2012 Ford Focus Electric

Strong sales for 2011 Leaf and Volt shows bright promise rather than dismal flop

While many voices in politics and the media want us to believe electric cars, like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt, are failing, Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf cases show that their's is hardly the only interpretation of reality.

Are the electric cars from Nissan, GM and Tesla a flop or a success? With the first year of sales figures from Nissan and GM in our hands we have more data with which to ponder what this means for the future of transportation. Viewing this experiment as a success or failure depends on ones point of view, your expectations, and perhaps whether you own millions of dollars in oil company stocks.

The last part of 2011 showed strong sales growth for the Chevy Volt (723 in September, 1,108 in October, 1,139 in November and 1,529 in December), while Nissan Leaf sales were lackluster (1,031 in September, 849 in October, 672 in November, and 954 in December). For the year the GM sold 7,671 Chevy Volt's to the 9,674 Leaf's sold by Nissan. This makes a total of 17,354 electric cars sold by Nissan and GM, in the U.S.A., in 2011, with other automakers such as Tesla selling several hundred more electric cars.

For comparison, MotorTrend reports GM's total sales for 2011 were 2,503,820 vehicles. There were 415,130 Silverado pickup trucks sold in 2011, and 231,732 Chevy Cruze cars sold in 2011, and the list of vehicles sold by GM goes on and on. Compare these numbers to the 18,000 or so total electric car sales in 2011, or the Chevy Cruze, with 16,675 sales in December alone, you could rightfully think electric cars are a flop, kill the program, and lets move on to something more attractive. Indeed, you can find reports quoting many people making this exact argument. Electric car sales are a drop in the bucket, they're not making any impact, we're wasting our money on this stuff, on and on.

That is one perspective, but hardly the only, from which to view the facts. What about year-on-year sales growth, a figure many analysts like to look at. The problem here is that in 2010 the only electric cars being sold was the Tesla Roadster, conversion electric cars from a handful of conversion shops, and the few Leaf's and Volts delivered in late 2010. This means perhaps 500 electric cars were sold in the U.S. in 2010, giving us a 35x sales jump from 2010 to 2011. If reported this way, the headline would scream about a 3469% sales increase. But this would be just as misleading, because of the discontinuous jump in the number of available electric cars, as it is misleading to compare Volt sales to Cruze sales, an exercise many are doing (such as Rep. Kelly; see Why is an oil stock owning Congress member pushing to end EV tax credits?).

Just because we have no grounds for for a valid comparison between 2010 to 2010 electric car sales doesn't mean we should ignore the 35x (or so) sales jump. Instead we have a concrete demonstration we are in a new era of transportation, an era where for the first time large numbers of modern electric cars are widely available with promises of increasing production numbers as well as more electric car models from more manufacturers. (see A look at the electric cars coming in 2012 and A look at the plug-in hybrid cars coming in 2012)

One year from now we'll be able to compare 2011 electric car sales to 2012 electric car sales, and if predictions hold out we can rightly be excited over real serious sales growth. Both Nissan and GM expect to dramatically increase production of the Leaf and Volt, and those cars will be joined by the Ford Focus Electric, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Tesla Model S, the Toyota RAV4 EV, the Scion iQ EV, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, and the Honda Fit EV as well as several plug-in Hybrids such as the Ford C-MAX Energi and Toyota Prius Plug-in.

From this perspective, 2011 laid the ground work for a large expansion to come for electric car sales in 2012. The 2011 sales demonstrated the need for electric car charging infrastructure, showed us there are people ready and willing to buy electric cars, showed that modern electric cars can fit into traffic with the rest of the vehicle fleet. It even showed that in the face of a seriously overhyped overblown rhetoric on Chevy Volt safety in the wake of a battery fire, that the customers not only kept buying Volt's, but that sales jumped dramatically in November and December.

