2011 Nissan Leaf outsold by Ferrari, Maserati and Bentley


2011 was supposed to be the year of the electric car. The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf both went on sale in late 2010, but based on two months of sales, it ain’t anything worth getting excited about yet.

602 Chevrolet Volts were delivered by the end of February 2011. January sales, at 321 vehicles, were stronger than February’s 281 units. There aren’t as many days in February, of course, but there’s more to the Volt sales story than slackening demand. In fact there is no evidence of sales going flaccid as dealers continue to gouge well over the $41,000 sticker price. Even Consumer Reports, the magazine that buys all the cars they test had to pay $5,000 over sticker for its Volt.

In fact, General Motors built 624 Volts in February. Where are they? Many are apparently going to dealers as demo units which started to arrive last month for the first time.  Several hundred Volts are being kept in stock in the launch markets so that potential customers can actually drive the cars before signing their loan or lease papers.  In total, the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant has cranked out 2,423 Volts since production started in earnest sometime last year. Several hundred of those are part of GM’s captured test fleet being driven by GM employees to gather more real world data before ramping up production further for retail customers. Just shy of 1,000 had gone to customers by the end of February with the rest being demos, in transit or inventory. At the current pace, Chevrolet will have delivered more Volts to customers sometime in April than Tesla has delivered since it began production of the Roadster in 2008.

What of Nissan and its vaunted Leaf?  Nissan is not being particularly clear what the issue is, but February sales dropped to just 67 units from 87 in January with no indications that dealers are getting demo units from the factory.  Apparently, there are supplying issues and also some reports that a number of people that made $99 reservations are walking away when the time comes to firm up their orders.  Whatever the case, only 154 Leafs had found American homes by February 28.

Let’s take a look at some other brands with comparable sales numbers.  In the first two months, such mainstream environmentally friendly and affordable brands as Maserati, Ferrari and Bentley have delivered 273, 262 and 183 units respectively. It doesn’t look like an auspicious start for the Leaf, but once the kinks are taken out of the supply hose, electric Datsuns will start flowing more freely.

CES 2011: GM brings wireless phone charging to the car

Having addressed the problem of range anxiety for electric vehicles with the Chevrolet Volt, General Motors’ John Laukner has now set out to do the same for smartphones through the latest investment from GM Ventures. At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, GM announced that its new venture capital fund would be investing $5 million in Powermat, a manufacturer of inductive charging systems for portable electronics.

Anyone that regularly uses a modern smartphone knows that battery life is aggravatingly short. With Ford, BMW, Kia, Lexus and, of course, GM launching infotainment systems that can support bluetooth streaming and control of apps like Pandora on phones, this minor annoyance is going to grow into a throbbing pain in the ass. General Motors is putting its money where its mouth is in developing a painkiller, though.

GM will soon be addressing digital-device range anxiety by integrating Powermat’s inductive charging pads into new vehicles. A prototype Chevrolet Volt on display at CES has two Powermats installed in the center console, one each between the the front and rear seats.

Inductive charging systems offer a convenient way to eliminate a plethora of unsightly power cords all over the cabin, but the devices need some special circuitry to support charging. Currently the only phones with built in support are the Palm Pre and Pixi, which were introduced with an inductive charger of Palm’s own design. Other devices need either a replacement battery cover which are currently only available for some Blackberry, HTC and Motorola phones. Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch don’t have replaceable batteries, so Powemat has devised a case with the needed circuitry.

GM will start offering the Powermat as a factory installed option for the Volt and other models in 2012 with pricing to be announced later.