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By Andrew Holland on Apr 6, 2012 with 18 responses

Chevy Volt Sales Pick Up in March

Last week, in my post about the new Better Place electric vehicle company, I wrote that I was concerned that the electric vehicle “economic model cannot work in places like the U.S. where prices are lower, spaces are bigger, and there is not as much [government] support.”

I really do think that there’s not yet a good reason to buy an electric vehicle here in the U.S. yet. Though gas prices are approaching a nationwide average of $4.00 (it was $3.94 this week), I still don’t think that’s high enough to justify the extra cost. For instance, a Chevrolet Volt costs $40,000 (plus a $7,500 tax credit), while the Cruze, which is basically the same car with a 138 hp gasoline powered engine, costs only $17,000. Even at $4 per gallon, it’s hard to make those numbers match up. Across the Atlantic, though, where gas prices are higher and there are higher sales taxes on traditional cars, it can make more sense.

Up until March, that was the narrative that was playing out: the U.S. market for cars like the Volt and the Leaf wasn’t strong enough to support the investment GM or Nissan were making. We saw that the Volt’s sales were disappointing, and GM was forced to slow the production line. Meanwhile, when the Opel Ampera, Volt’s European cousin, was released it has quickly sold out.

However, recent developments seem to be going against my prediction. The Volt hit its monthly record high with 2,289 sold in the month of March, more than double its February sales. This led GM to add a week of production back in.

Ultimately, though, there are so many advancements that can be made in America’s fleet of traditional gasoline-powered internal combustion cars and hybrids that, for now at least, government and corporate policy should focus more on increasing fuel economy than on promoting electric vehicles and plub-in hybrids. This will help consumers across the board. When the ’08 gas price spike happened, consumers rushed to buy fuel efficient cars, but their choices were limited to just small cars and the Prius. Today, that’s no longer the case. Everywhere along the line from small cars to full-size pickups, the automakers really are focusing on fuel economy. The attached graph shows how the when I saw how much average fuel economy has increased.  The fleet fuel economy was over 33 mpg in the 2012 Model year for the first time.

And the consumers are responding – high gas prices are pushing fuel efficient vehicles to record sales: Toyota sold 28,711 Prius hybrids in March, a new record for the Hybrid. For now, cars like that are where the market is. Only time will tell if Americans are ready to move to next generation cars like the Volt.

  1. By Jon on April 6, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    I agree with your logic on the sales of electric cars.  Most other countries are way more receptive to electric vehicles and are actively promoting them to reduce city pollution and transportation costs.  Why, maybe because their source of oil is becoming harder and more expensive  to obtain the quality and quantity they need.  The same will happen in the US at some point.  There is also something to be said to for the great feeling you get not having to stop a  gas station at all for the  majority of your driving. Thanks

     

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    • By Jan Wells on April 7, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      You are so right…I think the Volt is totally misunderstood. It’s a car that should be driven before judged. I love my Volt.

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      • By ejecea on April 8, 2012 at 12:29 pm

        I Know!  I Love my Volt too.  Have you noticed that the only people who talk bad about electric cars don’t own one.  And they are clueless about them.  

        I had a guy just yesterday tell me “Yeah, I guess a Volt would be fine if you live in town.”  I didn’t even know how to respond… I mean, what does that have to do with anything?  I totally love getting out on the highway in my and putting my foot in the accelerator.  As any Volt owner knows, the car flat moves!  

        And since I’m ranting, so what if your electricity comes from coal.  That electricity is genuine Made In USA and we could be keeping $billions in OUR economy if more people had electric cars.

        BUT, I’ve discovered the key electric car misunderstanding.  People think the cheaper hybrids are better on their pocketbook because they use less gas, so they go out and drive one only to realize that hybrids aren’t fun to drive and really don’t make economic sense… So without even test driving the more expensive electric car, and since it uses no gas at all, the assumption of millions of people is that electric cars are even slower and more gutless than the hybrid they’ve driven.  Except that they are just plain wrong.  

        There is a BIG difference in the size of the car payment you can afford when you are using zero gas, but no compromise in the fun to drive category.

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  2. By Doug CARD on April 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I won’t be surprised if Toyota sells 500K hybrids this year and close to a million in 2013.  The new Camry gets 43 in the city and I am already getting 38 mpg average in my 09 Camry.  The plug-in Prius will get up to 70 mpg for some people with short commutes, although they are more espensive.

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  3. By @Bobbleheadguru on April 6, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    “For instance, a Chevrolet Volt costs $40,000 (plus a $7,500 tax credit), while the Cruze, which is basically the same car with a 138 hp gasoline powered engine, costs only $17,000.”

