By on May 3, 2012

It was a good month for the Toyota Prius Plug-In, with the newest plug-in car outselling the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf in April.

Pent-up demand and the desire to outdo your neighbors in Marin County likely had something to do with the Prius Plug-In’s 1,654 units sold in April. How long will the demand last? We’ll have to wait a while to see how it all shakes out.

Chevrolet Volt sales were down from March’s record of 2,289 sales, but with 1,462, the Volt still had one of its better months so far. Indeed, the biggest loser in April, 2012 was the Nissan Leaf. With just 370 sold, the Leaf was down year-over-year (with 573 sold in April 2011) and way off of its best month ever (1,708 sold in June, 2011).

Prius and Leaf inventory data was unavailable via Automotive News, but the Volt had a 61 day supply as of April 1, down from 154 on March 1st.

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33 Comments on “April Plug-In Car Sales: Toyota Prius Wins, Chevrolet Volt Takes Second, Nissan Leaf Third...”


  • avatar
    Herm

    The PIP qualifies for the HOV lane sticker in California, that has to help.. worrysome numbers for the Leaf.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    At its current monthly rate, more than 16,000 Volts will be sold in 2012, easily besting last year’s goal of 10,000, a year late. Baby steps, to be sure, but likely encouraging to the entire Volt team.

    A model that (very)slowly but steadily continues to sell cannot be regarded as an abject failure just because it did not fulfill unrealistic goals set by people who didn’t understand the market or the Volt’s role in it.

    Even if its sales are glacial, Chevy can’t ease off the accelerator when it comes to improving the Volt. I don’t envy the job of whomever has to come up with a way to improve electric-only mileage, upgrade interior materials, and lower the price, all of those things need to happen.

    Like Fiat with their 500, the Voltec range is stuck at one model for now, but that also has to change, with the Cadillac ELR and a more practical Volt 5-door, for instance.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      “A model that (very)slowly but steadily continues to sell cannot be regarded as an abject failure just because it did not fulfill unrealistic goals set by people who didn’t understand the market or the Volt’s role in it.”

      Sure it can! Where would the Volt be without a $7.5K Federal rebate, $2.5K CA rebate, $3.5K PA rebate, miscellaneous other state rebates and HOV stickers in CA, NY and NoVA? Answer: Nowhere! If a rebate of a third that size or an HOV free pass was currently being offered on the Prius, Camry hybrid or practically any other midprice car, there wouldn’t be any of those on the shelves.

      Sales of the Ampera seem to be in the neighborhood of 500 in April. I’m not sure they’ve previously reported any Ampera sales and that’s with rebates AND six-to-eight dollar gas as incentives.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Volt has not been eligible for HOV sticker in CA until about a month ago. GM has inventory issues providing the CA HOV certified version of the Volt while dropping inventory almost 100 days.

        Not a bad month.

        Ya, one nit on the rest that you got largely right.

        None of these are going to sell well — the bigger question is does Volt 2.0 see the light of day, in what vehicles, and what becomes the cost model.

        Everyone forgets, the first Prii sold in Japan would have been the equivalent of $40,000 – massive Japanese government incentives dropped the price to about $16,000 (US equivalent on both figures). The $40,000 price out of the gate figure comes from Toyota itself (do a search) and remember that was $40,000 in mid-1990’s dollars – adjusting for inflation it moves up even higher to about $48,000.

        Not an argument for ‘guberment handouts – but you can’t hold the Prius on the pedestal of success without acknowledging that its development was heavily paid for by the Japanese government, not Toyota and that out of the gate it had massive incentives placed on it by the Japanese government, and still remained a slow seller out of the gate.

        If there should be any hybrid technology hero it should be Ford – which developed a parallel system to Toyota synergy largely on their own nickel.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        I agree with your statement :
        Sure it can! Where would the Volt be without a $7.5K Federal rebate, $2.5K CA rebate, $3.5K PA rebate, miscellaneous other state rebates and HOV stickers in CA, NY and NoVA? Answer: Nowhere!

