Print 85 comment(s) - last by Keeir.. on Mar 13 at 7:23 PM

The Chevy Volt is outselling the Nissan LEAF -- but not by much.  (Source: Autoblog (LEAF), GM (Volt))
EV hopes are weighed down by miserable sales

There certainly seems to be some members of the American public who are enthusiastic about alternative powertrain vehicles.  In February, hybrid auto sales soared 39 percent to reach approximately 23.3k units.  Leading the pack was the veteran Toyota Prius.

But amid that optimistic figure was a bit of not-so-happy news for a couple major automakers.  General Motors only managed to sell 281 Chevy Volts in February, down from 321 in January.  And worse yet, the Nissan LEAF only sold 67 units in the month of February.

To date the Volt has outsold the LEAF, 928 units to 173.  Neither number looks very promising, at face value at least.  

For GM, the issue may lie partially on the supply side.  Dealers are trying to gouge on prices of the scarce Volts, but ultimately these tactics may backfire.  We saw several eBay auctions (which aren't free, mind you) end with no buyers.  In each case, dealers were trying to charge several thousand dollars over the MSRP -- and customers weren't buying.

If GM can pump up its supply, like it's promising, the price may drop to the MSRP and sales may pick up.

With Nissan, the problem and potential solution is likely different.  Arguably Nissan's sales are the bigger disappointment, as the company was promising to beat GM in production volume and sales. However, it is currently failing on those fronts, by all appearances.  One major issue may be limited distribution.  In the U.S., the LEAF only launched in a handful of markets such as California and New York.

Still it's a bit of a mystery how the far-cheaper LEAF has fared so much worse than the Volt.  One possibility is that drivers are scared of not having a backup gas engine (which the Volt has).  At the very least, expanding sales to most of the rest of the country should help the LEAF catch up -- if only a bit.

To add insult to injury, Britain has temporarily banned LEAF vehicles from being sold.  The LEAF contains a noisy backup warning sound to warn pedestrians -- a necessity, given the vehicle's relatively quiet motors.  But apparently that warning violates British noise laws, which prohibits loud noises between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Where recent U.S. laws and federal guidelines require these noises, Nissan is having to race to remove them in Britain.  Rather than making the noises timing dependent, Nissan is attempting a cruder fix -- removing them entirely.  States the company, "The audible system on the LEAF did not allow for [a timing dependent fix], so the beeping sound is being removed entirely before the cars can be driven on roads in [Britain]."

As a result there's a "slight delay" in British sales while the vehicle's firmware is modified in the factory in order to convince Britain to lift the sales ban.

One company that is likely smiling at the sales numbers is Ford.  A late-comer to the EV game, Ford will release a plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV) next year, and a battery-electric vehicle the year after that.  It's clear that even though Ford is coming in a year behind GM and Nissan, that there's plenty of room for improvement in the nascent field.

Another company that is likely pretty satisfied about the news is Tesla Motor Company.  Tesla's Roadster sales pace looks pretty impressive given the higher sticker, when compared to the LEAF.  Dramatic price difference aside, one key difference may be looks.  In an era where the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna reign atop pop charts, perhaps the LEAF's bulbous form is a bit too ungainly for a superficial public to bite on.  The sexy curves of a Roadster 2.5 EV or a Fisker Karma might be a little bit more pleasant EV pill to swallow, assuming you can afford it.


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RE: not
By Nutzo on 3/7/2011 5:44:22 PM , Rating: 2
Not suprised at all. Nothing like bringing an overpriced car to market while the economy is still in the tank.
Add in the price gouging, and it's a major fail.

RE: not
By tamalero on 3/8/11, Rating: -1
RE: not
By Sazabi19 on 3/8/2011 11:53:33 AM , Rating: 4
Fuel prices are only rising because of the greedy bastards that are saying lets raise the price because something may happen. Supply has not changed and neither has actual price from when we had our gas for under $3. This is just a bunch of crap. And you sound very European ans snotty to me, knock the high and mighty attitude off, no one appreciates it and you make others in Europe look bad.

