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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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RE: GM deserves to bite it
By Keeir on 3/8/2011 1:33:47 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
And, not for nothing, but if start-up companies like Fisker and Tesla can produce an EV with ranges up to 300 miles between recharge, with all their money and resources, especially considering the jump start they had with the EV1, why can't GM also develop and market a competitively priced EV?


#1. Fisker is making a Serial Hybrid.
#2. Telsa has yet to make an Electric Car less than 100,000. Even the base Model S with a 160 mile range will be 50,000 AFTER federal rebate.

quote:
Fact is, GM has done more to stifle alternative fuel vehicles in the past 20 years than they have to successfully develop and sell them; the buy out/licensing of A123 Systems battery technologies (and then choosing LG over A123), the failure to continue R&D into fuel cells, and dropping the ball on the EV1.


Tell me a company that has done more in the US? Honda (it sells Civic NGV in some areas)?

quote:
The primary issue about the Volt, aside form the outrageous MRP and price-gouging by dealers trying to cash in on the latest "green" vehicle


Dealers try to price gouge ANYTHING in high demand. In my area, Dealers were trying to put 1,000-2,000 above MSRP on VW TDI models. Performance or limited run models often have the same issue. The Volt's MSRP is not "outrageous" but inline with the market. Over 10 years/150,000 miles, a purchaser will only pay a relatively small premium for a Volt versus a comparable Civic (Essentially even post Rebate) or Prius (~3,500 after rebate, 350 dollars a year).

quote:
is that Toyota, Nissan, and Honda studied, researched, and developed serial-hybrid vehicles and all determined that the parallel hybrid design was a better design and ultimately more marketable than the series hybrid.


Outside the Toyota Prius, give me one "succesful" Parallel Hybrid in the US. Certainly not the Honda Accord, Civic, Insight 1.0, Insight 2.0. The Honda CRZ is still out for discussion. How about the Nissan Altima? Toyota Camry? Lexus I250h? I guess we can call the Lexus 450h Crossover and maybe the Toyota Highlander "successful" but the take rate on them are very low. (VW sells more of thier WAGON DIESELS than FORD sells mid-sized SEDAN HYBRIDS even though Americans prefer Ford, Sedans, and Hybrids to VW, Wagons, and Diesel... they even cost very similar)

Hybrid success in the United States has been extremely limited to just 1 model from 1 company. Hybrids are alot more popular in.... JAPAN. Why? The Japanese system of taxing, driving distances, road conditions, electric and gasoline costs, inspection cycles, etc favor cheap efficient cars ... which result in Parallel hybrids having significant additional value. Serial Hybrids have significantly greater upfront costs are balanced by long term savings. But in Japan, it costs alot of money to keep cars due to yearly inspection requirements (past 3 years of age) and mandatory fixing... ever wonder why Japan exports large amounts of USED cars in good condition?

quote:
Looking out the next few years, European car makers will be marketing diesel electric hybrids expected to get 60+mpg and ranges of over 700 miles between refueling.


Ugh. It is unlikely that within a few "years" that anyone can make a Diesel Electric Hybrid with a "prefered" shape that gets 60+ MPG EPA combined. Lets look at the Lexus 200CT? Toyota/Lexus is a company with large amounts of Hyrbid experience, yet a small C-Segment Luxury car is unable to get more than ~41.5 MPG Combined on a 1.8L engine? Shove a Diesel/Electric Hybrid powertrain in the same car and your unlikely to get more 50 MPG combined. Why? Well, one of Diesel's strengths is high torque in low RPM ranges and high efficieny at steady states. The Atkins. Cycle engine used in Toyota/Prius hybrids already has high efficieny, almost as high as a diesel at steady states. The electric motor is used to replace the low end torque lost by the Atkins. Cycle engine. Essentially a Diesel Engine already utilizes the strengths of a Hybrid system! Hybridizing a Diesel Engine will do almost nothing for the HWY mileage, and will only bring the City Mileage into the range of HWY mileage (Diesel Engines in the past have not been as good at Start/Stop as Gasoline engines).