        But this also applies to the Leaf and Prius Plug-in. They are all eligible for the financial breaks and benefit from it. The Leaf was doing well last year (much better than I thought a pure electric vehicle would) but this year has been rough for it (c. 500 in March and now c. 300 in April).

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        “GM has inventory issues providing the CA HOV certified version of the Volt while dropping inventory almost 100 days.”

        Please, please, please, pleeeeaase tell me this isn’t because they’re sending HOV-qualified Volts to The Flyover States?

        Where did you get your figures for the Prius subsidies?

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        AFAIK, the $3,500 PA Rebate applies to the first 500 “qualifying” (batteries over xx kWH) plug-in vehicles sold of any brand in the state, then it goes away (which may have happened already). It’s been rumored that there’s legislation to institute “sales tax forgiveness” for PIEV’s ($2400 for a base Volt), but I’d be willing to bet that Corbett won’t sign it. :-(

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @KixStart

        I ALMOST gave up looking for this link. I had posted it less than two months ago but resident GM Bear Bertel had written so many negative GM pieces (admittedly GM makes itself an easy target) I told myself this is the last page of stories he’s written I’m wading through to find this stupid link.

        In September of 1999 EV World interviewed Toyota’s Mark Amstock about the Prius launch in Japan in a pretty much “tell all” interview.

        http://evworld.com/article.cfm?storyid=115

        I’ve snipped the numbers and math from my reply I wrote back in March of 2012 and posted an edited version that is related to this topic below:

        …Full waiver of all sales taxes (higher in Japan). Plus additional incentives and rebates that put the Prius at a price of $16,000 US (in 1998 dollars) for consumers, and $15,000 US for business.

        According to EV World’s interview with Toyota’s Mark Amstock – despite all that largess – the Prius was 40% fleet in sales its first year. But wait, it gets worse. In the same September 29, 1999 interview with Mark Amstock of Toyota, the cost to build a 1998 Prius was estimated to be – $35,000 to $40,000 per unit. If we go with the lowest cost per unit of $35,000 and adjust to 2011 for inflation, that puts unit cost at $48, 299.79. Per Prius. Yet the selling price after incentives from the government was $16,000 (about $22,000 when we adjust for inflation). Never mind that the unit cost is more than a Volt even after adjusting for inflation…

        In that same year of 1999, Toyota predicted that 33% of the cars sold in the world would be hybrids by 2005. But just as everyone has forgotten how Steve Jobs predicted the Segway would change the world and city design, everyone has forgotten Toyota 10X miss on numbers of hybrids that would be sold each year (about 3% of cars/trucks).

        Is Japan the United States? Nope. But the Japanese government piled on even more incentives and the first Prius was even more expensive to build then the current Volt gets from the US government – it is a parallel comparison. It took a few years for the Prius to ramp up, and the Gen 2 was built on the vastly better dedicated platform versus the Echo based Gen 1 model. When the second, larger, more refined, better chassis model came out – it make more sense. Toyota didn’t start turning a profit on the Prius until around 2007 – so it took 10 years – even after heavy government subsidization for the R&D costs to reach a break even point on unit cost, and then a longer window to recoup the losses of the prior decade.

      • 0 avatar
        marc

        (I hope this gets in the right place…)
        Directed to APaGttH:

        You are confusing points of that article you posted to prove your point.

        “Full waiver of all sales taxes (higher in Japan). Plus additional incentives and rebates that put the Prius at a price of $16,000 US (in 1998 dollars) for consumers, and $15,000 US for business.” Remember that the cost was only $20,000US at the time. These aren’t huge discounts. You’re comparing 16000 to 48000, which you are estimating to be the real cost the Prius should be. That is disingenuous. Compare the 16000 transaction cost to the 20000 retail cost like you would for any other vehicle, not compared to a hypothetical cost that includes years of R&D.

