Sales Of The Aging Electrics You Know Best Are Predictably Falling Fast

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
sales of the aging electrics you know best are predictably falling fast

We’re accustomed to seeing outdated sports cars stumble as they age.

They’re as capable as they were when launched, of course, but demand for the cars often decreases rapidly. Those who were interested in the stylistic proposition already bought one. Those who saw them as paragons of performance encounter newer models with a greater dynamic portfolio.

Consider the Scion FR-S, sales of which plunged 23% in its second full year in the United States; sales of which declined 29% in the first four months of 2015.

Perhaps exacerbated by falling fuel prices, the sharp downturn in sales of two particularly famous, unconventionally powered hatchbacks is vaguely reminiscent of a sports car nameplate’s yo-yoing. A Camry-like ability to sustain demand right up until the new model arrives in dealers? Not for the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt.

Granted, the Volt’s decline began before old age. Launched during the same month, December 2010, as the Leaf, the Volt volume ramped up much more rapidly. 2,029 copies of the electric-plus-range-extended Volt were sold in the United States during the car’s first five months, compared with 1,044 Leafs.

Yet by March 2013, when the Volt was 28 months into its first-generation, year-over-year volume plunged 35%. That began a three-month streak of decline for the Volt. In calendar year 2013, Volt sales decreased by less than 2%; declining in seven of twelve months.

Looking back from April 2015’s 42% year-over-year decline, Volt volume has decreased in the United States in nine consecutive months, in twelve of the last 16 months, and in 19 of the last 26 months.

The Leaf’s downturn is much more recent. After posting annual increases in each of its first four years – including a 130% jump in 2013 and a 34% increase last year – Leaf volume has declined in each of 2015’s first four months.

The 15% drop in January resulted in just 1,070 Leaf sales, the lowest total for the all-electric Nissan in two years. February sales fell 16%. March volume plunged 38%, a drop of 690 sales. In April, Leaf sales slid sharply once again, with a 26% decline measuring a loss of 535 sales. Preceding this four-month streak was a 23-month-long span in which Leaf sales consistently improved on a year-over-year basis.

Many electric cars are ultra-low-volume portions of a high-volume vehicle’s lineup. Tesla infamously doesn’t release detailed monthly sales reports. ( estimates 6,800 Model S sales in the U.S. through the first four months of 2015, a 26% improvement.) The Model S, while never fully replaced during its near three-year lifespan to date, is markedly different from the Leaf and Volt in the sense that Tesla constantly provides significant updates to the car and the Model S lineup. Predictably, during its phasing-out, U.S. sales of the first Toyota Prius Plug-In, a vehicle which posted an annual peak of 13,263 units just last year, is down 66% to 1,699 sales.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • HotPotato HotPotato on May 24, 2015

    No surprise with either of these: the Volt is being replaced with a superior 2016 model; and the Leaf faces scads of strong competitors in the mass-market all-electric segment, vs zero such competitors when it first came on the market. I think sales of both, and even sales of PHEVs and hybrids, may also be suffering slightly as people consider waiting for the Chevy Bolt. With 200 miles of range, an affordable sticker, and a couple more years of infrastructure build-out in the meantime, the Bolt promises to be an honest-to-God game-changer like nothing since the Prius.

    • Mcs Mcs on May 25, 2015

      >> the Leaf faces scads of strong competitors in the mass-market all-electric segmen If you look at the EV sales figures for Q4 of 2014, those same competitors were there and the Leafs numbers were still pretty good. Then again, if you compare April 2014 vs. April 2015, the i3 and eGolf look like they're impacting the Leafs sales. I think it's a combination of the anticipation of the new model (a version of which will probably match the Bolt in range) and the new cars. I don't see the Bolt being a game changer. It'll face versions of the Leaf, Model 3, and others in the same price range and with 200 mile capability and it will have the disadvantage of the CCS network which will still probably be weak at that point. Nissan also has the advantage of a car that sells world wide vs. the Bolt which will probably be limited to a much smaller geography. So far, CCS is going mostly to dealerships which means you're subject to their hours and their whims such as restricting charging to their own customers (Bouchard Nissan) or use the EV spaces as used car display spots (Kelly Nissan). It's happening now at some Nissan dealers with their CHAdeMO network. That isn't a problem with Tesla Superchargers and there are numerous CHAdeMO chargers at non-dealerships today. The wild card to watch for in the Bolt time frame is if Nissan decides to upgrade their lease returns to the new battery. CPO used Leafs with fresh 150+ or 200 mile batteries could be the closest thing to a game changer. Not sure if a 200 mile battery would be the battery to start a digital camera like takeover of the market - which is what I'd define as a game-changer. It will bring over a bigger chunk of drivers, but it won't be the automotive version of the giant meteor that killed the dinosaurs. I think that battery is yet to emerge from laboratories. You can't plan breakthroughs in technology, so you can't predict when it will happen. However, there are hordes of researchers pounding away at the problems knowing they're in for a huge payday from cellphone, robotics, and automotive industries if they come up with something. It could be next week, or it could be in ten years. No one knows for sure.

  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on May 26, 2015

    I was just in the Atlanta area and I'm convinced that Nissan sold all the Leafs( Leaves?) there. Granted, there is more population and more money in Atlanta, plus a more temperate climate than in Pittsburgh. But I saw at least 20 Leaf's in about 200 miles of driving over 4 days and I'm 99% certain they weren't all the same one. Only a few Volts and I'd say more Leaf than Prius even. I even saw one Leaf behind another at a light! I'd take a Leaf or some other pure electric if there was the infrastructure to deal with it. My car sits at the airport for days at a time and then I drive it home. My wife drives my car about 15 miles roundtrip for work when I'm home, leaving me the Odyssey for kid duty. We have the Odyssey for family/kid/roadtrip duties. But there are no chargers in the extended term lot where I park. I'm sure they're in the short term garage, but I can't get a parking pass for that as an employee. Chargers are few and far between anywhere in Pittsburgh. Maybe once the infrastructure catches up and/or the price comes down, but I won't entertain 100% electric until that point.

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