Does Nissan Leaf sales show we’re waiting for the Bolt? Not necessarily

The January 2016 plug-in electric vehicle scorecard doesn’t look too good.  For example, Nissan just introduced the 2016 Leaf with great new features (more range, bigger battery pack, etc) that customers likely wanted.  But its sales haven’t taken off, instead sales plunged to 755 Leaf’s for USA in Jan 2016, after a lackluster 2015 in which we expect buyers were waiting for the 2016 Leaf.  At the same time Chevy Volt surged to become the #1 plugin EV on sale in the USA.  Does this mean that the Nissan Leaf is toast, finally?  That GM is taking the momentum with the Chevy Bolt announcement?

No.

It helps to take a long look at the Inside EV’s monthly sales scorecard before jumping to conclusions about January 2016’s EV sales.

There’s a couple potential impacts currently on electric vehicle sales.  One is the aforementioned impact of the Chevy Bolt announcement.  Wired Magazine claimed the Bolt will make a major impact on the electric vehicle industry.  I believe it will, since it offers a combination of price and range many have been waiting for.  But does that mean all EV sales will dry up because everyone is waiting for the Bolt.  Hmm… Possibly.  I think if I were in the market right now I’d be waiting for the Bolt, unless I needed a car right away.  I’m really waiting for the Tesla Model 3, and enjoying my Kia Soul EV in the meantime.

Another impact is the historically low price for gasoline.  A couple years ago when high gasoline prices were normal, electric vehicles were a clear economic pragmatic choice because electricity is a cheaper fuel than gasoline.  As gasoline prices fall it’s harder to make this argument – though, according to my calculations the price has to drop below $1 before gasoline is cheaper than electricity.  In most of the USA there’s still a ways to drop before that’s true.

It means there could be a perfect storm of sorts causing a sharp decline in electric car sales during Jan 2016.  And, by the way, it’s not just the Leaf but all other electric car models.  While the Volt surged to the #1 spot in sales, its month-on-month sales fell to 1/3rd what it had been in December.

BUT — This is misleading.  Look again at the Inside EV’s score card, look at more than just January 2016 versus December 2015.  Notice that every January has seen a sharp sales decline.

  • December 2012 total sales: 8,554
  • January 2013 total sales: 4,577
  • December 2013 total sales: 10,010
  • January 2014 total sales: 5,680
  • December 2014 total sales: 13,038
  • January 2015 total sales: 6,057
  • December 2015 total sales: 13,699
  • January 2016 total sales: 6,291

It’s hard to draw conclusions on the prospects of any electric car based on January sales, given this pattern.

What I find alarming is that the year-on-year sales growth has tapered.  If electric vehicle sales growth remains stagnant, will the car companies stay focused on EV’s or will their attention wander?

Both the impacts I mentioned have the potential to diminish BEV and PHEV sales.  We know that, starting with the 2017 Chevy Bolt, several affordable long range electric vehicles will come on the market, and that will obviously change the dynamics of this market.  We know that low gasoline prices changes the economic equation around EV’s, making them economically less attractive.

 

 

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

4 Comments

  1. Will I buy another e-Golf in 2018 with 175 miles of range on battery, and sell off my 2015 e-Golf SEL, or will I look at a Tesla 3? Time will tell. I won’t be trading in any of my VW TDI’s. CARB can stick it where the sun don’t shine.

  2. Could the low sales numbers be because it is a “Butt-Ugly” styled car? The price isn’t that bad and the better range on the 2016 isn’t that bad but I have considered purchasing one and just don’t like the way the car looks. The manufactures originally tried to make electric cars look like something from the future instead of focusing on just creating a good looking car the just happens to be powered by electric.

    • “Butt Ugly” is in the eye of the beholder.

      • David, I agree but feel if the styling were a little more appealing on the Leaf, it would have sold better. Same with the i-MiEV, just because a company manufactures an electric car, does not mean the consumer will buy it. Coda tried to re-market a 90s model and you see how it worked out for them. That car had decent components but just didn’t meet the styling requirements that the public demands. I am really excited to see the Model III and it will be interesting to see if it ends up being a home run.

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