As the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf continue to be watched in a perceived battle for sales supremacy in the electric vehicle segment, February sales figures show the Volt gaining ground.
According to General Motors, Chevrolet delivered 1,023 Volts last month, versus 478 Leafs – a significant change from January when 676 Nissans found owners, versus 603 Volts.
Last year, General Motors originally projected Volt sales of 10,000 units but only reached 7,770 cars from its December 2010 launch, which GM executives blamed in part on a federal battery investigation now since resolved. By contrast, Nissan, which has managed to avoid as much overt negative publicity, sold almost 9,700 LEAFs during the same period.
It should be noted these two cars are not identical technologies – the Leaf is a battery electric vehicle, and the Volt is an “extended-range electric vehicle” with gasoline backup. For its part at least, GM has repeatedly said it is “not a race,” but because they were both launched as groundbreaking electrified efforts by major competitive manufacturers around the same time last year, market watchers have called it a race anyway.
And if so, perhaps it would not be a stretch to say GM took a pit stop, and has said it is now having to “relaunch” the Volt as it attempts to improve its reputation and sales following several months of highly publicized investigations regarding coolant seepage and battery fires. It has been running ad campaigns in the face of known critics, and in January it announced a Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) package which enabled it to qualify for single occupancy status in California’s HOV carpool lanes. As for the battery questions, it voluntarily began equipping Volts with modified battery system packaging and battery coolant system updates, to further reduce the perceived risk of potential fires.
Although February Volt numbers represent somewhat good news for those rooting for it to succeed, they still fall short of 1,529 December deliveries, and GM is still adamant there’s much work to be done to restore the Volt’s image, as GM’s North America President Mark Reuss observed when in January he said, “it’s a tough road, but we need to do it.”
Meanwhile, the Leaf’s availability has expanded to include all 50 states, and this is expected to help boost sales. Overall, Renault-Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn has been an outspoken evangelist for electric vehicles, has predicted by 2020 they will represent 10 percent of the market pie, and this year Nissan says it would like to double last year’s Leaf sales.
GM, while expressing its long-term market outlook more conservatively, initially had set a more aggressive North American 2012 sales goal of 45,000 Volts, but has since trimmed that back, now merely saying it will match supply with demand.
It’s going to be interesting to see how these cars and new entries into the plug-in market fare over the next 12 months, and beyond.