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TheStreet Open House

Sales Accelerate for Electric Cars

Stocks in this article: GM NSANY TM TSLA

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Last week was an eventful one in the world of electric cars. Let's begin with the March month sales numbers in the U.S.:

  • Nissan LEAF: 579
  • Toyota Prius plug-in: 891
  • Chevrolet Volt: 2,289
  • There are of course other electric cars selling in the U.S. from makers such as Fisker, Mitsubishi, BMW, Ford (F) and others, but in the month of February, those sales were relatively negligible.

    So the total for Nissan (NSANY), Toyota (TM - Get Report) and Chevrolet (GM - Get Report) was 3,759, or an annual sales rate of 45,108. In all of 2011, Chevrolet and Nissan combined sold a little over 17,000 in the U.S.

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    In the second half of 2012, we should expect the rate of electric car sales to increase. Ford is bringing the C-Max Energi, Tesla (TSLA) is bringing the Model S, and Toyota is bringing the RAV4 to market, just for starters.

    Volt production, which had been temporarily halted, will restart a week earlier than planned to meet growing demand.

    Chevrolet started production in February of the versions of the Volt sold in several international markets. Some of these sales are under labels of Opel, Vauxhall and Holden, and we do not yet have accurate numbers of their initial sales here in March. GM had previously alluded to 7,000 reservations in Europe alone, but who knows how firm these reservations are or were.

    What, you may ask, explains the Chevrolet Volt's sales leadership here in March? The primary reason is that Volts manufactured starting in February are eligible for single occupants in California's carpool lane. But, you may ask, so is the Toyota Prius plug-in, no? Yes, but here is the math showing why the Chevrolet is so much more attractive than the Toyota in this instance:

    A fully loaded Prius plug-in is $39,525 before tax adjustments. A Chevrolet Volt is $44,575. But the Volt will give you $5,000 more back on your taxes, thanks to a battery that is four times larger than in the Prius plug-in. So adjusted for taxes, these two cars cost essentially the same. However, the Prius gives you only six miles of all-electric range, compared to the Volt which gives you 35 miles. Six versus 35? Not a close call there, buddy.

    Yes, the Prius is slightly roomier than the Volt, but in all other aspects, the Volt is a more capable car, technically speaking. It gives you a vastly superior all-electric range, it is much faster (acceleration), and it generally drives a lot more like a European premium sports sedan than an eco-box. So that should explain why the Volt sold a lot more in March than the Prius plug-in.

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