It's all well and good to say 2011 laid the ground-work, but is there a concrete measure with which to judge electric car sales? Some want us to compare the Volt to the Chevy Cruze saying that the Volt is nothing more than the Cruze with a different drive train and a higher price. That may be, but does that make it a valid comparison? It is valid to compare sales between two similar gasoline powered cars, but is it valid to compare sales between a gasoline car and a plug-in hybrid (a.k.a. extended range EV) like the Chevy Volt? No, they're very different cars under the hood, they live in different price ranges, and there are many extra considerations an electric car purchaser must address before buying.

A better comparison might be between the introduction of hybrid cars in the U.S. in 1999, and the introduction of modern electric cars in the U.S. in 2011. In both years saw the introduction of a new sort of vehicle that hadn't been seen before on a mass scale. In 1999 with the introduction of the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, we were introduced to the hybrid car, which 12 years later now comes in a dozen or more models from the various automakers. In 2011 with the introduction of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt (as well as the existence of the Tesla Roadster), we were introduced to the modern electric car, and presumably in 10 years or so there will be a couple dozen models from the various automakers.

North American sales of the Toyota Prius was (according to the Wikipedia's page on the Prius) 5,600 in 2000, 15,600 in 2001, 20,100 in 2002, 24,600 in 2003, and then in 2004 sales began to take off with 55,900 followed by 109,900 in 2005. The original model Insight introduced by Honda the same year never saw the same sort of sales growth, selling only 14,288 units between December 1999 and Feb 2009 when the second generation Insight was launched. Today, in early Jan 2012, we just finished the first year of modern electric car sales, and with upwards of 17,354 total electric cars sold in 2011 that is over 3 times the sales of hybrid cars in 2000, their first year of sales.

Are electric cars a flop? Many voices in todays politics and media want us to believe they are, and have constructed evidence to make us think they're a flop. Is their perspective the only valid one from which to interpret reality? Hardly. It may be too early to render a final verdict on the success or failure of electric vehicles. The initial results look positive, however.

About the reporter: After 22 years in Silicon Valley's software industry David Herron is now writing about green transportation (electric vehicles) from Silicon Valley. He also runs the popular electric vehicle discussion forum, visforvoltage.org, and is the author of the book "Node Web Development".

