Big discounts on Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt may not indicate a lack of demand
If you’re interested in buying an EV, the time has never been better.
Traditional electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt EV have gained range and capability, now rivaling entry, and even mid-range versions of the Tesla Model 3 in range. The Nissan Leaf Plus can go up to 226 miles between charges, while the Chevrolet Bolt EV recently got a range boost from 234 to the same 258 miles between charges that the new-kid Hyundai Kona Electric gets. For comparison, the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus is rated at 250 miles off range.
At the same time, with the notable exception of the Model 3, prices have been coming down, despite the reduction in electric vehicle tax credits. The tax credits were designed to buoy profits by reducing prices for customers while bolstering sales long enough to allow automakers to build the volume that would allow them to bring down battery prices. Two automakers, Tesla and General Motors have reached the end of those full $7,500 credits. For them to make the as much money on the cars as they did before would require them to raise prices.
But, amid a dearth of sales of small electric cars, that isn’t happening.
The biggest example is the Chevrolet Bolt EV, a perfectly pleasant and even sporty-feeling electric car with a roomy interior and a practical hatchback. Now that the volt gets only minimal tax credits from the government, Chevrolet is offering $9,795 cash back on the model. You can drive home a 2019 Bolt EV for $28,995. Even new 2020 models are eligible for a rare $5,000 back deal on top of 0 percent financing for a full six years. A $239 lease deal is also compelling.
Nissan is offering a $9,000 incentive on the 2019 Leaf, or a $179-a-month lease.
If those prices sound cheap, consider that a fully loaded Leaf Plus offers Nissan’s Pro-Pilot Assist driver assistance system, heated front-and-rear leather seats, built-in navigation, and just about every luxury-car feature imaginable.
If these electric cars are cheap, the reason may go beyond their powertrains. Many analysts have suggested that the low sales and big incentives on electric cars other than Tesla indicates that car-buyers aren’t interested in electric cars. Others point to the success of Tesla as evidence of pent up demand.
The reality may be both, and somewhat more subtle. In the past two years, the bottom has fallen out of the market for small hatchbacks such as the Leaf and the Bolt, and even for luxury sedans such as the Tesla Model 3. While it’s true that Tesla sold almost 285,000 Model 3s in 2019, those sales came largely at the expense of other luxury automakers such as Acura, Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, and (to a lesser extent) Lexus.
Both traditional and startup automakers are rushing to fill the vehicle pipeline with all-electric vehicles that are more in line with what Americans want to buy anyway: pickups, such as the Ford F-150, the Tesla Cybertruck, the Rivian R1T, and the recently announced GMC Hummer, which will be an off-road-capable pickup. The coming wave of electric pickups and SUVs may do more for the adoption of electric vehicles than cash incentives, long range estimates, or 100+ mpg-equivalent ratings ever could.
See you in my next story discussing why many of the latest luxury electric cars fall short on range and efficiency.
Eric Evarts has been bringing topical insight to readers on energy, the environment, technology, transportation, business, and consumer affairs for 25 years. He has spent most of that time in bustling newsrooms at The Christian Science Monitor and Consumer Reports, but his articles have appeared widely at outlets such as the journal Nature Outlook, Cars.com, US News & World Report, AAA, and TheWirecutter.com and Alternet. He can tell readers how to get the best deal and avoid buying a lemon, whether it’s a used car or a bad mortgage. Along the way, he has driven more than 1,500 new cars of all types, but the most interesting ones are those that promise to reduce national dependence on oil, and those that improve the environment. At least compared to some old jalopy they might replace. Please, follow Evarts on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.