Oh, and anyone can make a car with 700+ miles between refueling, just make a gas tank really large! Apparently the US market is not calling out for 700+ mile ranges, I would expect any serious maker to reduce the size of the gas tank to ~400 mile ranges for the US market unless sharing the tank with a non-hybridized gasoline model.

I am not entirely happy with the Volt either, but instead of running around angry, maybe you should look at the market and regulations in the US? The Volt is an attempt to create a new class of cars... uniquely suited to the US driving habits and consumption patterns. Maximizing battery usuage while allowing maximum daily range but still allowing the majority of miles to be electric rather then gasoline. It's a fair first attempt. Looking back at the First and Second generation Prius, you had a car that cost more, had less features, got 25% worse mileage, was smaller, and looked even worse than the Third/Fourth Generation Priuses that we have today.


RE: GM deserves to bite it
By theBike45 on 3/13/2011 1:38:14 PM , Rating: 2
I have followed the Volt development from day 1 and , back then, felt (and still do) that it was the only means of obtaining electric drive miles. But then lots of things happened that caused me to re-evaluate the engineering.
The original "slightly less than $30K" price spoken of by Volt execs turned out to be horribly wrong - off by almost 50%. Somehow, GM forgot to ask either of the two competing battery companies for a price estimate!!! Which makes one wonder how GM ever came up with their estimated price in the first place. Are these people really that clueless?
No wonder they went Chapter 11.
Then they had to destroy the original styling (that which had attrected so much enthusiasm) in order to "get better aerodynamics." Once again, don't those people have a clue?
And how come Tesla produced a beautiful design for their electric which, by the way, happens to be more aerodynamic than the Volt? And their stylist used to work for GM!
Then that 40 miles of driving range promised (which was their stated reason for replacing their original styling with 21st century Ugly) turns out to be, well, not exactly guaranteed and even required more wear on the battery pack to achieve what they did get (25 to 45). And that promised 10 year battery warranty also went by the wayside.
The main problem with the Volt is that it was obsolete by the time it came off the assembly line. Time doesn't stand still and batteries got a whole lot cheaper from the original prices of slightly north of $1000 per kWhr (which strangely isn't reflected in the Volt's price). The RETAIL cost of Tesla's batteries, as installed in the Model S, and superior by far to anything GM has in their Volt
(not to mention also not poprietary, unlike GM's) comes
out at $575, and that includes everything - all that's needed to install the batteries and keep them temp controlled. That price drop is what killed the Volt design, which depended in toto on very high priced, very heavy, very large batteries that took a long time to recharge. The Tesla will recharge 300 miles worth of driving range in 45 minutes. The Volt cannot recharge 35 miles of driving range in under 3 hours. The Volt recharges 40 times slower than the Model S??? Where is the battery expertise that GM supposedly bought from LG? The Volt is hideously complicated and prone to unreliability and will be fixable only at select GM dealerships, at a very high price. So much space is wasted on gas engines and exhaust systems and transmissions, etc. that the Volt has to be 40% larger externally to equal the space efficiency of the Model S. MY prediction is that in five years it will be impossible to sell a Volt at 1/4th the original price. The batteries will be almost used up and may or may not be available, since the Volt will likely be out of production by then.
The Model S battery pack and motor place zero demand on interior space. Tesla designed a very smart, fast, elegant and attractive car. GM designed the Volt. Take your pick. Anticipate GM's first EV to mirror the Tesla Model S. I'm sure GM's engineer's and stylists are smart enough to know when they've been creamed and will simply copy the Model S architecture.


RE: GM deserves to bite it
By Keeir on 3/13/2011 7:23:00 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think you have been following that well

quote:
The original "slightly less than $30K" price spoken of by Volt execs turned out to be horribly wrong - off by almost 50%.


