The field of electric cars has been getting more crowded, and more appealing to consumers thanks to aggressive price breaks by automakers eager to woo more drivers to plug in. Amid the heightened competition, one of the electric vehicle pioneers, the gas-electric hybrid Chevy Volt, has experienced stagnant sales. But that could change with a sticker price drop of $5,000.
On Tuesday, General Motors announced that the 2014 Chevrolet Volt, arriving at dealerships this month, will have a sticker price starting at $34,995 (including an $810 destination fee). That’s $5,000 less than the previous year model’s starting price. Add in a federal tax credit of $7,500 and the effective base price of the Volt comes to a competitive $27,495.
From the beginning, automakers have known that they would have to lower electric car prices in order to attract mainstream buyers, and it looks like the hand of GM was forced to decrease Volt prices or risk falling behind in the market. Over the weekend, news outlets such as the Hartford Courant reported that Nissan sold 1,864 Leafs in July, a 372% increase compared to the same month in 2012. Drivers purchased 1,788 Chevy Volts last month, meanwhile, a 3% decrease compared to July 2012.
What’s more, once the July figures were tallied up, it became clear that Nissan was deserving of bragging rights in the EV market, with the Leaf outselling the Volt 11,703 to 11,643 through the first seven months of 2013. (In the new press release regarding the Volt’s price cut, GM stated, “The Volt continues to be the best selling plug-in vehicle in America,” but that’s questionable at this point.)
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A year ago, the Volt routinely trounced the Leaf in head-to-head sales. In May 2012, for instance, Chevy sold 1,680 Volts, compared to just 510 Nissan Leaf purchases in the U.S.
There’s no mystery as to what’s caused the turnaround. Early in 2013, Nissan announced the sticker price on the new Leaf would be cut by $6,400. Now, GM is lowering prices on its best-known plug-in to better compete in an EV field that’s not only more crowded—with plug-in vehicles from Honda, Fiat, Smartcar, and BMW, among others—but that’s also priced more competitively than ever. The Volt’s price cut is one in a long series of EV markdowns, including not only the Nissan Leaf Leaf but the Ford Focus EV, which became $4,000 cheaper in July.
What’s notable is that unlike Nissan, which introduced a new entry-level S model that eliminated extras like navigation and cruise control in order to lower the Leaf’s overall base price, Chevy isn’t removing any of the Volt’s amenities to cut prices. “The 2014 Volt will offer the same impressive list of features, but for $5,000 less,” Don Johnson, U.S. vice president, Chevrolet sales and service, said via press release.
Because the Volt comes with a gas-powered engine in addition to battery power—able to be driven 38 miles on an electric charge, then another 350 or so miles using gasoline—it’s certainly more practical and multi-purpose than the Leaf, which can be driven about 75 miles before requiring a charge. GM, meanwhile, brags that Volt owners typically drive 900 miles in between fillup trips to gas stations.
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But we’ll have to see to what degree the $5,000 price cut will sway consumers over to the Volt. In Nissan’s case, dropping the price certainly succeeded in boosting demand in a big way: Sales of the Leaf are up 230% so far this year.