General Motors Co. (GM)’s Chevrolet Volt widened its lead as the top-selling U.S. rechargeable car this year and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) expanded plug-in Prius deliveries as Nissan Motor Co. (7201) said it’s working to boost electric Leaf sales.
Sales through September of battery-only vehicles and those with both battery packs and a gasoline engine for added range almost tripled to about 31,400 from 11,094 a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Volt, with a record 2,851 sales last month, leads with 16,348 for the year, up fourfold, followed by 7,734 Prius plug-ins and 5,212 Leafs.
GM’s addition of a discounted lease for the Volt, currently $299 a month for a car with a $39,145 base price, is boosting demand for the model, Jesse Toprak, an analyst at TrueCar.com, a vehicle pricing and data provider, said yesterday.
“I’m utterly surprised people are not lining up to get one at that price,” said Toprak, based in Santa Monica, California. “The annual fuel savings alone make this car very appealing.”
Demand for rechargeable autos, which large carmakers must sell under rules in California and some other U.S. states, hasn’t matched initial expectations of Detroit-based GM, Nissan and President Barack Obama’s administration, which targeted a market of 1 million such vehicles by 2015. Nissan, which also added a low-cost lease offer for the Leaf, said designing a sales strategy for electric cars has taken longer than planned.
Fisker Automotive Inc.’s $103,000 plug-in Karma, with about 1,500 sales this year, follows the models from GM, Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota and Nissan. The figures don’t include Tesla Motor Inc. (TSLA)’s Model S, which the company began producing in late June. The company isn’t yet disclosing monthly sales figures, said Christina Ra, a Tesla spokeswoman.
“We’re really pleased with the volumes we’re driving right now and want to grow them,” said Jim Cain, a GM spokesman. “We’ve now got marketing that’s focused on the fuel savings Volt offers and we’ve got an attractive lease that’s driving sales.”
Buyers in markets such as California can now lease a Leaf SV hatchback for $199 a month for 36 months, a bargain based on the car’s $36,050 base price, Toprak said.
“Volt has made an ultra-competitive marketplace with the offers they have on that vehicle,” Al Castignetti, vice president of U.S. sales for Nissan, said in telephone interview yesterday.
Nissan, which had a goal of selling 20,000 Leafs in the U.S. this year, has been working with dealers to refine how it markets the all-electric car that goes at least 70 miles (113 kilometers) per charge. The Yokohama, Japan-based company sold 984 of the hatchbacks last month, up from 685 in August. Still, sales fell 4.6 percent from a year earlier.
“We’re finally starting to get the dealer engagement,” Castignetti said. “We’re starting to reach the consumer, the actual consumer for electric vehicles. We’re driving more traffic to our dealerships and that’s a very good thing.”
He didn’t provide a revised target for Leaf sales.
GM Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson said in June he expected as many as 40,000 Volt sales this year, down from an earlier goal of as many as 60,000, including exported cars. GM’s Cain declined to discuss the company’s current volume target for Volt.
Rechargeable vehicles are “a segment that’s in its infancy, and purchases we’re seeing now are really fueled by early adopters,” Toprak said. “Until a middle-class family in in the middle of the country finds that it makes economic sense to buy one of these cars, you won’t see big volume.”
The Volt, which gets about 38 miles a charge, qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit, as does the Leaf. The base model plug-in Prius costs $32,000, before a $2,500 federal credit.
Separately, Toyota said sales of its entire Prius hybrid line doubled to 18,932 last month. Combined Prius sales through September grew to 183,340, surpassing the company’s previous full-year record for the gasoline-electric car of 181,221 set in 2007.
Bill Fay, group vice president of U.S. Toyota sales, said in a conference call yesterday the company expects to sell as many as 230,000 Prius models this year. The lineup includes the plug-in version, the original hatchback model, Prius v wagon and Prius c compact model.
Combined sales of all electric-drive vehicles, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-only autos, expanded 135 percent to 42,314 last month, based on data compiled by Bloomberg. Deliveries for the segment were 371,896 through September, up 96 percent from a year ago.
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