RE: not
By Spuke on 3/8/2011 12:04:42 PM , Rating: 2
But I Still wonder, most people buy cars for the looks or for the "performance numbers" (the classic E-penis is everywhere!)
You don't know much about the US market. This is what Americans buy. With the exception of the pickups, all of the cars on this list are NOT gas guzzlers.

RE: not
By Keeir on 3/8/2011 12:38:04 PM , Rating: 3
Hello Tamalero,

It is an interesting note that when you travel to countries other than the United States and look around... people who can afford "gasguzzlers" have purchased them and used them. Europe is often held up as the "pinnacle" of responsible motoring. Yet, the companies in the US with the lowest CAFE ratings are ... European companies.

People in the United States favor larger "more wasteful" cars because
A.) United States people spend more miles in Cars
B.) United States people spend more hours in Cars
C.) United States people share the road with Larger Trucks/Etc
D.) United States people pay market prices + small taxes for gasoline. A US gallon of gas costs ~$4.00 dollars. Even the cheapest country in Europe is looking at ~6-7 dollars a gallon, some even more.
E.) United States government does not levy large taxes and fees on Automobiles.

Most US consumers (when gasoline prices aren't moving all over the place) are reasonably rational when making car choices. They choose the largest, most comfortable, highest performance, best looking automobile they can for the amount of money they wish to spend. In the United States larger cars are worth more (see A-C) and cost less (see D-E) than in Europe, so the end result is larger cars and more gas consumed. Any people put in the same situation make the same choices.

If the US chooses to improve mass transportation or force people to live closer together, the value of larger cars may drop as the cost of operating them may rise. This would indeed shift the market away from larger cars... at the cost of the happiness dervived from having/using the larger cars. (How many weathly people own just a Honda Fit?)

RE: not
By tamalero on 3/8/2011 1:32:32 PM , Rating: 2
really interesting view, thx for clarification!.

my opinion was based in the fact that I've visited Houston a few times. and honestly, the first thing I noticed in the tollways was;.. how many people have these huge FORD LOBO or similar sized cars! (including the insane gas-trasher Hummer H2)
Pittsburgh in the other hand, wasnt that bad

RE: not
By Keeir on 3/8/2011 1:46:47 PM , Rating: 2
Houston for better or worse is one of the most spread out cities in America and probably the world. Pittsburgh is considerably more dense.

An average Houstonian spends more time in cars and pays even less tax (on said car) than the average Pittsburghian.

But I would point out that many people in the United States buy large trucks because of personal hobbies such as Horse Ranching, Hobby Farming, Water Sports/Towing, etc. And its true that they are often not used enough to justify the purchase of the trucks. People fool themselves into thinking they will have the time/money to enjoy such hobbies. This is one of the reasons people get angry about being "forced" into smaller automobiles, because then they would have to give up the hope that they would get to do such hobbies. The Full-Sized Pickup has essentially replaced the smaller pick-ups in the US market due to small differences in cost and LARGE differences capability.

Again, these are not irrational people. Most Europeans put into Houstan would make very similiar choices as the Texans that live there now.

RE: not
By JediJeb on 3/8/2011 2:06:13 PM , Rating: 2
As someone who actually uses a Pickup Truck on a regular basis the ones you mention have been a thorn in my side for a long time now. It used to be Pickups were simple, plain, no frills vehicles made to do a job. Now they are more like a luxury car with leather seats, carpets, power everything ect. I still drive my 96 model because all the new ones I look at are too expensive and almost make you afraid to scratch them. Used to be a truck was priced at about 1/2 the price of the average car, now many are at or above the price of an average car. What is sad is I paid $42K for my house and 3 acres 5 years ago and I can barely purchase a new truck for even half of that, and to get it at that price I have to special order it with all the bells and whistles removed and wait for it to be delivered.

