September’s sales figures for plug-in cars across the U.S. are finally in, and they show a continued overall market growth in the plug-in car marketplace with continued sales rises from Nissan’s all-electric LEAF and BMW’s relatively new i3 electric car.
But while Nissan, BMW and Tesla enjoyed decent sales figures, sales of the Chevrolet Volt fell to 1,394 cars for September — lower than last year’s figure for the month of September and as our friends at GreenCarReports note, the lowest monthly sales figures since February. Similarly, Toyota’s plug-in Prius — which has sold strongly this year to become the third highest-selling plug-in car — totalled just 353 cars in September, surprising industry analysts and plug-in fans alike and bucking the otherwise positive sales trend for plug-in cars.
So why did sales of the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid drop so much during September when other plug-in cars were enjoying continued rising sales?
In short, we think it’s down to three things: the price of gas, the popularity of other plug-in hybrids, and most importantly, heavy promotion of next-generation cars due to hit the market in the next year.
And no, we don’t think you should worry.
Falling gas prices
Unlike purely electric cars, which are often sold as a way of eliminating the need for gasoline at all, plug-in hybrids are often sold as being a way to reduce your gasoline consumption and improve your overall fuel economy.
In an environment where gas prices are high, plug-in hybrids and range-extended electric cars like the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid and Chevrolet Volt make good financial sense, especially if your mid to long-range driving needs are moderate and you can use electric mode most of the time.
As gas prices fall however, the extra money you’ll pay at the pump means that the investment of buying a plug-in hybrid takes a lot longer to pay off, and since those who are choosing a dual fuel plug-in hybrid or range-extended electric car are less likely to make the jump to all-electric, we’d guess they’re also the people who would be more easily dissuaded from buying a plug-in car should gasoline prices fall.
More competition, poor brand image
While there’s not massive increase in plug-in vehicle choice on the market to a few months ago, we’re guessing that tough competition from BMW’s recently-launched i3 electric car and i3 REX range-extended car has meant that some car buyers who would have previously chosen the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid or Chevrolet Volt as their plug-in car of choice are now being tempted elsewhere.
What’s more, with both GM and Toyota involved in very large, very public recall campaigns, we’re also wondering if some buyers have been put off the brand and opted to go for a different manufacturer instead.
Finally and most importantly, we suspect a large number of would-be Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid and Chevrolet Volt owners have been put off buying one for the time being by promises from both Toyota and General Motors that next-generations of both cars are in the pipeline.
With both cars due for a refresh for the 2016 model year — and General Motors being extremely vocal about the upcoming 2016 Chevrolet Volt that will debut at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show in January – the promise of more range and better efficiency will make many would-be buyers stop and think before ordering the outgoing model.
Correct, or clutching at straws?
Obviously, we don’t have a crystal ball to look into in order to accurately codify the reasons for lower Volt and Toyota Prius PHEV sales when the rest of the plug-in market continues to grow. But based on what we know of the market, we’d like to think we’re correct.
But do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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