are flowing freely from the Tennessee assembly line where they're now built?

CEO Ghosn promises Leaf sales

Last month, while Volt sales recovered, Leaf deliveries were hampered by low inventory.

With production of the U.S.-built 2013 Nissan Leaf ramping up at Nissan's Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant, supplies were low for the first two months of the year.

But at a press roundtable at the New York Auto Show last Wednesday, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said that the company expected to deliver around 1,900 Leafs during March.

The actual number turned out to be 2,236--higher than Ghosn's no-doubt lowballed estimate--bringing the Leaf's quarterly total to 3,539. Not at Tesla levels, but by far the Leaf's best-ever monthly total.

Ghosn went on to say that a level of around 2,000 monthly sales was NOT where Nissan expected to settle--implying that higher volumes were in the cards for the rest of the year. We hope Nissan's U.S. sales staff is listening to their boss.

Volt gets close--but not close enough

As it turned out, Chevrolet delivered 1,478 Volts during March, fewer than last month's 1,626.

That number brings first-quarter Volt totals to 4,244, decisively below the Tesla total.

While the Volt is still ahead of the Leaf for the first three months of the year--4,244 to 3,539--it was outsold in March by Nissan's battery electric car, for the first time since January 2012.

The third-place monthly ranking has got to be a blow for GM's electric-car team--although, in fairness, the price of the average Model S is likely twice that of the average Volt and Tesla has a backlog of eager customers who've waited up to three years to take delivery of their cars.

Plug-in hybrid models to come

In fourth place during the first quarter was the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, which outsold the Leaf through February to take a solid second place behind the Volt.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

Enlarge Photo

We said yesterday that if March sales tracked at their level during the first two months of the year, the Prius Plug-In would come in between 700 and 900 units.

And in fact, Toyota delivered 786 plug-in Priuses in March, for a first-quarter total of 2,353--bumping that car down to fourth place for the quarter, now that we have Tesla numbers.

As for Ford, it continues to increase sales of its Energi line, with 494 C-Max and 295 Fusion plug-in hybrids sold.

The Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid appears to be on a slow upward trend. Just 19 were delivered in January and February combined, but March saw 26 sold--a far slower pace than the first months of the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid.

Compliance cars coming too

As for the battery-electric compliance car segment, deliveries of the Ford Focus Electric totaled 180 cars in March--its best-ever month, bringing total sales since December 2011 over the 1,000 mark for the first time.

(We're still waiting for Ford to address our questions about whether the Focus Electric actually is a compliance car, though its continuing pessimistic and downbeat predictions on the Focus Electric's sales potential may well be self-fulfilling.)

Remarkably, 133 Toyota RAV4 EVs were sold in March, by far the highest monthly number ever--bringing total sales since last September to more than 400, or one-quarter of the number Toyota needs to build.

Honda delivered 23 Fit EVs in March, equaling the previous two months' sales combined and bringing the lifetime total to 139.

Finally, as for the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, after a couple of months that totaled almost 600 sales, the littlest electric car on the market slumped back to its 2012 levels of 31 cars delivered.

The i-MiEV isn't a compliance car, but the March sales are at that level--and a disappointment to the hopes of those who like small, minimalist plug-ins.

Follow Us

Comments (75)
  1. Is it just me, or is Voelcker's normally cautious tone about Tesla starting to fade.

  2. @John C Briggs: Absolutely not! I am still devoted to destroying them as @Chris O accuses me of. Every waking moment is dedicated to plotting how I can highlight their failings and refuse to take their happy news at face value. I am as eager to crush them on behalf of my drooling, slavish devotion to Big Oil and increasing CO2 in the atmosphere as I have ever been. How can you DOUBT me and my devotion to that cause ???

  3. LOL. Man you are really good at that riffing

  4. @John Voelcker: No, John Briggs is right, your tone regarding Tesla has cleared up from cynical/sceptical to more objective/factual. I think the negative slant (FUD really) is outsourced to David Noland these days.

    I never accused you of being some sort of Big Oil acolyte of course, but I do miss some independent critical thinking that I think is essential for adding some extra value to reporting on green cars. Just following official narratives/analysts/experts just doesn't cut it when it comes to disruptive technology as they are not always right and possibly even agenda driven. like in Tesla's case in which all rumours of its imminent demise seem rather exaggerated per the numbers so far.

