Electric Car Sales Still Anemic Despite Overall Growth In Market


US auto sales hit a five-year high for 2012 (a lot of that has to do with Japanese auto manufacturers getting back in gear after being derailed by earthquakes), but the cars the government most wants Americans to buy still aren’t selling very well.

The Chevy Volt is now the best-selling plug-in hybrid car among a very lackluster group.

Volt sales have been relatively strong throughout most of 2012 with GM selling 2,831 units in August; 1,849 units in July; and 1,760 units in June. The trend was not sustained in November, but December was definitely a rebound month. If we look back at December 2011, we discover that sales of the Volt were 1,529 units.

Nissan reported that sales of its electric LEAF were relatively strong in December, with 1,489 units driving off the lots. Recapping recent LEAF sales shows us that Nissan moved a solid 1,539 units in November, nearly identical to October’s 1,579 sales. In December 2011, LEAF sales totaled 954 units.

In terms of 2012 year-to-date numbers, the tally for the Nissan LEAF is 9,819 units. That’s incredibly close (+ 1.5 percent) to 2011’s results, when sales of the LEAF totaled 9,674 units. Meanwhile, the 2012 YTD results for the Chevy Volt ring in at a remarkable 23,461 units. In comparison, General Motors’ Volt sales for all of 2011 tallied only 7,671 units. That’s a year-to-date (2012 versus 2011) increase of 205.8 percent.

The Chevy Volt is now officially the U.S.’s top-selling plug-in vehicle for 2012. In the number two spot is not the Nissan LEAF, but rather the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.

The article describes Volt sales as “sizzling,” and admittedly 23,641 sales is a big improvement after GM failed to hit its goal of 10,000 sales in 2011, but in comparison to the overall market that’s a tiny number. By comparison, the Honda CR-V (a comparable compact car) sold 281,652 units in 2012.

And the sales jump for Volt (not replicated for the Nissan Leaf) probably had a lot to do with GM slashing prices for the car earlier this year to boost lagging sales.

Put simply, these cars just aren’t very popular. Even with a huge government subsidy of $7,500 for every buyer (not to mention the billions in subsidies poured into subsidizing the manufacture of the cars), these cars just don’t sell.

Maybe because, even with all the subsidies, they’re really expensive and just don’t work that well. Which is about par for the course.

If the government subsidizes something, that’s almost certainly because that something isn’t good enough to sell on its own.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Roy_Bean

    We’ll have to see if Al Gore buys some of these with his oil profits. Do you think they come in a limousine model?

    • mickey_moussaoui

      I’ll wager that if you and I built a stretch electric limo that some silly ass hollywood liberal would purchase it AND thank us….

    • mikemc1970

      That’s the rub. Gore doesn’t actually care about any of his nonsense. It is all a scam to make him rich and spread socialism.

  • mickey_moussaoui

    I want to see GM build ALL ELECTRIC airplanes and have Obama ride in one. I should be carefull, he might think it’s a good idea and he’ll give their union another trillion for R&D.

  • g_e_e_k

    I’m probably opening myself up for attack here, but I’m a current Volt owner and to say that electric cars “just don’t work that well” does a major disservice, at least to this particular car. Even as a non-electric car it competes well with other vehicles in the pre-tax-credit price range. U.S. News and World report recently released ranking for cars and the Volt was categorized as an “Upscale Mid-size car” and ranked at #6, which was one better than the Audi A4. The fact that it is electric in addition to being a really nice car just makes it better value. I believe the big factor in lackluster sales has a lot more to do with public perception and knowledge of the technology. One out of every four times I park somewhere I have someone approach me to ask me questions about how the Volt works. More often than not they’re surprised that it has a gasoline engine to extend the range beyond 38 miles and it makes them stop and think. The other factor here is that, regardless of understanding the technology enough to purchase one, the average consumer is going to be more risk-averse when it comes to such a large purchase and something they rely on to commute with. I’m an engineer, as are a lot of Volt owners. People who work in my field evaluate and use new technology on a daily basis. Taking that risk is the norm for us, so it wasn’t a giant leap for me to decide to purchase a Volt. So to me the sales as they have been are perfectly acceptable and the increase in sales last year is just an indicator of a positive trend going forward. As more people learn about these cars and overcome some of their fear through understanding, more people will purchase them. It’s the same with any major new technology; there will be early adopters who are willing to take the risk and lead the way to help the technology become more widespread. The subsidy isn’t there to make a bad car more attractive, it’s there to help get more people to take that perceived risk to advance good technology. What I don’t like seeing is that some people have already made up their minds that these cars aren’t worth looking at without even having driven one.