Supply (Not Demand) Explains Sales Differences Between LEAF and Volt

Sales figures for the Nissan LEAF and the Chevrolet Volt are being closely watched. Since both cars represent a new breed of vehicle, the relative success of either one may possibly represent the dominant technology for years to come. Whereas the LEAF is an all electric vehicle, the VOLT is a plug-in hybrid (more on the differences here), and as both cars have been on the market for a little over six months, early adoption rates might suggest which technology appears to have the edge so far. Alternatively, of course, sluggish sales of both might bring into question whether there is robust demand for alternative vehicles at all.

If we look at the sales figures for the first 6 months of 2011, we see the relative advantage currently falls to the Nissan LEAF, which has sold 3,875 units compared 2,745 units of the Volt. However, to pick a winner of the popularity contest from sales numbers alone, would be to mislead.

Automobile Magazine reports that for both cars, supply is the main factor affecting sales so far. In the case of the Volt, supply has been temporarily reduced while the factory has been offline for 5 weeks,  in order to add greater production capacity.  In the meantime, a Chevrolet spokesperson asserts they are selling every Volt they can make. As for Nissan, the earthquake in Japan on March 11th slowed manufacture and supply of the LEAF, but now deliveries and customer reservations are increasing for the vehicle. Both manufacturers still project sales of at least 10,000 units for this year.

So, if current sales figures are not a true reflection of demand, then in the meantime, online marketing solutions company, Compete.com, might at least offer another perspective on demand. According to Compete’s website they gather data from “a statistically representative cross-section of 2 million consumers across the United States who have given permission to have their internet click-stream behaviors and opt-in survey responses analyzed anonymously.”  They have surveyed (presumably via this data gathering method) what they call “in-market shopper volume,” revealing that the Volt had a peak shopper volume of nearly 40,000 shoppers earlier this year, versus the LEAF’s peak of 14,700 shoppers, thereby indicating greater interest in the Volt. You can see Compete’s full analysis here, which while interesting, is of course limited in its significance. While shopper-volume tracks consumer interest on-line, or via surveys, it is not a qualified predictor of conversion to orders and sales.

For the moment therefore, more time is needed to see how these two vehicles fare, and to determine where the stronger demand ultimately lies. In the meantime, both manufacturers seem fairly bullish that their products are being enthusiastically received, and neither give the impression that sales are sluggish nor that customers are disinterested in their new generation of vehicles.

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Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on electric vehicles and sustainable business matters in general. Twitter: @PhilCovBlog