  5. @Chris: What you perceive as my "tone" regarding Tesla is simply the desire to bring the "independent critical thinking" you say you seek to counter the uncritical, breathless regurgitation of Tesla propaganda that passes for journalism in far too many outlets.

    David Noland, meanwhile, put down $70K of his money for a Model S. That hardly indicates a "negative slant" or "FUD"--a remarkably insulting view of stories that explain what it's really like to buy + own a Tesla, and to interact with that company's customer service reps.

    However, I'm happy to consider publishing your articles on owning a Model S if you've had different experiences to Noland's. Let me know if that's the case.

  6. I love David Noland's reporting and its inclusion at GCR is a great counterbalance to Voelcker's up-til-now cautious tone on the company as well as adding details that would otherwise not be written down.

    But bear in mind, apart from George, none of the principal writers at GCR have much interest in environmental issues and that shows in the writing. That doesn't mean that they can't do a reasonable job reporting, but it does mean that they will not be very simpatico with their readers.

  7. @ John Voelcker: I think you flatter yourself if you portray yourself as the voice of reason in an ocean of mindless Tesla followers. The way I see it you are just a fellow traveller in an army of Tesla sceptics. Never a hint of any vision about why a company like Tesla might in fact succeed, just ICE age wisdom that starting a new carcompany is "indescribably" hard. Hint: Tesla is not trying to beat the ICE industry at its own game.

    Just out of curiosity: is your car a new energy vehicle or does it run on 100% petroleum?

  8. @Chris: I travel largely by mass transit, actually.

    I put about 6,000 miles a year on our aging family Subaru Outback, as well as another 5,000 or so in a variety of test cars. Most are covered on GCR, so you'll know they're largely small cars, hybrids, diesels, and plug-ins of various stripes.

    But to my earlier comment, I'm serious: I'd love to discuss getting articles from you that counter what you perceive to be David Noland's bias.

    If your experiences with owning a Model S are very different--as your comments would seem to suggest--let's discuss getting your point of view represented with more articles.

    Contact me at john (at) highgearmedia (dot) com to discuss.

  9. There are more comments in this thread
  10. Sorry John, but I think it's just you. Voelckner is still pretty much a Tesla hard ;-)

  11. Tesla, through its own success, has laid waste to a lot of punditry.

  12. Love it. Let them eat crow.

  13. It's fantastic to hear that Tesla is now beating the major manufacturers despite the difference in price between the Model S and a Volt. I hope this has the big guys rethinking their electric car strategy. Also it's easy to see that the Ford Focus Electric is not a compliance car, all you have to do is go to a site that searches for new car inventory like I live in the south east and my local ford dealers all have Focus electrics. Some dealers in my state have had the Focus electric in since last year.

  14. @CDspeed: True, Ford distributes the Focus Electric in regions outside those that count for CARB ZEV credits.

    But the company's continual reiteration that the Focus Electric won't sell is utterly bizarre if they DON'T intend it to be more than a compliance car.

    In the last two months, there have been 2 separate interviews with Ford execs who all but said, "It's going to fail, we know it's going to fail, battery electrics aren't ready for primetime & won't be for many, many years to come yet, no one wants them & they won't sell."

    That is NOT how you market a car you believe in. Here's one:

  15. @ John, I do agree that Ford's behavior is bizarre. I really think in some cases certain electric cars have been created to generate negative press when they fail, and that the car was under promoted to aid in its failure. In the long run though I think companies who do this will end up wasting billions when they have to play catch up with the companies who stayed dedicated to EV development. So they might succeed in slowing EVs down in the marketplace but they may be hurting themselves at the same time.

  16. What's amazing to me is that the Focus Electric fails to sell here in California even though the price of the car is thousands BELOW that of the gas model. I can purchase today the Focus electric with an incentive of $11,750 off the sticker. This means a price of $29,485 BEFORE another $10,000 in fed and CA tax credits. Weird that Ford is not selling more of these cars.

  17. I don't believe that for a minute. Show me the link where Ford has made those comments.

  18. @Barry: The link was in my first comment above, but here it is again:

  19. There are more comments in this thread
  20. C-Max sales also beat Tesla, Nissan, Prius, and Volt sales for March.

  21. @Barry: As noted below, you're mixing apples and oranges. This article is about plug-ins, and the vast majority of C-max sales were NOT plug-ins but simple hybrids.

    The total sales of Prius for March (22,140) were more than twice the total sales of C-Max (9,769).

