By The Numbers

April 2015: The who-da-thunk-it edition

Chevrolet Spark Electric A Rare Bright Spot For Green-Car Demand

Last month, the second-best selling plug-in made by an American automaker was the Chevrolet Spark Electric Vehicle. Let me repeat that. The only US-automaker-made plug-in that likely outsold the Chevy Spark EV last month was the Tesla Model S (we say "likely" because Tesla Motors doesn't put out monthly figures, but calculating its first-quarter deliveries and the approximate percentage of those that go to North America, the Tesla probably outsold the Spark EV about two to one).

That means that the Spark EV outsold both the Ford Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid and the Ford C-Max Energi PHEV. More surprisingly, the Spark EV outsold the Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-in for the first time ever.

Now, Volt sales were likely stymied by the fact that many folks are waiting for the next-generation version to hit the market later this year. Still, the Spark EV's ascension speaks to a green-car vehicle market that continues to be in flux as some folks opt for more vehicles of the gas-guzzling variety while others take a wait-and-see approach for future hybrids and plug-ins. Also, it speaks of lower lease prices.

US sales of hybrids, plug-ins, and diesels fell 20 percent last month from a year earlier to about 43,000 vehicles (not including Audi or Smart, which didn't provide figures for Audi diesels or Smart ED electric vehicles, respectively). And plug-in vehicle sales were down 4.1 percent from a year earlier to almost 8,200 vehicles.

Toyota, as usual, set the tone, with green-car sales down 18 percent to 21,778 units. Sales of the four Prius variants declined 15 percent from a year earlier to 15,235 units, while Camry, Highlander and Avalon Hybrid sales fell between 27 percent and 40 percent. Lexus hybrids were a relative bright spot, falling just 1.8 percent from a year earlier.

Ford, Honda, and even Volkswagen were even harder hit. Ford's green-car sales dropped 30 percent from a year earlier to 5,255 units, with Fusion Hybrid and C-Max Hybrid sales plunging 48 percent and 22 percent, respectively. And with the Accord Hybrid no longer so new (sales dropped 22 percent), Honda's green-car sales plunged 32 percent to 1,925 units, with CR-Z and Insight sales way down. Volkswagen moved 309 of its e-Golf EVs, but its overall green car sales dropped 29 percent because of a 32 percent decline in diesel sales.

Heck, even Nissan continued to have trouble keeping up with last year's pace of Leaf EV sales, which were down 26 percent last month from a year earlier to just 1,553 units. Things also tapered off for BMW, whose sales rate of almost 900 i3 EV units a month through March dropped to 406 in April.

As for GM, sales were down only 7.8 percent to 2,890 units, as Spark EV sales jumped almost tenfold to 920 units. That helped offset a 42-percent decline in Volt sales (to 905 units) and larger drops in sales of mild-hybrid models like Buick's LaCrosse and Regal eAssists and Chevrolet's Impala and Malibu ECO models.

Through April, US green-car sales fell 16 percent to almost 159,000 units, while plug-in sales were little-changed at 8,538 units.

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