Judging by most press coverage, the electric vehicle sales race is between Tesla and the rest of the world. Or maybe it’s between the Nissan Leaf, which set the record for U.S. sales in 2014, and the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that sold well back in the day. Actually, the dynamic has shifted in the first half of 2016. The EV sales contest is now a two-horse race, with the Tesla Model S on top and the Volt just behind. If inventory remains strong, Chevy could make it interesting all summer long.
As usual, InsideEVs provides the data we use to estimate Tesla sales. (The Fremont-based company does not separate U.S. sales from other world markets and does not detail monthly stats.) For May, Tesla had another below-average month with an estimated 1,200 Model S sales, roughly half what it delivered the same month in 2015. Meanwhile, Volt continued showing strength with 1,901 units sold, up 17% over its May 2015 totals.
For the year, that puts Tesla at 8,390 units for the Model S, good enough for first place. But Chevy Volt is within its range in second place with 7,871 sales through May. (Ford Fusion Energi sits in third place at 5,535 sales for the year.) According to InsideEVs, the slowdown for Tesla following the automaker’s big March (3,990 sales) is tied to the Fremont plant prepping for the refreshed version of the Model S, which began in April and continued into May.
Through most of last month, Tesla was busy handling this change-over, and it explains why Model X deliveries (1,600) topped those of the flagship sedan. As a result, Chevy has a chance to do some bragging this summer while it vies for plug-in sales leader in America.
There are countless differences between the two models. Model S is pricey ($76,500) while the Volt costs less than half ($33,220); Model S covers 240 miles on electric power while Volt offers 53 miles before the gas engine kicks in; and S is a status symbol with serious curb appeal while Volt casts a far humbler shadow in the driveway. But both models are eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit and both are a far greener mode of transportation than a standard hybrid, let alone the average gas guzzler.
Volt drivers covered about 80% of driving on electric power in the original model capable of 38 miles, and Chevy estimates this version will push that margin to 90% in EV mode. Compared to the amount of ground covered in a Leaf, which is a pure electric, Volt drivers drove nearly the same amount of electric miles because they can risk the battery running to zero charge without being stranded. What is considered a weakness (i.e., a gas engine) by some is an advantage seen in this light.
Fusion Energi’s strong May and 2016 overall second the notion that plug-in hybrids have a secure place among U.S. consumers in the coming years. Ideally, you would like a car with over 50 electric miles to cover most work commutes, but even 20 miles is a considerable green boost for drivers. While more consumers see the potential for EVs, we expect cars like the Volt to succeed. We’ll see if that bodes well for the Bolt EV winding its way to the market in 2016.