Business

07.02.13

Sales Increase for Electric Vehicles

Cars that run partially or entirely on electricity make up a tiny sliver of the vast U.S. car market. But companies selling them posted big gains in June.

Electricity is slowly, slowly becoming a transportation fuel. While they account for only a tiny fraction of sales, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are rising. They’re being fueled by competition, federal tax credits worth up to $7,500, and the persistence of high gas prices. While consumers have several choices, three companies—Nissan, General Motors’ Chevrolet, and Tesla—hold almost 75 percent of the market for electric cars. And each has posted significant gains this spring.

On Tuesday car companies (but not Tesla) reported their June sales. In the month, Nissan sold 2,225 of its all-electric Leaf. That’s up from 2,138 units this May and up a whopping 319 percent from May 2012. Nissan said that by lowering prices and producing the car domestically, it was able to attract a greater number of consumers to the Leaf. The vehicle has even gained traction abroad, with Nissan celebrating its 10,000th sale in Europe in late May.

Although the Leaf has largely dominated the market, Chevrolet has recently established itself as a serious rival to the Japanese carmaker. With its plug-in hybrid, the Volt, the GM-owned company has begun to chip away at Nissan’s market share. Holding a healthy 21 percent of the sector, according to HybridCars.com, Chevrolet sold 2,698 Volts in June, a 53 percent increase over the June 2012 total. The strong month also rocketed the company past Nissan to the year-to-date sales lead.

While both companies have had strong performances, few can match the celebrity of auto-industry darling Tesla. With a stock price that has already tripled this year as well as newly introduced battery-swap technologies, the company has captured the imaginations of investors. Proving that performance need not be sacrificed for sustainability, the wicked-fast Model S (0 to 60 in 4.4 seconds) has received endless praise from industry analysts and consumers alike. While it does not release monthly sales data, the company is said to consistently sell between 1,500 and 1,800 a month. In a recent report, Jeffries & Co. analyst Elaine Kwei raised her second-quarter sales estimates from 4,500 units to 5,000 for the Model S.

These three companies, while offering very different products, have made EVs viable in the consumer marketplace. But they are not stopping there: GM recently announced a new partnership with Honda on fuel-cell technologies, which could power vehicles for up to 400 miles and take only three minutes to recharge.