Chevy Volt Is Best-Selling Plug-in Car in January

As tradition would have it, January plug-in electrified vehicle sales were down compared to December, but of all cars for sale in the U.S., the Chevrolet Volt’s 1,611 units were enough to place it first.

The Volt’s sales were up 62-percent over January 2016’s sales when the second-generation extended-range EV was still rolling out following first deliveries that had begun in October 2015.

January 2017’s Volt sales were however well down from December’s all-time record 3,681 sales, but then others, such as those of the Tesla Model S and X, Nissan Leaf, and more usual sales chart leaders were also down.

Energy density in a 2011 Leaf battery pack was ~ 80 kWh/kg, and in a Model S it is ~ 130 kWh/kg. Projected Li-S energy density ranges from ~ 200 Wh/kg to ~ 450 Wh/kg at the pack level. Thus, one might expect a factor of 2-3 more gravimetric energy density for Li-S at pack level than for Model S. The cost of Li-S at the target of $100/kWh is likely to be lower than Tesla’s cost for Li-ion batteries in the Model S, though their cost now and in the future is not definitively known.

Model S.

December, being the month before the end of the year, received a double boost from both consumers and automakers explaining why it saw an estimated 5,300 Model S sales, while January saw less than one-quarter that many, or an estimated 1,200.

For car buyers, December is the end of the tax year and positions them for the shortest wait until they can recoup a federal tax credit. January, on the other hand, is the beginning, so the wait is now longest.

For automakers like GM and Tesla, they each had something to achieve. For GM, a push was made so the Volt’s 24,739 sales in 2016 exceeded previous highs in 2012 and 2013 in the 23,000 range. For Tesla, it was hustling to make its year-end guidance, and indeed it did set a record 29,156 Model S sales, and 18,023 Model X sales. Otherwise, the California automaker traditionally bears down hard at the end of fiscal quarters like a school kid cramming late for an exam, and it especially pushed units out the door in December.

Model X.

Model X.

Thus the Model X was in a similar situation to the S. In December, an estimated 3,300 were sold. In January, but 1,000 are estimated as having been delivered.

As for the Nissan Leaf, it too was down from 1,899 sales in December to 772 in January. The Leaf’s sales may also be explained by the fact it is on its way out, as a revised 2018 model due for reveal is expected. So it goes – out with the old, in with the new.

Nissan Leaf.

Nissan Leaf.

And on that note, the Volt’s sibling, the Bolt EV, trailed the down month of the Model S by a mere 38 units, as its 1,162 January sales made it the fourth best seller. That’s OK, as it is still being delivered in only a few markets in its second month for sale, including California which usually speaks for half the U.S. volume.

Bolt EV at media drive in Portola Valley, Calif.

Bolt EV at media drive in Portola Valley, Calif.

Which plug-in sold better? The Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. After three months on the market, its sales were up to 1,366 units.

Toyota has priced the Prime within the range of the Liftback hybrid, and incentives can make it net cheaper than the non-plug-in – a decent value proposition compared to gen one which was clearly priced above. Contrary to a speculative report that Toyota does not really want to sell these in volume to all 50 states, media rep Sam Butto said the opposite is true. It is still ramping up volume, but the planners are estimating about 25,000 units in 2017, about the same as the Volt last year.

Prius Prime.

Prius Prime. Analyst Alan Baum concurs with Toyota that the car is still ramping up, so availability, though reportedly sparse in the first couple months, is due to increase.

So, despite initial reports that the car was not widely available, its marketers answered our question: If Toyota got 50,000 orders for the Prime in the U.S. this year (including many from non-ZEV states), could it fill them?

See: HybridCars January sales Dashboard for complete numbers.

“We will monitor demand and do our best to fulfill that demand with the production we have,” said Toyota’s marketers to the hypothetical question.

Meanwhile, GM has said something similar for the Chevy Bolt, and it and the Volt are plugging away. We shall see how they fare as the Bolt is still coming online in markets, and with word about it now being actively spread by its maker.

Likely also, Tesla will revive to much higher levels as well, and on we go at the start of a new calendar year for the still churning alternative energy vehicle market.

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