    And the number of C-Max plug-ins (494) was less than the Volt (1,478), the Leaf (2,236), and the Tesla (one-third of 4,750).

  22. Could you tell me where you get the C-Max plug-in numbers?


    One of the places to get that number.

  24. @Barry: I receive a report every month from Ford Motor Co. that breaks out sales of every hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric model. It's information that is not included in their regular sales report press release, sent to journalists who request it.

  25. I think it's okay to be cautiously optimistic about Tesla's future. The sales figures we are seeing now are spring loaded as reservation holders who have been waiting two years or more are now getting their car delivered. As John mentioned, the true test will be sustainability as the orders for the enthusiastic early adopters are filled and Model S, and later Model X, compete in the general marketplace.

  26. On the Tesla forum they used to keep track of reservations, but since Tesla changed their web site and doesn't handout reservation sequence numbers anymore, it is impossible to track US reservations. It seems that up to mid march, the level was about 1000/month.

    European customers still get a reservation sequence number, and reservations from there are increasing. Latest count reveals about 350/month.

    Tesla needs 1600 to maintain their 20,000 per year target. They will open more stores, install more superchargers and haven't even started on advertising and leases. As far as customer testimonies go, the car is a hole-in-one. I wouldn't worry about long term sales.

  27. I always thought that the low priced EV's would pierce the sales cap of early adopters and get more into the mainstream buyer. It looks to be just the opposite. The Tesla Model S is capturing "normal" car buyers that previously would go for a higher end premium gas car, and not just early adopters. This bodes well for BMW and the i3.

  28. Well Tesla is the first truly practical EV that you can really use as an every day driver. Tesla is the only Ev that actually provides a comparable driving experience compared to gasoline powered cars in its price range. That is were Tesla really excels. Every other EV sold is just a mere commuter car with a seemingly agreed upon range of 75 miles. Jay Leno joked that Tesla Model S was the only Ev that was actually driven to his Jay Leno's Garage location. All others (EV's)had to be put an a flat bed and trucked there since they did not have the range to actually drive there without having to be recharged before the show could be filmed.

  29. Normal car buyers pay $75,000 and up? Dream on. The average price of a new car is just over $30,000. So how is the Tesla buyer a mainstream buyer?

  30. I'm curious how the European Zoe sales stack up against sales of the Leaf (still old model here), Opel / Vauxhalle Ampera (Volt) and Prius plug in?

  31. a good measure of Ford's intent will be how they handle their plug in sales. I fully expect to see incentives for their Energi's with the Focus EV left to fend for itself.

    Ford has make it no secret that they feel that BEVs are simply not ready for prime time and the big jump in sales of the LEAF (which will go up in April) and the Tesla (which I dont think will be able to maintain that level after the initial reservations are filled but will retain respectable #'s as compared to other high end cars) will spur Ford to provide those incentives faster than planned

  32. Great news…

    Totals for: 1Q2013, Mar 2013

    Tesla S: ~4750, ~1900 (final numbers not available til May)
    GM Volt: 4244, 1478
    Nissan Leaf: 3539, 2236
    other BEVs: … , …

    12,500+ /Qtr & 5600+ /mo.
    US BEV sales have come long way compared to Dec 2010, when under 100 per. Which manufacture will be first to break 5000 BEV sales per quarter?

    Sales should get even more interesting 2nd-half of year as Tesla delivers S's to EU (starting in Norway), and Smart ED (3Gen) goes on sale, in addition to a few other compliance vehicles.

    Looking forward, it's seems 2013 will be big year for BEVs.

  33. Ford C-Max 9769 - Beats them all

  34. @Barry: As I'm sure you know, those C-Max numbers are made up of C-Max Hybrids (WITHOUT plugs) and C-Max Energi plug-ins.

    This article and the comment above are *only* about cars with plugs, and the number of C-Max Energi plug-ins sold in March was 494 (as noted above).

    So, the 9,769 C-Max vehicles sold in March includes both hybrids and plug-ins. It's mixing apples and oranges to compare it solely to plug-ins.

    The comparison for C-Max total sales would be total Toyota Prius sales for March, both hybrids and plug-ins. That number is 22,140 (of which 786 were plug-ins)--beating the C-Max on both counts.

