2011 Chevrolet Volt on test in Little Rock, Arkansas, July 2011

2011 Chevrolet Volt on test in Little Rock, Arkansas, July 2011

The Chevrolet Volt and Tesla Model S were probably neck-and-neck in Canadian plug-in sales, in September

In August, the Chevy Volt won the sales podium by an 84-56 margin over the Nissan Leaf. Government records showed 55 new Tesla Model S registrations, leaving the California automaker in a close third place.

But last month promises to be a closer affair.

Plug-in electric car sales in Canada, Sep 2013

Plug-in electric car sales in Canada, Sep 2013

Chevy Volt and Tesla Model S

GM's flagship extended-range electric vehicle sold 59 units in September. This may (or may not) be enough to lead the field: for the five months ending in August, the Model S averaged 56 monthly sales in Canada. (That's one-tenth the Tesla Model S sales in Norway last month, despite Canada's auto market being 10 times larger.)

Not being a betting person--your contributor restricts his gambling to the stock market--this article will deploy the vaunted triple-qualifier grammatical construct, in tentatively suggesting that it's plausible the Volt may have squeaked past the Model S in September.

Volt sales endured a steep year-over-year drop from September 2012, though the comparison may be unfair: that was the month the Volt set a Canadian plug-in sales record of 214 vehicles. Better context comes from year-to-date sales, which show the Volt off by about one-third, at 656 sales versus 927 last year.

Competing plug-in offerings from Toyota, Smart, and Ford could be partly responsible for the sales drop-off. On the bright side, Canada will likely buy its 2500th Volt this month, with only 60 sales left to hit the milestone.

The Nissan Leaf moved 36 units in September, down from August's 56, but roughly in line with recent monthly averages. The Leaf has all but doubled its year-to-date Canadian sales, climbing to 382 from 196 at this point last year.

2012 Mitsubishi i, City Island, NY, Aug 2012

2012 Mitsubishi i, City Island, NY, Aug 2012

The low end

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV sold 20 units in September in Canada, equaling its American sales total. Year-to-date sales are down 10 percent, at 148 versus 165 last year. The Prius Plug-in moved a worst-ever 7 units in September, down from the 21 units sold during its Canadian introduction last September.

The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive sold 11 units in August, bringing its eight-month total to 92 vehicles. In recent months, its sales rate has largely matched the i-MiEV. But given the $6000 price differential plus a suite of "Smart Add-On" services we expect the Smart ED to surpass its subcompact competitor in due course.

The Fisker Karma--surprise!--was next in August sales, with 8. Discounting likely played a role, as dealerships would want at this point simply to clear inventory from the all-but-defunct luxury maker.

Seven  electric Ford Focuses were registered in Canada in August. We note that the Focus Electric seems to be the first plug-in vehicle for which the Canadian sticker price is lower than the American one (C$33,199 vs US$35,200). Electric cars are generally priced higher, dollar for dollar, north of the border.

Overall market

While we had expressed concern earlier this year about the seemingly slow growth in the Canadian electric vehicle market, registration data for automakers who don't report their sales has brightened the picture substantially--thanks mainly to the Tesla Model S.

Through August, plug-in electric vehicle sales essentially doubled to 2,000 vehicles. Given that sales picked up at the end of 2012, by the end of the year an annualized growth rate of 50 percent seems plausible, with total sales approaching the 3,000 range.

While lower than the expected near-doubling of the American market, it's healthier than our prior projections.

With the continuing build-out of charging-station infrastructure across the country--plus recent price reductions for several plug-in models to match those from the United States--Canadian electric-vehicle supporters can be optimistic about growth in the growth rate itself.


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