If there was ever a sign that the American car-buying public was sick of the Chevrolet Volt, it’s this: In April, Chevy sold just 905 examples of its plug-in hybrid model nationwide. To put a finer point on it, it was outsold by the Spark EV, a model that is only available in California and Oregon (it will also be offered in Maryland later this year).
The Chevy Volt, once billed as General Motors’ “moonshot,” is now a lame duck. In its final months on sale (before it’s replaced by the next-generation Volt), the car has remained largely unchanged since its introduction in 2010, and it shows. As the first plug-in hybrid on the market, it offered a 35-mile electric range and became the flagship car for the new post-bankruptcy GM. But five years is an eternity in the Hybrid/EV marketplace, and as the competition and technology have evolved, the first-generation Volt has felt older by the day.
The car was never the sales success GM hoped it would be. In five model years, Chevy has managed to sell just more than 76,ooo of the hybrids. In comparison, Chevy has sold over 81,000 of its Cruze model (with which the Volt shares its platform) in 2015 alone. But changes will be coming very soon to the company’s entire Hybrid/EV line, and the Spark EV’s shellacking of the Volt at dealerships could be a sign of better days ahead for Chevy’s greenest models.
Despite the Spark EV’s limited availability, Chevy is aggressively trying to increase its stake in the growing EV market. In April, the company slashed the Spark EV’s price by $1,500, bringing it down to $25,995, with leases offered for as low as $139 per month. After GM’s “Bonus Cash” discounts, the $7,500 federal tax credit, and state-offered credits (California offers $2,500, Maryland will offer $2,300), the price can drop as low as $14,995 — making it the biggest bargain in the EV market.
Almost immediately, Chevy’s gamble has payed off in a big way. By the end of the month, 920 Spark EVs had found new homes. Chevy only managed to sell 1,146 of its subcompact EV in all of 2014, so April’s numbers are an important sign that buyers are beginning to see Chevy as a viable maker of green cars.
As demand for the the Spark EV spikes, it signals that more car buyers are willing to opt for greener cars if they’re styled and priced competitively. Before the Spark EV’s price dropped, the Mitsubishi MiEV was the cheapest available EV in the U.S., and could be had after tax credits for $15,495.
But an anemic range and cartoonish styling haven’t done many favors for the often-overlooked MiEV. While most automakers earlier attempts at hybrid or electric versions of gasoline-powered cars often came at a premium, The Spark EV’s price falls comfortably within the gasoline-powered $13,000 to $18,000 Spark’s price range, and offers all the comforts of the conventionally powered model.
This real-world usability should also play well for the next-generation Volt when it hits showrooms later this year. While the 2011 Volt was hamstrung by its $41,000 base price (before tax credits), the new model will start at $33,995. After federal and state credits, the car should be available for around $25,000. Even as the plug-in hybrid market continues to grow, with its competitive price, the attractive new Volt could finally become the Prius fighter Chevy always wanted it to be.
There is a world of difference between the outgoing Volt and the Spark EV, and environmentally conscious shoppers can tell. In just five years, the Volt’s once world-class plug-in technology and range have become overshadowed by cheaper and more competitive models. The all-electric Spark’s 82-mile range puts it within striking distance of the best-selling Nissan Leaf’s 84 miles per charge, and with its bargain-basement price, the Chevy provides a pretty compelling alternative.
To better compete with the upmarket BMW i3, and upcoming Tesla Model 3, Chevy’s 2016 Bolt will be the first purpose-built electric production car in the company’s history. The Spark EV’s sales spike may look embarrassing for the outgoing Volt, but with a rapidly expanding Hybrid/EV lineup, its a sign that the future looks greener than ever for Chevy.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that The Spark EV was already available in Maryland. It will launch there in the third quarter of 2015.
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