        And speaking of R&D… “But wait, it gets worse. In the same September 29, 1999 interview with Mark Amstock of Toyota, the cost to build a 1998 Prius was estimated to be – $35,000 to $40,000 per unit.” The article actually states, “Amstock responded, ‘When you produce a new car it costs anywhere from $750 million upwards of $3 billion depending on the car, the technology, the platform… the Prius is an all new car, an all new platform, an all new engine and battery technology for us. We can’t expect to recoup that investment in the first year or so of production. It takes time to recoup that investment. We can’t be greedy and attempt to recoup that investment too quickly. We want to get the product out there. We want to understand how consumers react to it. We want to get customers market comfortable with these new technologies, maturing technologies, so we have to get it out there at a price that is affordable and can drive the market. So we have to be flexible in that. We believe that we will be profitable on this product before the end of the series.\'” So you cannot conlude that the cost is tens of thousands higher than retail, unless you conclude that current Priuses are providing a porift way more than their material cost. They are not. The original prices reflected amortizing(?) the cost of R&D over several years. I contend that this would be the same with any new vehicle launch. I challenge anyone to prove otherwise. Instead, for some reason, only Priuses are held to the satndard that the initial cost of the vehicle should include all R&D factored in immediately.

        next. “the Prius was 40% fleet in sales its first year” What the article says is that 40% were sold to corporations. See what you don’t point out is that sales of cars in other parts of the world cannot be compared to the retial/fleet breakdowns in the US. Even in the US, fleet sales have the negative connotation of rental queen Impalas, when tey are often just larger buys from businesses or governments. In Europe, your car is often a company car. You can’t hold that same fleet bias internationally and expect it to be a reasonable argument.

        finally. “In that same year of 1999, Toyota predicted that 33% of the cars sold in the world would be hybrids by 2005.” All I can say is….LINK PLEASE.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @marc

        Business Week, December 14, 1997:

        http://www.businessweek.com/stories/1997-12-14/japans-hybrid-cars-intl-edition

        … Toyota forecasts that hybrids will account for a third of the world’s auto market as early as 2005. But Japan’s Ministry of International Trade & Industry expects 2.4 million alternative fuel vehicles, including hybrids, to roam Japan’s back streets by 2010…

        Additionally here is a story from 2005 where Toyota projects that hybrids will be 25% of their sales in North America by 2010.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/07/business/worldbusiness/07hybrid.html?pagewanted=all

        …The line, in a factory in Toyota City, is part of a strategy by Japan’s largest company to expand hybrids from a niche in the marketplace (just 5 percent of its American sales now) to mainstream (25 percent of its sales by 2010)…

        GM and Nissan are not alone in overly optimistic forecasts for new technologies. On the contrary, your all caps link please only reinforces the free pass Toyota general gets when they make the same mistakes of their peers.

        Don’t shoot the messenger.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @marc

        …“Full waiver of all sales taxes (higher in Japan). Plus additional incentives and rebates that put the Prius at a price of $16,000 US (in 1998 dollars) for consumers, and $15,000 US for business.” Remember that the cost was only $20,000US at the time. These aren’t huge discounts. You’re comparing 16000 to 48000, which you are estimating to be the real cost the Prius should be. That is disingenuous. Compare the 16000 transaction cost to the 20000 retail cost like you would for any other vehicle, not compared to a hypothetical cost that includes years of R&D…

        No I’m not. The cost per unit in the interview with Mark Amstock is where the numbers come from. I only adjusted 1999 numbers to 2011 inflation figures for an apple to apple comparison. The $16,000 starting price ($15,000 for corporate fleet) is well documented. The $35,000 per unit cost is in the EV World story in the interview with Mark.

        I’m not yanking any R&D number out of thin air – I’m using Toyota’s figures from the 1999 interview. The only thing I used was an inflation calculator to adjust to current figures to show they actually align to the Volt pricing (when adjusted for inflation) and the wails of ‘guberment hand out propped out while applauding the success of the Prii is rewriting automotive history and ignoring how much Toyota sucked on the teats of the Japanese, US, and Euro Zone ‘guberments for huge incentives – and the Japanese government subsidization of the R&D for the Prii in the first place.