That was after the 7,500 rebate. Turns out they were wrong by ~11%.

quote:
Then they had to destroy the original styling (that which had attrected so much enthusiasm) in order to "get better aerodynamics." Once again, don't those people have a clue?


The original styling was unproducable. Like 95% of concept cars. This is a duh moment.

quote:
And how come Tesla produced a beautiful design for their electric which, by the way, happens to be more aerodynamic than the Volt?


Well, the Roadster is not more aero-efficient. I also think there is a large degree of difference between a 100,000 car and a 40,000 car. If you mean the Model S, Tesla -still- has produced one for sale. As of yet, I couldn't say which was more "Aerodynamic". We will see where the price of a Model S ends up. Given Tesla's history, I expect the "50,000" dollar 160 mile will be more like 55,000-60,000 AFTER rebate. Yet again, I think there is a significant difference there in price. On top of this, Tesla's battery warranty is well... inferior to the GM's Volt.

quote:
Then that 40 miles of driving range promised (which was their stated reason for replacing their original styling with 21st century Ugly) turns out to be, well, not exactly guaranteed and even required more wear on the battery pack to achieve what they did get (25 to 45).


The 40 miles was promised on the pre-2008 EPA City and Highway cycles. The Volt is likely capable of acchieving this. Only an idoit would expect a Volt to get 40 miles of driving range -regardless- of the conditions.

quote:
And that promised 10 year battery warranty also went by the wayside.


Yep, turned into an 8 year warranty. Equivalent to all Hybrids. Superior to all BEVs.

quote:
The RETAIL cost of Tesla's batteries, as installed in the Model S, and superior by far to anything GM has in their Volt


Really? That Model S that hasn't been made yet? It will have cheaper batteries (which are also more simplistic) than cars made today? Gosh! I would recommend you read the Tesla's Battery Warranty Carefully. After 7 years, less than 50% range is acceptable. Thats some quality there!

quote:
The Tesla will recharge 300 miles worth of driving range in 45 minutes.


Err... no. The Tesla model S will recharge 140 miles in 45 minutes. A "Quick Charge" uses a special 480V power outlet (not able to be installed in most US homes) to charge ~85% of the battery. Tesla is fond of talking charging times for the lowest range model of the Model S. Quick Charging will also lower battery life.

Let me put it this way, if you really could recharge 300 miles in 45 minutes, that would require ~100 kW electrical source. At 480V, thats 200 amps. More electrical power than is typically wired to an entire house!

The Volt's maximum charge time is based on drawing ~12 amps at 110V. Safe enough for even very old household wiring since its less than a Hair Dryer. Using the Volt's 220V charger, which does indeed cost extra, will cut the time significantly.

quote:
The Volt is hideously complicated and prone to unreliability and will be fixable only at select GM dealerships, at a very high price.


Really? Only time will tell. I wouldn't expect though to buy a Model S and have it serviced anyplace but at a Tesla Dealership.

quote:
So much space is wasted on gas engines and exhaust systems and transmissions,


Yep. However, you can drive anywhere there is a gas station. All the "QuickCharge" capabilities of a car like the Tesla Roadster will do you no good unless you can find a place to charge it.

quote:
The batteries will be almost used up and may or may not be available, since the Volt will likely be out of production by then.


Sigh. Go read the Volt's warranty. If you experience signifcant range drop within 8 years, GM has to replace the battery pack.

quote:
The Model S battery pack and motor place zero demand on interior space.


Really? A 85kWh battery pack is small? You not using you head. Look at the space inside the Volt that is taken up by a 16kWh battery!

Prepare to be disappointed by the Model S. Its an expensive large car which will have relatively low usuability after 5 years. For example the 160 mile range will be 112. The huge battery pack will ensure that the Model S is not significantly more roomy than cars a class level down... though it will have nice storage room in the hood.


"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov














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