President Obama's goal of reaching one million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015 is off to a slow start. GM and Nissan, two of the most talked-about plug-in manufacturers (for the Volt and Leaf, respectively), are reporting molasses-like sales.
According to Autobloggreen, GM sold only 281 Chevy Volts in February, down from 321 in January, and Nissan sold just 67 Leafs, down from 87 the month before. The overall numbers are not much better--jut 928 Volts and 173 Leafs have been sold since the vehicles went on sale in December.
What's going on here? It's not flagging sales in the auto industry as a whole--vehicle sales rose 27% in February. Part of the problem is that both the Volt and Leaf are only available in select markets in the U.S; the Leaf, for example, is only available in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Hawaii, and Tennessee until April, when it launches in eight more states.
But that doesn't tell the whole story. Slow sales of the Volt are actually part of a planned strategy, explains Volt spokesperson Rob Peterson. A significant portion all Volts produced in February were sent to dealers as demo units (all Volt dealers get a demo so that customers can take test rides).
"I wouldn't go so far as to say that sales were down, I would say that more production was earmarked towards demos," Peterson explains. "There are some Volts that are out on lots, but not many. The average daily inventory is the lowest in our fleet, if not the lowest in the industry. They're landing on the dealer lots and they're gone."
Sales will probably start to rise after April, when all 600-plus Volt dealers have their demo units.
Slim sales for the Leaf can be mostly attributed to a lack of supply. "We're selling every one of them that we can bring across to the U.S. The first three to four months of production haven't brought as many across to America [from Japan] as we hoped to," says David Reuter, VP of Corporate Communications at Nissan. The initial launch was slow for quality control issues; Nissan wanted to make sure everything was running smoothly on production lines before ramping things up.
"We won't be up to full speed production until the end of this month, then we'll be producing 3000 to 4000 cars per month. We've been producing less than half of that until now to ensure quality," Reuter says.
The big question is: Will similar supply issues plague forthcoming EV rollouts from other companies? If so, getting anywhere near one million EVs by 2015 will be a challenge.
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