  35. I am sorry; but what is a Compliance vehicle?

  36. A good list of compliance vehicles bu @John.

    Some U.S. states follow California's emmisions regulations and require manufactures to deliver a percentage of their vehicle fleets with low/no CO2 emissions. There states are commonly referred to as Part-177 states (after the CARB regulation)

  37. It's a vehicle made to comply with state and/or federal regulations for fuel efficiency and/or technology. They are made in very low numbers and often only leased or sold as special fleet vehicles. I.e. you'll never get one.

  38. I'm very happy to see these numbers. I think the more plug-ins and BEVs people see on the road the more likely they will be to purchase one in the future. This is especially true for mild PHEVs like the Prius and CMAX Energi where their smaller packs generally scare people away. Well, once the insane incentives for large packs goes away. With such incentives the Volt > Prius Plug-in (my car). :(

  39. The $7,500 will last for the first 200,000 cars. So, they got at least another 4 years to go at this rate...

  40. Yeah yeah. Rub it in. I completely forgot the PIP didn't qualify for the $7500 Federal incentive or I wouldn't have bought it. I was looking at Volts at the time. The leaking coolant issues, fried electronics and suspension complaints swayed me back to the Prius after driving 200k with zero issues. I still wish I had got the Volt now that I can charge at work too. :(

  41. You can add a Leaf to your garage and get it at even cheaper price. PIP for the long trip and Leaf for the shorter trips... 2013 Leaf is even cheaper and get full $7,500. If you live in CA, you will get additional $2,500 cash back for the Leaf. :)

    I do like my Volt though. Much more fun than most other plugins. I do wish I had enough $$ to buy a Tesla S...

  42. The leaf parts are 80% from ASIA explain then HOW is it cheaper to build. I was told the car is still 66% subsidized. Tesla beat the Leaf and I predict will be the TRUE car to succeed as a mass marketed EV. It's attractive & has range - I want one!!!

  43. Once they make an affordable car...... Even with incentives the Model S is out of reach for most people and not everyone qualifies for the $7500 Federal incentive since you have to make pros. $55k a year and have tax liabilities. Fantastic car but for now the Leaf is for us poor folk. :)

  44. Not sure where the parts numbers came from, but for LEAF value built in North America the numbers don't seem right. The 2013 LEAF metal is stamped in N.A, LEAF battery & motor are built in TN not far from final assembly.

    As for as Tesla's ~8000 Panasonic cells per S, not sure where built?

    Leaf cost reductions: half appears to come from dollar/yen exchange rate differences from 2009 to now. The other half comes from increased use of automation & part simplification. (see 2010 videos vs 2013)

    Both Tesla & Nissan make great electric model S'es with each has won many awards. Different vehicles for different users, but both are market shakers! Ever EV owner is a winner. :)

  45. I want a Tesla too but wasted my money on a Leaf. Oh well wait a couple years and save money.

  46. Mike boy did you ever waste money on a LEAF!! just ask Tesla and they will show you how you can "save" over $600 a month driving electric (after your $1200 monthly payment...)

  47. "Nissan expected to settle--implying that higher volumes were in the cards for the rest of the year."

    Well, my local Nissan dealer got about 20 Leaf in stock now. I think they shouldn't have inventory issue with it at all. I will be surprised if April doesn't keep up with the numbers as long as Nissan keep up with the good leasing rate.

  48. What about Mitsubishi? Have they released their numbers yet? I'm sure they've sold a couple of i-MiEVs in March too...

  49. @Jan: Thanks for the reminder! I had the number and forgot to put it in (fixed now): a disappointing 31 units, after almost 600 sold during Jan-Feb.

  50. I have something against the Tesla S. We should stop this madness. They are everywhere!!!!! Makes me jealous everytime I see one!!!! :)

    But seriously, they are everywhere in the SF Bay Area. In the last 3 weeks, I haven't been able to go through a day without seeing at least 4-5 of them.

    Other day, in an entrance ramp, my red Volt got left in the dust by a White Tesla S. That is only after the Tesla S driver saw me coming since both of our cars were super quiet and he didn't realize that I was "trying to catch up to him" until he saw me when he tried to merge into my lane. Suddenly, that car just glides way in front of me without even trying. (But he did have to brake after about 2 secs due to traffic in front of him). :)

  51. My C-Max Energi would leave you in the dust as well!

  52. Really? I would call you BS on the spot. You can't do it without using gas and YOU certainly can't do it with your MPG.

