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,, 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 transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.

11 responses

    1. The Volt is not a hybrid – at least not in the sense the Prius is. When the Volt was first unveiled, Chevy was very specific about not calling it a “plug in hybrid” either. The reason – the motor is 100% electric. The gas is only for a generator which can charge the batteries when needed. A hybrid actually has two engines, both of which can move the car. The Volt has only one engine, and it’s electric.

      It’s a bit nitty gritty, but technically speaking, that’s the way it is.

      So in that respect the Volt is definitely a “new breed”.

    2. Thanks for your feedback. I don’t work for Chevrolet, and there’s no confusion as to what the car is. I agree it’s a hybrid (as I, in fact, describe it as such in the first paragraph). So, what I mean by “new breed” is that it is the first commercially available plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (from an OEM), that is designed to travel primarily under electric-only power, instead of relying on gasoline as the primary fuel source (unlike existing hybrids, which do primarily rely on gasoline). “New breed” in the sense that Chevrolet is ahead of the curve of both Ford and Toyota, who will also have plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the market in the near future. If you prefer the term, “evolution of the hybrid”, then I would suggest that is an accurate description too. Of course, you could equally argue the LEAF is not a new breed of vehicle either, in the sense that pure electric vehicles were around 100 years ago. But in the context of the modern era, both cars represent the introduction of technologies that are not found elsewhere, yet, in their market segments. Further, in my opinion, both cars are sufficiently different to other vehicles in the market (including traditional hybrids), that their adoption rates are noteworthy, as an indication of the direction of drive train technologies going forward.

  1. Funny how this was not said about the LEAF when Volt was leading in sales the first four months of the year. Only reason Volt beat the LEAF in the beginning was because of supply, as they were busy filling the 7k orders for japan before there subsidy expired in March thus few made it to U.S. during that time.

    1. I wrote back in March that early orders of the LEAF were going to the domestic Japanese market, and that this was a reason for less US LEAF sales; that, coupled with manufacturing delays. Agreed.

  2. How can you say sluggish sales? Maybe for the Volt as a search on will yield over 500 available (this equates to a month supply according to the last few monthly sales for Volt). This can not be said of the Leaf as everyone coming off the line is already sold with a six month backorder waiting list and the entire 2011 model year is sold out and waiting to be filled. Only Leafs found for sale on lots are orphan cars which the original buyer backed out of for what ever reason. At last check 157 Leafs could be had around the country vs. 512 Volts sitting on lots.

    1. To put all of this into context, the top selling car in the USA according to the WSJ on Jul 1st, was the Chevrolet Cruze, 24,896 units sold in June ’11 alone, against a current inventory of 30,875 units ( Sluggish sales for LEAF and Volt? Well, by comparison to the Cruze, absolutely.

      But of course, sales of the Cruze merely demonstrate that the LEAF and Volt are just not volume players yet, while national inventory volumes of 512 Volts, and 154 LEAFs (which I also checked out on distributed across the USA, does not denote excessive inventory for either car,(barely, or less than 10 per state, each).

      And this, I would say, supports the main point I was trying to make; both companies are claiming supply is the constraint, not demand, and this seems a reasonable position to take. So we will still have to see how this plays out. What I can say, from personal experience, is that I SEE a lot more LEAF’s on the road. I see a couple every day, whereas I have seen a Volt about once every couple of weeks. Not at all scientific analysis of course!

  3. I am surprised that the subject of price hasn’t been mentioned. The Volt costs, what, 50% more than the Leaf? That alone would be enough to explain the difference in units sold. Even when Chevrolet’s production capacity goes up the $40K price will the car out of most driveways.

  4. One of two things are going to have to happen to convert me, 1. A major breakthrough in battery technology, or were going to have to make electric cars work like electric slot cars that run off of tracks on the roadway which would increase the efficiency exponentially.

  5. Why is the author insisting on a discussion between the Leaf versus the Volt? There is no comparison here.  The Leaf is exploding in sales because it is all electric. That’s what is all about, getting away from terrorist oil & the corrupt oil corporations.  Have solar panels installed at your home like I have and your ride is always free with the Leaf or the soon to be available Mitsubishi Miev.   The Volt uses gasoline which is what everyone wants to get away from, that and the decrepit, antiquated, quick to break down combustion engines which powers the Volt.

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