        I don’t see why the history is such a bad thing – the Prii got off to a slow start, and reached cost recovery almost 10 years later. What a shock – happens with lots of new technologies.

      • 0 avatar
        marc

        APaGttH, those Business Week and NYTimes links don’t cut it for me. As any good researcher knows, when you make a claim, you need to have an attribution or citation to back it up, which neither of those does. Kinda like when Fox repeats “news” stories with the attribution, “Some say…,” but never says who that Some is.

        In fact the NYTimes article is contradictory.
        “expand hybrids from a niche in the marketplace (just 5 percent of its American sales now) to mainstream (25 percent of its sales by 2010).”
        “With Toyota determined to sell a million hybrid vehicles worldwide, or about 10 percent of its forecast sales for 2010″ Well which is it? And is it 1 million totla, or one million a year? See they are being fuzzy here, because they are trying to make an entertaining news story, not provide facts for inscrutable research to be used 10 years later.

        Now this quote, agian unattributed, actually seems to be close to what occurred. “Toyota, whose goal for early in the next decade is to sell a million hybrids worldwide, including 600,000 to Americans.” It may not have happened by 2010 (little recession in the way there), but I think we’re up to about 2 million worldwide now.

        But how do you reconcile one quote saying 1 million, and another saying 25%. Toyota official spokesmen would not have made that error. Faulty journalism would.

        Searching for some A-ha moments in the Prius’s or hybrid development is a lost cause. It’s been an amazing success in a very short time.

      • 0 avatar
        marc

        MY problems with your analysis of cost are that Amstock never said the $35-40,000 price. He clearly stated that Toyota expected to eventually make money on the Prius, becasue the R&D costs were not being all charged up front on the first model years. As any mfr would with any new vehicle.
        I am not concened that you are using inflation to..er… inflate..the prices, to make it seem worse than it is. Clearly that is just to show a parity with the Volt.

        And people (bloggers on the Nets) love to say how much Japan Inc “subsidized” the development of the Prius. Never an actual number. Never a comparison to US subsidies of our auto industries. PNGV anyone? Big Oil subsidies anyone? All you can point to is a few thousand dollars in tax breaks for the initial batch of purchases, kinda like many countries do to subsidize nascent green technologies, diesel, solar cells, EVs, etc. This is not some big Japanese conspiracy.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      philadlj: “A model that (very)slowly but steadily continues to sell cannot be regarded as an abject failure just because it did not fulfill unrealistic goals set by people who didn’t understand the market or the Volt’s role in it.”

      That same unrealistic goals was used by GM’s senior management to justify the finacial aspect of the project. If what you are saying is correct that the prior goals were unrealistic, the Volt project has already failed and can never recoup the investment.

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        Just to add to my point:

        You would have thought that, OK, if GM can sell 1000+ Volts per month this year and 2000/month next year and 3000/month next next year, they will make money eventually.

        Wrong. The sales won’t increase linearly, due to stiff competition from Toyota and other car makers. If GM is to keep or improve sales, additional investment is needed to refresh the Volt design. Which will be throwing good money after the bad.

        When a sale target is proven to be unrealistic in the first year, it’s a failed project. Start a new project and this time hire someone who can estimate better.

  • avatar

    I guess that the tea-bagging conservatives do not like the idea that the Volt uses little oil.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      All they know is that Obama was photographed in one. Therefore it’s evil.

      I hope somebody photographs Obama shaking hands with Romney.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I don’t like the tea party type (IMO, they’re mostly ignorant dolts), but I prefer criticisms of them to be based on facts and reality, not political shill.

  • avatar
    priapism

    I didn’t understand why they didn’t bother to add an all-electric version of the Volt. It’s battery powered already, seems like you’d just add some more battery where the Ecotec is right now. With Leaf sales falling off a cliff, maybe they had a reason.

    Volt is still the only one that makes real sense, political punching bag or no.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      I think they all make some sense in their own niches. A pure electric vehicle (like Leaf or Focus EV) is fine for those with two cars, a limited commute and no range anxiety. I thought this would be a small market (last years numbers made me doubt that, but this year isn`t looking too good for the Leaf). The Volt and Prius plug-in allow a typical commute and the ability to travel where you want with no range anxiety.