Chevy Volt wins December sales battle, Nissan Leaf wins 2011

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Comments

Finally, a reasoned understanding of the reality of the plug-in sales numbers. David Herron is quickly becoming the go-to writer for the truth about electric vehicles.
It would be very interesting if the author could interview someone from Nissan regarding there sales. Every article I read about the success of these vehicles leaves out the following important facts. What was Nissan and GM capacity to produce volts and Leaf's in 2011? The only way to tell if the sales figures are successful is if demand is outstripping supply. Nissan has one plant making this car that is supplying the whole planet. The earthquake of 2011 had to effect their production capabilities. After having to wait 16 months to convert my LEAF reservation to a formal order because my state wasn't approved for deliveries, I then waited for an addition five months for my car to be built and shipped to Florida. My guess is that demand is out stripping Nissan supply capacity until their new plant is up and running. Why else make me wait 21 months for the car? I have had the car for two weeks now. My reaction so far --- I will never buy a gas car again! After driving an electric car for two weeks, my other cars seem like they are for some primitive culture. I traded in a Mercedes s55 for the LEAF. I'm waiting for the Tesla Model S next.
Thank you for being the voice of somebody who can think. It's troubling to me that electric cars are a political issue at all, but somehow the the Obama-is-a-Terrorist crowd seem to connect him to anything progressive, like EVs, therefore EVs are bad.
the electric car phenomenon is nothing but a flop, the major bread and butter of the car industry is SUV sales whether u like it or not, the gov't made up the bulk of the sales of the chevy volt, so in essence obama motors bought up their own product and this is called profitable sales??? r u insane??? the chevy volt it the ford edsel and nothing less
Politically biased opinion, or simply troll bait. Go back to posting on your conservative blogs.
the electric car phenomenon is nothing but a flop, the major bread and butter of the car industry is SUV sales whether u like it or not, the gov't made up the bulk of the sales of the chevy volt, so in essence obama motors bought up their own product and this is called profitable sales??? r u insane??? the chevy volt it the ford edsel and nothing less
I am completely amazed at peoples' inability to calculate TOTAL ownership costs which include GAS. I have owned my Volt since July and have saved almost $1000.00 in TOTAL ownership costs verses my previous gas guzzling car. Yes... my car payment is huge, but my gasoline/energy costs are about $24.00/mo. (Hello!) And performance? This car freaking moves! Additionally, I have redirected about $3200.00 away from foreign oil exporting countries to either Detroit or my local electric utility where my buddies work. What is wrong with this country that we cannot support a brilliant new marvel of engineering that simultaneously benefits our personal/collective economy and the air we breath?
I think you nailed why we cannot support it as a country. The average American is severely math-challenged.
Please post the total cost of your Volt out the door?
The total-out-the-door cost isn't exactly the issue. Electric cars have a lower day-day cost of operation. As the previous person said, the cost for fuel is a fraction of the fuel cost for a gasoline car. A pure electric car has much less maintenance because there are no oil changes, no spark plugs, no this, no that, etc. Taken together an electric car owners has a cost savings over a gas car owner, and the cost savings will over the course of a few years pay for the higher cost of the car. This is similar to calculating the payback period for solar panels. The out-the-door-cost is important because the higher that cost, the longer it takes for the savings to make up for the higher cost.
Could you break out the totals for retail vs fleet sales vs government mandated sales?? If my guess is correct you are seeing end of quarter buying by government agencies mandated to by electric vehicles. Your article is completely missing the point. Electric cars have found zero traction in the car buying market place. Simply there is no economic sense to purchasing one. If for $22,000 or less I can by a car that gets 40 mpg or for $44,000 (if government subsidies are eliminated) an electric car with a gas generator (which is what the volt is - a battery with an electric generator in it) that gets me 50mpg there is no benefit to me buying the volt. It will take nearly a decade at @4.50 to make up the difference in price in gas savings alone. But add to that the increase in insurance rates the number is much longer. Environmentally you are trading one polluting source for another - not eliminating one. And you introduce the massive battery load of highly toxic heavy metals that make up modern batteries. Sorry - this is at BEST and environmental draw. In my view - it is a loosing proposition. Add to that the massive spending by government to fund charging stations (since not corporation can make a case to build charging stations on the scale necessary to make electric cars practical) just increase everybody's costs. Then the basic inconvenience of waiting 8 hours to charge the car. Sorry - this really is just smoke and mirrors. Nothing more than greens wanting to feel green.
Your calculations assume a Volt gets 50 mpg. I'm averaging 122 mpg after 6500 miles. More importantly, my money for a higher car payment and electricity stays in the US economy and is not exported to foreign countries in exchange for OIL. I am charging my Volt using electricity from Hungry Horse Dam which is truly ZERO emissions. You need to recalculate.