My current truck has a cloth seat, vinyl floor, radio and A/C, I do kinda wish it had cruise control but I can live without it. We can't even get good deals on stripped down trucks at work anymore, so we just buy 2 year old used ones to save money even though they are still sometimes loaded out with options we don't need. I will try to keep my old one at home going as long as I can because I hate the thought of spending $30k on something I am just going to get dented and scratched while using it.

RE: not
By aguilpa1 on 3/11/2011 4:10:21 PM , Rating: 2
I drive a pick up also and prefer the stripped down models if you can find them. They keep getting bigger and bigger. I bought the last year were a true single cab was available for a Ford truck in 2004. Now even the "single cab" models are extended.

The answer which the auto industry would rather you not know to solve the need for expensive EV is just...., keep your old vehicle for 7 to 10 years. Keep up the maintenance and it will save the environment. No extra vehicles on the road, no extra manufacture or raw materials to use. I gave my last payment over 2 years ago and now my 4.2l truck that gets 20MPG in town with standard 5 speed and 23 on the road costs me just $650 a year on gas per year. I have had to do nothing but put a new battery in it this year at a cost of $180 (it was a nice battery). I plan to keep it at least 3 more years, then find a similar replacement if I can find it. I will have saved THOUSANDS of dollars on payments and no contributed to the extra waste that goes into manufacturing a new vehicle. How green is that?

RE: not
By ImEmmittSmith on 3/8/2011 2:22:22 PM , Rating: 2
Here in Dallas/Fort Worth, yes we love our high performance cars and trucks, but we usually spend 1-2 hours daily commuting and I love the price/performance. I drive a BMW 550i, because I chose too and love the adrenaline rush from hitting the accelerator and being sucked back into my seat. I think people in Europe drive the same type of cars we do, right!?! It is truly a great feeling, but don't get to do that much in the city. But, get me out of the city on some straight farm roads, and 145 mph is magical! So, for the Prius driver that saves a few bucks on fuel, but pays so much for very a little savings and no thrill of the driving experience, they can keep it!! Live is too short to not enjoy the finer things on occasion.

RE: not
By Johnmcl7 on 3/8/2011 4:52:07 PM , Rating: 1
As someone who lives in Europe and been to the US, your arguments make little sense or plain wrong:

"People in the United States favor larger "more wasteful" cars because
A.) United States people spend more miles in Cars

This is a counterpoint as surely if spending more miles in the car then fuel efficiency should be a greater concern rather than a reason for having a less efficient car. There's plenty of people in Europe spend their days driving all day and surprise, surprise efficient diesel engines are the choice for such work, not gas guzzlers.

B.) United States people spend more hours in Cars

Not really sure what this has to do with fuel consumption, again as per the previous point there's plenty of people in the EU who spend a lot of time in cars and you don't need a large inefficient engine to be comfortable, just look at BMW's diesel engines.

C.) United States people share the road with Larger Trucks/Etc

Simply not true, we have large trucks in Europe as well but again I'm struggling to see what this has to do with fuel effiency. If this is to do with the safety rating of a vehicle and therefore 'bigger is better' then this probably is more an issue in the UK than the US as we have the problem of left hand drive trucks on UK roads. Due to the driver being on the left it's very easy for a car to sit in a blind spot which means when the truck moves to overtake they sideswipe the car

D.) United States people pay market prices + small taxes for gasoline. A US gallon of gas costs ~$4.00 dollars. Even the cheapest country in Europe is looking at ~6-7 dollars a gallon, some even more.
E.) United States government does not levy large taxes and fees on Automobiles."

Your last two points are really the only genuine ones, if it wasn't for the high tax rate on petrol and high road tax on vehicles with high emissions there probably wouldn't be the same drive on fuel efficiency.

"Spreading the rumors, it's very easy because the people who write about Apple want that story, and you can claim its credible because you spoke to someone at Apple." -- Investment guru Jim Cramer

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