Business

05.02.13

Nissan Leaf Leads Growth in April Electric Car Sales

The numbers are tiny, and it remains very much a niche market, but April’s sales figures suggest electric cars are beginning to catch on.

Electric cars have long been criticized for not being sufficiently mainstream to find a large audience in the U.S. And it’s true that the typical suburbanite family may not be ready for a short-range car powered by electrons instead of gasoline. But the April car sales data, reported Wednesday, suggest that electric cars are beginning to carve out a niche. The all-electric Nissan Leaf notched its second-best monthly sales total and surpassed the volume of its plug-in hybrid competitor, the Chevy Volt.

Both launched in December 2010, the Leaf and the Volt were created to appeal to the niche market of new technology and electric-car lovers. The Volt, a plug-in hybrid, was expected to be the easier sell, since it also uses gas and has a range of several hundred models. Nissan instead targeted an even smaller clientele with its all-electric model. But so far this year, the Leaf is proving to the buyers’ preferred.

In April, Nissan delivered 1,937 Leafs and Chevrolet  sold 1,306 Volts. The numbers were the Leaf’s second-best monthly figure to date, behind only its totals from March 2013. On the other hand, sales of the Volt declined in April 2013 from April 2012.

Tesla Motors has also thrown its hat into the electric car race. The electric car startup has yet to formally report sales figures for April but is faring pretty well. It will report its first-quarter earnings next week. The company in February said it planned to sell 4,500 cars in the first quarter of 2013, which amounts to a sales expectation of about 1,500 vehicles per month. On April 1 the company announced it had exceeded its first sales target by 250.

The market for electric cars may still be small—far less than 1 percent of the total sold. But with each passing week, about 1,000 more cars that will never need to stop at a gas station hit the roads.