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Electric vehicles sales drop sharply in January

US sales of the Leaf, Volt, Tesla Model S, and Prius Plug-in lost ground in January compared to their 2013 run rate.

Most automakers compare their sales to the same month of the previous year. That makes sense since the seasonal impacts are eliminated to some degree. They also have a long sales history established. Electric cars are different. They are supposed to be maturing and gaining sales rapidly as their window sticker prices decline while at the same time more government incentives are added making them ever more affordable. Not one of the major EVs did as well in January as it did in the last few months of 2013. Most did not even beat their January 2013 sales.

Unusually bad January weather had a big impact on most automakers’ overall sales. However, the bulk of EVs are not sold in bad weather climates. Georgia did have a few days of basically “closed for business” but it came at the very end of the month. California, the biggest EV market on Earth was not covered in snow and ice. Still, the weather may have played a small role in the decline of EV sales.

The Nissan Leaf was the sales leader of the group, but it is hardly cause for celebration. The Leaf sold about 1250 units this past January. Well above the 650 it sold last January, but less than half its December total and Leaf had its worst month in the past ten. Sales had been averaging about 2,000 per month.

The Chevy Volt was down about 20% over its January 2013 sales, but it sold way lower than its average for 2013 and less than half of what it sold in December. In total the Volt sold about 918 units.

There is really no way to know what Tesla sold in the US in January. We like InsideEvs as a source. The expert reporters there have had consistent, accurate numbers in retrospect and they say that Tesla just had its lowest US sales month since it reached full production with just 800 units going to US customers. They also predict a big rebound in February. We do know production and overall sales are solid at Tesla.

The typically fourth best selling electrified car, the Toyota Prius Plug-in, also had a bad month selling just 803 units, down from 874 in January 2013. The Prius Plug-in had established a run rate of about 1,000 units per month through the second half of 2013, so the 800 number is more disappointing than it might be spun.

Combined the Volt, Leaf, Tesla Model S, and the Prius Plug-in sold less than 4,000 units this past January in the US. That number is about ten percent lower than August 2012.


Weapon (not verified)    February 3, 2014 - 9:56PM

Looking at the chart from InsideEVs. Ford data has not come in yet and will come in on Feb 4th. Looking at previous year, Ford will sell about 500 - 1700 EVs. That would put it above Jan 2013 numbers at the very least.

I am also doubtful about the 800 Tesla number. I know they are shipping cars to Europe and recently to China. But their production has went up to 600 cars a week. Even if they started sending only in the 2nd half to US, that would still be 1200 cars. But I guess we won't know until Q1 results.

To note, there is a pretty big benefit to buying an EV at end of the year rather than the beginning. For one, the tax credit is redeemed come tax time, at beginning of the year you have to wait an entire year for a return(unless you lease). An order in the last 3 months has you waiting much shorter.

John Goreham    February 3, 2014 - 10:33PM

I'm glad you added these points. The tax point is definitely true. Although, the Leaf is getting less expensive and from the chat I see most are now leases. Ford could surprise us with some big numbers, and that would make an interesting story for our Ford reporter. The Fusion Energi was not yet for sale in Jan. 2013 or I might have waited to see the number. The Tesla sales reporting situation is very frustrating for fans and reporters alike. It will be interesting to see how the quarter ends up. The big 4 movers seem to have a lot of ground to make up just to match Q4 2013. Many EV fans write to me and say that when the plug-in hybrid stickers run out, sales of those models in CA will drop. We'll see what the effect of that is later this year if it comes to pass. Thanks for the commentary.

kareny (not verified)    February 3, 2014 - 10:58PM

Could it be that potential buyers finally figured out that one has to replace the electric battery every 5 years at a cost of $5000 & decided the cost of an electric car factoring in the $5000 cost to replace the battery is prohibitive?

John (not verified)    February 5, 2014 - 2:34AM

In reply to by kareny (not verified)

My volt came with a 10 year/150,000 mile warrantee on the battery.