     

    The Volt has a different exterior, different interior, different height, different width, different length, they are built in different plants with completely different engines. The Volt is a lot quieter than the Cruze with two advanced 2 LED screens with analytics displays v. a very minimalist IP in a Cruze. The driving experience is different with 273ft-lbs of instant torque that not only beats the Cruze, but also the BMW 3 series. One is a hatchback 5 doors, the other has a regular trunk.

    .. .They are “basically the same car”… except that they are completely different.

     

     

     

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  4. By Shel on April 7, 2012 at 1:24 am

    I think of the Volt as a luxury car that gets good gas mileage.  It’s pretty sweet!

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  5. By Keith Cloutier on April 7, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Whenever someone says “the Volt is basically the same car as the Cruz”, I know that person has never actually sat in either car.  I, too, thought the Volt was too expensive until I drove one and realized that it actually is a $40,000 car and is worth every penny I am spending to have it.  You also cannot compare the Volt to the Prius or Leaf.  Both of those cars are very well made Japanese sub-compact utilitarian cars.  As Shel says above, the Volt is a luxury sports car that gets 110 mpg in my case.  Drive all before comparing as I have. 

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    • By Jonathan Baker on April 18, 2012 at 6:03 pm

      I have been driving a Volt for a month and a half and love it.   The Volt is a compact, but feels larger – at least in the front.  I owned a 2002 Prius, a compact,  and sold it eight years later to buy a 2010 Prius, a mid-size.    The Volt is a real road car and I have no regrets in having replaced my Prius, as good a car as that was.  GM has a winner with the Volt.   I agree that a test drive will reveal the attributes of this car.

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  6. By Russ Finley on April 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm

     

    After playing basketball the other night we started talking about cars, as guys often do. The topic was gas mileage. It’s becoming the new status symbol of car ownership.

     

     When the ’08 gas price spike happened, consumers rushed to buy fuel efficient cars, but their choices were limited to just small cars and the Prius

     

     The Prius is rated as a mid-sized car. As a family of four we use it for car camping …wife hauls smelly teens and all of their sports gear everywhere in it. My sisters in law rented a Prius while in France and was surprised to find that it was usually the biggest car on the road. So, size is relative.

     

     Ultimately, though, there are so many advancements that can be made in America’s fleet of traditional gasoline-powered internal combustion cars and hybrids that, for now at least, government and corporate policy should focus more on increasing fuel economy than on promoting electric vehicles and plub-in hybrids.

     

     Other car makers have failed, for reasons I don’t know, to match the Prius in fuel economy. I had expected that the Prius would be facing competition with cars that get even better mileage by now. Other than capacitors, lighter batteries, and possibly a diesel engine, I suspect that the Prius is getting close to maxing out what can be done for fuel economy using an internal combustion engine for a given price, size, shape, and weight of car.

     

     The government could mandate mileage but they should have learned their lesson by now about mandating technology. Smaller cars would be one way to increase mileage, as well as more aero testing, but that limits styling, increases cost and on and on.

     

     I really do think that there’s not yet a good reason to buy an electric vehicle here in the U.S. yet. Though gas prices are approaching a nationwide average of $4.00 (it was $3.94 this week), I still don’t think that’s high enough to justify the extra cost.

     

     I’ve heard this argument many times but do you know anybody who buys a car purely for economic reasons? If that were the overarching parameter for consumers, we would all be driving three cylinder Metros. Most people buy as much status as they can afford in a car, or house, or anything for that matter. Now that gas mileage is becoming hip, we can expect to see sales of high mileage cars accelerate. 

     

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  7. By Russ Finley on April 8, 2012 at 12:48 am

    Shel on April 7, 2012 at 1:24 am:

    I think of the Volt as a luxury car that gets good gas mileage

    I rest my case …

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  8. By mac on April 9, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Russ said:

    “I’ve heard this argument many times but do you know anybody who buys a car purely for economic reasons? If that were the overarching parameter for consumers, we would all be driving three cylinder Metros. Most people buy as much status as they can afford in a car, or house, or anything for that matter. Now that gas mileage is becoming hip, we can expect to see sales of high mileage cars accelerate.”

    ___________________________

     

    If someone wants to buy an outrageously expensive Model  S from Tesla or an outrageously expensive Mercedes, what significant difference does it make ?

    Thanks for mentioning this obvious fact.

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  9. By mac on April 9, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Wait a minute……………….  The U.S.  is not the only world auto market .

    China sold 17 million vehicles last year, surpassing the U.S.

    Neither is the U.S. the only place where are electric vehicles are sold.

