Sigh. Here we go again.

It's the first of the month, which means that auto journalists are scrambling to put together their monthly sales reports.

Sales in May weren't great, for a variety of reasons: higher prices and shortages of some Japanese models, among others.

Unusual scrutiny

But the most dismal part of the monthly process is watching the inordinate attention paid to sales of the two plug-in electric cars now available at U.S. dealerships.

Those are the 2011 Chevy Volt and the 2011 Nissan Leaf, and every month their sales have been followed with the kind of media scrutiny usually reserved for utterances by possible presidential candidate Sarah Palin (she of the anti-Subaru comments).

481 Volts, 1,142 Leafs

In May, Chevrolet sold 481 Volts, for a yearly total thus far of 2,184. That's right in line with the 493 it sold last month.

And Nissan sold 1,142 Leafs, for a 2011 total to date of 2,167 , its highest monthly total this year by far. So with five months in, the two makers are neck and neck on sales volume.

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

Each manufacturer has challenges this year.

GM will shut down the Detroit-Hamtramck plant where the Volt is built for four weeks in July to retool it to build the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, now that production of the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne has ended.

And Nissan has been coping for the past few months with the devastating impact of the February earthquake and tsunami that devastated its home country and damaged the supply chain for all automakers, especially those in Japan.

Utter lack of context

What irks us above all is the lack of context on the part of political commentators--we won't dignify them by mentioning names--who have already pronounced the Volt and Leaf "sales failures" based on a few months' data.

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. Nissan planned to deliver 20,000 Leafs in the U.S. this year, and has waiting lists that stretch out for months.

They are still delivering demonstration cars to dealers, shaking down production, and otherwise doing what any sane maker does when it launches a new and important vehicle region by region. Especially one that requires more than average education on the part of the buyer.

In other words, it's a problem of supply, not demand. Got it?

Check back in two years...

In a couple of years, when Nissan can build several hundred thousand electric cars a year, then we'll see whether they all find buyers. Until then ... do your homework, hmmmmm?

There were also Volts and Leafs sold in December 2010, by the way, when each plug-in car first went on sale. On December 12, Nissan delivered its first 2011 Leaf, and just three days later that was followed by the first Volt.

For the record, plug-in vehicles are also sold in the U.S. by Fisker, Smart, Tesla, Think, and Wheego. But none of those companies release monthly sales reports. Their volumes are far lower than those for the Volt and Leaf.


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