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
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.