    OF course, I don't expect much out of it since you are self claimed "physics" teacher who doesn't know the difference between a C-Max and C-Max "ENERGI" and ALSO who doesn't know the difference between MPG and MPGe.

  53. Drive a C-Max Energi before you make such comments that is all I will say. Why do you say I don't know the didfference in C-Max's? You sound jealous!

  54. I have driven C-Max and C-Max Energi. My company actually has a fleet of them. C-Max/Energi and regular Fusion.

    In fact, I borrow couple of them 2 weeks ago for 230 miles trip with a Fusion and C-Max. Guess what? Fusion (regular non hybrid) got 34mpg in that trip and drove great. C-Max only got 37mpg in the exact same condition and handles terrible.

    You don't know the difference since you keep barking at the plugin articles and keep comparing your C-Max (hybrid) number to other plugins.

    With the extra 200 lbs in weight, higher center of gravity, your Energi's electric mode is NOT nearly as fast as the Volt. The only it is faster is when the engine kicks in. I call that a "weak" plugin.

  55. I've had my Volt a month, LOVE IT! Haven't been to a gas station yet, and am currently getting 218mpg and rising! E-driving is the way to go!

  56. Wow what a mistake you made. Should have bought a C-Max Energi. Yes I had way over 218 mpg on my C-Max after the first couple of weeks, all the wya up to 999 mpg. But then this week I took a 575 mile round trip. First segment was up and over a 3500 foot mountain pass at 60 mph. This was 90% on the gas engine and the MPG was 43.4. Try that in your Volt, Leaf, etc. Next was on interstate highway at 60 mph and then 55 mph for most of the time up and over and then back again over a 1571 foot mountain pass and that was about 75% on the gas engine for a total of 491.7 miles and I got 54 mpg!

  57. I did that in my Volt and My Volt consistenly getting triple digit MPG comparing to you slow and ugly Energi...

  58. A Volt on it's poor little 1.4 liter engine would have trouble passing the slow trucks on that pass. My C-Max on its 2.0 liter gas engine did this with ease. That is why the C-Max Energi is the better car and $7,500 cheaper. The C-Max Energi is a great car to drive and can continue to give good torque when needed. That is something the Volt cannot do with a 1.4 liter engine that is designed to do one thing and one thing only - re-charge the battery. Volts are known to not handle mountains very well. And don't even talk about Prius plug-ins on mountains they are even worse.

  59. BS. You have NO idea how the Volt works or even your Energi works. Volt's main power is based on its electric motor and powertrain. Engine only provide partial power. The 1.4L is about half of the power of the total powertrain. And Volt never has any problem passing on the hwy. I drive plenty of "mountains" in Northern California. Maybe you should stay the powertrains before you make that comment. That is shocking for a science teacher to make some of the dumbest comment here...

    Also, $7,500 is only list price. After rebates, they are only $3k in difference. Plus, Volt has about 2x of the EV range.

  60. @Barry: Xiaolong is correct; the Volt draws on both engine-generated current and some battery reserve under high loads even in charge-sustaining mode.

    Have you actually driven a Chevy Volt?

  61. Bad data on Ford C-Max sales. Ford says it sold 3,769 C-Max in March and almost 10,000 for the first quarter. Why the mistake?

  62. @Barry: Because as noted twice above, this is an article on PLUG-IN sales--and only 494 of those 9,479 C-Maxes sold in March had plugs. The rest were simple hybrids, so not what this article is about.

    Seriously, did you not know that the vast majority of C-Max vehicles are NOT plug-ins like yours?

  63. @John,

    He is a C-Max troll. You have repeately pointed out the difference and he refuse to admit and he is just trolling for C-Max...

  64. Ford does not post the different numbers for C-Max's. Also my mistake to not read the title of this article clearly.

  65. Here again:

    BTW, your Energi doesn't even get EPA's 43 mpg in long range according to your own post of 75% gas engine and 54mpg.

    Also, learn to calculate Gas mode MPG and EV mode MPGe first before you spam comment section with your "efficiency" ratings...

    I haven't even mentioned the fact that Energi's MPG display is at least 5% more "optimistic" than real "gallon/miles" calculation.

  66. @Barry: That's correct. As noted elsewhere on another of your comments, Ford sends a breakout of all their hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery-electric model sales each month to journalists who request it.

  67. Why aren't Prius Plug-Ins available at all?

  68. Contacted all Florida dealers since January through today and none have ever even had it in stock? Why?

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.