Not really. What percentage of the driving population will work within 15 miles of home? What is the range of your volt when you have 4 adults in it? or 2 adults and two kids? How long does it take to charge from 1/4 battery power? All these factors will play into mileage. Your example, though exemplary is not likely to be the norm. My commute is 35 miles one way - that means I will return on gas and will run on gas for any further errands I need to run since charge time, if I can even find a charge station, would not significantly improve battery condition. Additionally I live in a very hilly area - battery distance will also be impacted on that point. Remove the subsidy and see how well it sells at $40,000. You also don't account for the massive spending needed to build the charging station infrastructure required to make electric cars practical for How is your insurance? What about all the toxic heavy metals that are ridding around under you? What happens if your car overheats or has an accident and those batteries rupture? You have just created your very own little toxic waste site. As more of these vehicals appear on the r How many fish are being prevented from swimming upstream by your dam? And since nobody in the heaviest population centers can claim their electricity comes from hydroelectric power (and since many groups such as the Sierra Club now work very hard to REMOVE dams- hydroelectric is no longer a future power source.) I don't think you have truly examined the entire spectrum of what is involved in making a practical electric car - and by the way - for most Americans - the Volt isn't it.
Your 35 mile commute is well above the national normal commute. NHTSA studies show that 80% or so of Americans drive less than 40 miles a day. Buy the car that's right for you, please. By the way there is an electric car with a similar price tag ($39k) that gets 150 miles electric range .. the Coda Sedan. The components of a lithium ion battery pack aren't exactly toxic.
I paid $33,000 before rebates for my Leaf, not $44,000. My effective MPG is well over 100, assuming gas at $3.50. No smog checks, no oil changes. We're driving about 1000 miles per month, and driving our 24mpg car a whole lot less.
Great! I'm glad you own a Leaf! I cannot because I live in a VERY rural mountainous community where the next major town is 150 miles away. The Range Extended capabilities of the Volt allow me to drive all electric 90% of the time while simultaneously giving me the freedom to drive ANYWHERE at ANYTIME. For you... the Leaf is great! For me... it would be an embarrassment every time I needed a tow... not to mention that I've driven a Leaf and the Volt makes the Leaf seem like a lawn mower when comparing power, handling, and sheer speed. But... I love the Leaf too... I just COULDN'T own one given my geographic location. Cheers...:)
Yes, please, buy the right car for the conditions you live in.
Could you break out the totals for retail vs fleet sales vs government mandated sales?? If my guess is correct you are seeing end of quarter buying by government agencies mandated to by electric vehicles. Your article is completely missing the point. Electric cars have found zero traction in the car buying market place. Simply there is no economic sense to purchasing one. If for $22,000 or less I can by a car that gets 40 mpg or for $44,000 (if government subsidies are eliminated) an electric car with a gas generator (which is what the volt is - a battery with an electric generator in it) that gets me 50mpg there is no benefit to me buying the volt. It will take nearly a decade at @4.50 to make up the difference in price in gas savings alone. But add to that the increase in insurance rates the number is much longer. Environmentally you are trading one polluting source for another - not eliminating one. And you introduce the massive battery load of highly toxic heavy metals that make up modern batteries. Sorry - this is at BEST and environmental draw. In my view - it is a loosing proposition. Add to that the massive spending by government to fund charging stations (since not corporation can make a case to build charging stations on the scale necessary to make electric cars practical) just increase everybody's costs. Then the basic inconvenience of waiting 8 hours to charge the car. Sorry - this really is just smoke and mirrors. Nothing more than greens wanting to feel green.
nissan is not owned by the Federal Governemnt, no bailout, publish the true cost of a VOLT
The average income of Volt owners is $175,000 a year. Reading into that statistic one would be led to believe that Leafs and Volts are to toys of the very well off seeking a status symbol to park right next to their 500 series Mercedes or escalade. Neither of these card is in a price range if the average family.
It was a carefully calculated financial decision for me to buy a Volt... I am now saving about $78.00/month verses my previous clumsy gas guzzling stinky POS car. The money I DO SPEND (about $22.00/Mo.) on electricity goes to my local electric utility instead of Saudi Arabia and stays IN THE US ECONOMY. DUH! But... just to be clear... MY 2011 TAX RETURN SHOWS I MADE $42,000 last year. I can now afford Ballet lessons for my daughter because I don't spend $380.00/month on gasoline. The sooner Americans get it...the better for all of us.
You mistake the average for the means. Jay Leno bought a Volt as did a few other very wealthy people. Their incomes, totaling in the millions skews the average up a lot. I know several people who bought LEAFs and Volts and none of them, myself included, make more than 100K. I'm less than $60K. These cars are very affordable for anyone making at least $50K.
A few buyers worth millions won't offset the mean when nearly 7000 units have been sold. Btw that is GM's number and I would think they would be careful to not create an image of class exclusivity. Additionally the significant downturn in January might be the concerns about safety but my money is that fleet buyers got their end of the year budgets to spend. Take the subsidy mandated federal buying and the real market size is probably less than 50% of what had been sold.

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