    Wow !!  What a revelation !!!

    Nissan is an auto company that sells its automobiles world-wide.  The fact that Nissan Leaf sales on a month to month basis might be down in the U.S.  is irrelevant.  The fact is that U.S. Leaf sales are significantly better than sales for the same period  of 2011 is of course  “irrelevant” to oil air-heads.

    By all means, let us “cherry pick” the statistics.  The fact is, more electric cars have been sold in Japan than the U.S.  The Japanese apparently do not have the incestuous relationship with oil companies that we have in the U.S.

    Let’s get back to actial numbers.  If you add U.S. Volt sales to LEAF  sales and add them together with  I-miev sales, etc.,  then we see a steady increase on a month on month basis and not the oil company sponsored statistical “decline/failure” scenarios.


    Electric vehicles and variants sold more last month than they ever have.  What decline ??

    Darn it !!!.

    Do a little research.  Go up to Hybrid Cars  and actually get the figures.

     

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  10. By notKit P on April 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    “ I’ve heard this argument many times but do you know anybody who buys a car purely for economic reasons? ”

     

    I know of at least one. Judging from the popularity of the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla many people make economic choices.

     

    I have been interested the Pious since they have come to the market. The best I tell they are neither an good economic choice for a five passenger family car or a good environmental choice. It is very clever marketing by Toyota.

     

    Selling cars is mostly about clever marketing. Prudent consumers go to the library and read independent research to find a car that meets their needs. Then they rent the car for a weekend road trip. If you still like the car after spending 8 hours behind the wheel in a single day, then it time to find the best deal. An honest car dealer will not try to sell you what you do not need or want. I have got up a left dealers who tried to sell me jacked up 4wd loaded with goodies say mileage and maintenance cost would be the same.

     

    The trick is buying what you need. An engine too small or too large will hurt fuel economy and reliability. For example, my sons both have a ’93 Camry. The V-6 is much better that the straight 4. I have also had UV with a medium and large V-8. The smaller engine was the better choice 99% of the time and going a little slow 1% of the time is not a problem. Yes, you need a really big engine to pull a camping or horse trailer 80 mph but no you should not go over 55 mph unless you are a professional driver.

     

    This brings us back to the catch 22 of BEV. They do not meet anyone’s need, at least not yet. The concept of being good for the environment is just a marketing thing. Is a BEV better that a jacked up 4wd loaded with goodies? The car dealer will be happy with either choice if you want to joint a list of they saw you coming and took more money than you had.

     

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  11. By mac on April 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Electric cars may not meet everyone’s needs, but 3 cylinder Geo-metros don’t meet everyone’s needs either.

    If you have the money to buy a top of the line fully packed diesel Mercedes, that’s fine.  If you are $ loaded $,  and have the money to buy an electric luxury vehicle like the Model S  from Tesla, that’s fine too.

    Why should I tell  YOU  how to spend YOUR money ?

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  12. By mac on April 9, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Adoption of BEV, PHEV, etc. and variants are proceeding at a pace that far exceeds hybrid technology adoption.

     

    My friends. the Toyota Prius C has an electric (what ?) water pump ?

     All of us gas-aholics don’t have to take this !!!  ( of course)

    Electric power steering on the new Ford F 150 pick ups ??????

    I rest my case. 

    It has gone way beyond “electric fuel pumps” and electric windows and electric windshield wipers.

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  13. By mac on April 9, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Hybrids are MIA.

    Really ??

    Electric cars are DOA.

    Really ?

    Nonsense …………….

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  14. By mac on April 9, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Sorry,  I forgot electric cars and hybrids were dead on arrival.. 

    Many apologies to the state of ignorance.  It’s the 51 st State.

    Please help me plan the funeral..

     

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  15. By mac on April 9, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Are we running out of gasoline ?

    Sure………………… but not to worry. ………. We always  have Canada,

    The best advice I could offer to any young man here in the U.S.  is to marry a Canadian girl whose father is heavily invested in the Canadian Tar Sands.

     

    The U.S. glory days as a major oil producer are over.  We can’t even produce enough for our own needs, but must import oil from Canada/Mexico/Brazil. etc. etc. etc.

     

    Tell me about it…………………how we are NOT going to “drill Baby, drill ” our way out of this mess. 

     

    We are NOT going to drill our way out of this…………………. Period !!!

     

    Sorry………………,

    And the stupid Republicans promising $ 2.00 a gallon gasoline are liars.  That includes Gingritch,  Rick Santorum and all the other Republican fools.

     

    Oh well…………..

    Just marry a Canadian girl whose Daddy has a lot of stock in the Canadian Tar Sands

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