5 Things Electric Vehicle Sales Taught Us in May

Source: Nissan

Maybe Elon Musk was right when he said the media reads too much into monthly EV sales. When the Tesla CEO explained why his electric car company does not publish its number of deliveries every month, he cited the number of issues smaller automakers face with shipping and production, neither of which has anything to do with demand. The overall context is lost when we peer too closely at month-to-month shifts, he said.

Electric vehicles as a segment are showing how Musk’s point of view is valid. The Toyota Prius plug-in, a big seller from 2014 that has fallen out of production, dragged May EV sales figures down by nearly 7% compared to May 2014, according the reliable accounting of InsideEVs.com. Meanwhile, the Chevy Volt, itself being phased out for a redesign, has been wearing out the segment’s sales stats for much of the year.

Nonetheless, there were several glimmers of promise in plug-in EV sales last month to go with the disappointments. Here are 5 things we learned from the electric vehicle sales of May 2015.

Tesla Model S Dealership
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1. Tesla is continuing its reign at the top.

With an estimated 2,400 sales in May, Tesla’s Model S sedan continues to be the best-selling electric vehicle in the United States. The Model S has downed the competition in four of five months this year and already has a lead of over 1,000 sales on the second-place Nissan Leaf in 2015. Considering the base Model S 70D starts at $75,000, we say that achievement is worth celebrating every month Tesla can manage it. Compared to Tesla’s sales from May 2014 (1,000 cars), the automaker absolutely crushed it last month.

2015 chevy volt
Source: General Motors

2. The 2015 Chevy Volt is not dead yet.

Remember the outgoing Chevy Volt? U.S. consumers seemed ready to forget the plug-in hybrid in 2015, and sales were a fraction of the numbers it posted in 2014 (in March, fewer than half sold, year over year). But May was a comeback month for a car that is being replaced by a 2016 model featuring more power and more electric range, and Chevy has steep incentives (including a $159 per month lease deal) to thank for it. Customers came out in force to get the old Volt in May, and it added up to 1,618 sales — about three times more than Chevy sold in January. Even still, Volt is down 36% on the year.

Source: General Motors

3. The Spark EV’s record April was probably a fluke.

What happens when you offer up a super-efficient EV for lease at $139 per month and expand its sales market to the East Coast? In April, Chevy did just that with its little Spark EV and saw sales soar from 119 in February and 151 in March to 920 the following month, when it outsold even the Volt. Well, the tables were turned in May, when the Spark EV came crashing down to reality with 293 sales and was crushed by the Volt’s incentivized 1,618 units moved. It made the April performance seem flukey, to say the least.

James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet
James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

4. The Fiat 500e has returned to also-ran status.

Among the wildest headlines of March EV sales was the performance of the Fiat 500e, which sold 1,31o units while humbling the competition and besting its February sales by nearly 1,000 units. (Peruse the review of this mini electric warrior by our own Derek Sapienza at your convenience.) As with the record-setting April for the Spark EV, it appears the Fiat 500e’s 15 minutes have come and gone. After a respectable 717 sales in April, it came back to earth with 420 units sold in May.

2015 Leaf
Source: Nissan

5. Hunger for the Nissan Leaf is strong again.

The Nissan Leaf is the all-time EV sales leader and set the single-year record in 2014 with 30,200 units sold. So why had it been in a relative slump for the first four months of 2015? Whether the cause was nothing specific or the entry of several new competitors, it is difficult to say. We do know U.S. consumers were back in the hunt or Leafs in May, when Nissan sold 2,104 units, its best total of the year. Even still, Leaf will have to continue its momentum throughout the year to match its total of last year. Through the first five months, sales are down 25%, year over year.

Source for sales stats: InsideEVs