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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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By MonkeyPaw on 3/7/2011 5:59:43 PM , Rating: 2
Gee, the Volt is already more expensive than its "competition," and those are cars that are better at many things, yet still probably cost less to own and operate over the entire lifespan of the vehicle. As a consumer, if I already consider the Volt overpriced, then inflated auctions aren't going to help. This isn't an early edition sports car we're talking about. It's a family sedan that you need to plug in everywhere for optimal efficiency. No, the Volt should have been something different. Something worth the price (like a sports car or something) until the technology is proven and affordable. The Leaf and Volt really are in the wrong markets. Even the Prius found a good market niche.




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