      Of course economical a standard hybrid works well (Prius C for example) but car buying isn`t just about the price and rational decision making.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I don’t think the market for EVs is that small. But I do think the inetersection of that market & those who are willing to pay $40k for a car is small.

        I for one would love to have an electric car to drive to the store (1 mi) or gym (1 mi) or out to eat (1 mi) and even work (6 mi) so that my gas car doesn’t take the unnecessary wear-and-tear of short trips. But $40k pays for a lot of wear-and-tear.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        If you’re really driving a mile to the gym, you should probably keep that to yourself. It might make you look less ridiculous when you call others ignorant dolts.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    I’m mildly surprised that Toyota shipped enough Prius PHVs here to sell 1600 in a month. I thought we’d be lucky to get 10,000 in a 12 month period.

  • avatar
    bd2

    So… where are the headlines about how the Nissan Leaf is an abysmal “failure”?

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      The Leaf isn’t a political football – but it sure is looking like a flop and does not bode well for pure EVs in general. Ford has only sold something like 23 Focus Electrics in the last four months. No mention of that either.

      • 0 avatar
        supersleuth

        Purely electric cars are just not going to be practical until battery technology is radically improved. Plug-ins and range-extended EVs have a lot more potential in the near term, and may start to take off as charging infrastructure becomes more common. (Conventional hybrids are already there in terms of acceptance, especially now with the Prius C establishing a new entry price point.)

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        First, “Focus” = noun & “Electric” = adjective, so like the plural of “Attorney General” is “Attorneys General,” I insist the plural be “Foci Electric.”

        Second, we don’t really know what “sales” of the eFocus means. Ford claimed they went on sale last year, but they didn’t have EPA approval yet. But they “sold” a dozen anyway. Now, they are going to ~60 dealerships in CA, NY, & NJ sometime this year, and Ford won’t produce enough to compete with other EVs even if they are a hit.

        I don’t believe Ford ever intended the eFocus to be a real offering at this time. Instead, they want to stay up on the tech and get some green cred / good press that comes from it. Since it’s built on the same line as reg Foci, they don’t have to commit to it like GM does the Volt, so actually selling them secondary.

  • avatar
    Pastor Glenn

    supersleuth said “Purely electric cars are just not going to be practical until battery technology is radically improved.”

    Agree +1.

    Have to add: these same words have been said for 120 years pertaining to electric cars.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      This is a myth that I’m tired of hearing repeated on this site ad nauseum.

      For most people, an EV would work perfectly for a vast majority of their driving needs. Today’s pure EVs have ranges of 80-150 miles. Worst-case in cold temps with lots of heater use, maybe 25-30 miles (enough to get to work where you can plug in). The RAV4 electrics that Toyota built have an excellent track record, see:

      http://www.twocentspermile.org/

      For long trips, you use the second car or rent one for the weekend.

      I’d drive an EV myself (I owned one before but it was a 1980 model and I never had it on the road) but I can’t justify the price since I have a paid-for Civic that will get me 35mpg. I have a friend with a Leaf who will hit over 20K miles in his first year of ownership. He has only once run out of “gas” with it, and got a free tow to his house courtesy of Nissan.

      I’m not for or against EVs, but the constant EV-bashing is just ridiculous.

  • avatar
    Bikeguy

    Pretty good trick, taking Volt inventory from 152 days to 61 days in only 30 days, especially with 1/3 less cars sold than the month before.

    Even with shutting down the plant, you’d think the most you could improve is 30 days worth of inventory, especially if you sell less.

    I’d really like someone from GM to explain the math to me.

  • avatar
    Herm

    Just about now they are becoming practical, remember those brick size cellphones?, we are at that stage.. and the $7500 tax credit is really not that much to get the ball rolling.

  • avatar

    If Leaf can only push 300 to 500, MiEV is going to move 50, I’m afraid.


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