2016 Chevrolet Volt teaser image, with GM marketing chief Tim Mahoney, Aug 2014Enlarge Photo
Launching entirely new types of cars is expensive, time-consuming, and challenging--as Toyota could have told Chevrolet and Nissan during 2010.
Toyota's sales of its early Prius hybrid-electric cars, however, may offer hope to electric-car fans disappointed at modest sales of the two affordable electric cars sold in high volumes thus far.
In 2010, both Nissan and Chevy were preparing to launch their new plug-in electric cars.
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Both the battery-electric Nissan Leaf and the range-extended electric Volt were five-door compact hatchbacks, and both went on sale in December that year.
First-year sales were 7,500 to 10,000 for each, and second-year sales rose to 23,500 for the Volt while staying just below 10,000 for the Leaf.
First 2011 Nissan Leaf delivered to buyer, San Francisco, Dec 2010, photo by Eugene LeeEnlarge Photo
The third year saw sales rise to roughly 23,000 for each car. This year, we expect the Volt to stay around that number, and the Leaf to rise to perhaps 30,000.
In a market that averages about 15 million new vehicles a year--and buys 500,000 Ford F-150 full-size pickup trucks each year--those are admittedly modest numbers.
But while the Toyota Prius may seem ubiquitous today, it wasn't always so.
In fact, Toyota sold Priuses only in Japan for three years before even putting the car on sale in the U.S. in 2000. And its sales over the first four years were equally modest.
Full-year sales of the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, and Nissan Leaf after going on saleEnlarge Photo
When you graph each of the three cars, starting with their first years on sale, you see relatively similar lines: All three cars sold 5,000 to 30,000 a year in each of their first four years.
But then the second-generation Prius launched for the 2004 model year, and its sales doubled from 24,600 to 53,991.
Technically, that was the seventh year on sale for the Prius, if you count the three years of Japanese production that U.S. buyers never heard about.
We know the second-generation 2016 Chevy Volt will be introduced in January at the Detroit Auto Show, going on sale in the second half of next year.
2000 Toyota PriusEnlarge Photo
And the second-generation Nissan Leaf seems likely to follow it by roughly a year, perhaps unveiled late next year or sometime in 2016, going on sale as a 2017 model.
So here's the idea: If the next Volt follows the Prius curve, its sales could double in 2016, its first full year on sale.