My cost of ownership is far less than the gas car it replaced. Even if by some miracle my old car would have lasted another 10 years without needing anything more than gas and an occasional oil change and if at the end of 10 years my Volt ends up being worth nothing (not even as scrap metal) then at the end of 10 years the Volt would still cost $10,000 less.

Parks McCants    February 4, 2014 - 1:07AM

Or, could it be an over-all erosion in U.S. consumer confidence as the Fed backs off on the ' shoring up' of the economy through the purchase of real estate backed securities, bonds, etc? Or, the fact that the gasoline retail price at the pump is 20- 25% below the highs of 2012-2013? Who knows.

Weapon (not verified)    February 4, 2014 - 5:10PM

Well the numbers are in for Ford. They sold 1,124 electric cars (Which is ironically right in the middle of my estimate). Bringing the total in Jan 2014 to 5,470. An increase of 19.5% from Jan 2013.

@John - From InsideEv it says leaf had a supply constraint first half of January. And 2nd half there was that polar vortex. Volt also seems to have ran into production issues and the 2 week holiday shutdown probably didn't help.

In case of Tesla, yeah that is how it is. My guess is Tesla does not want to be judged based on single month performance because due to them having only 1 production car and factory, any issues that months can create panic. Which they then make up on the following month but the damage would already be done.

To be honest, I think one big hindrance to EVs is that they don't offer too many form factors. Most have opted to go for compact car or medium sized sedan. If Toyota sold the RAV 4 EV outside of CA, I think it would do fairly well, simply because they would have no competition for electric SUVs. Part of the issue is also that as more EVs of same form factor come in, it becomes more competitive and market growth may not be able to fill in.

@karney - Most manufacturers give an 8 year warranty on the battery. The whole replace battery in 5 years is a myth.

@Parks - I don't think most consumers have any knowledge about how the economy works or has any confidence or inconfidence in it. End of the day, people judge based on their wallet.

As far as gasoline prices go, Looking at the chart. They were actually lower in 2013Q4 than Jan 2014.

John Goreham    February 4, 2014 - 5:39PM

Thanks Weapon. Yes, Ford's numbers are interesting. One the one hand they are up from January of 2013. However, the Fusion Energi was not for sale in 2013. In any case, the Ford numbers were a big step back form the past many months of sales for Ford plug-ins. This was Ford's chance to jump ahead of Toyota to have the number 4 leading seller of plug-ins and they didn't do it. - - I find it interesting that the automakers like Ford and Nissan have excuses for slow sales for some of their products, but Lincoln, Nissan, and Infiniti all made gains in January. As did Lexus, and Acura. Toyota blamed the weather too on that brand's slow sales, but they also warned folks that a slowdown was coming. - - Tesla looks great going forward and I try to make sure that comes through when I write about that company's sales. I would not be surprised if February is a good month for EVs. I appreciate your commentary.

Weapon (not verified)    February 4, 2014 - 6:26PM

In reply to by John Goreham

To explain what is going on with Nissan. Almost 1000 Nissan Leafs were sold in December 2013 in Atlanta (Yes, 1 city sold 1/3rd their cars). A low supply in Atlanta and the polar vortex that hit Georgia would definitely impact sales.

Now why so much sales in Atlanta? Because in Atlanta, leasing a Nissan Leaf is like getting a free car. (This is also a big reason why there is so many leases of the Leaf)

John Goreham    February 5, 2014 - 2:53PM

Yes the Leaf lease is amazing. When I first started hearing the stories about "free" Leafs I was skeptical, but even in Mass. the examples are incredible. Plus you get the added benefit of walking away after a few years. Key, since EVs are evolving rapidly. - - With regard to production constraints, the car is in its third year of sales now. Excuses like "we can't build enough" are starting to look a little ridiculous and possibly a little sinister. I am one of those that thinks the automakers are only making what they absolutely have to in order to make the ZEV credit calculus work.