February sales for the Chevrolet Volt placed the extended-range electric car as the tenth best selling alternative-energy vehicle in North America out of a field of at least 55 “green” vehicles offered by all major manufacturers.

The Volt reached this number despite extremely overblown negative media coverage including from a raft of critics willfully misrepresenting facts, and having started with limited production from its launch a little more than a year ago in December 2010.

Since the Volt’s introduction, many have compared it to vehicles in the established internal combustion market, or against another perceived rival, the Nissan Leaf, which was launched around the same time.


But perhaps people ought to evaluate the Volt’s market acceptance against the entire alternative-energy category to which it arguably belongs.

Production-based alternative-energy passenger vehicles include battery electric, some form of hybrid, clean diesel, and natural gas. Of these types, the HybridCars.com monthly “Dashboard” tracks all except natural gas vehicles at this juncture, which represent a yet-limited market.

Slicing the numbers

The top-selling alternative-energy vehicle in the U.S. is the Toyota Prius which has a decade-long head start and has now secured raving fans for its efficient design introduced to an initially micro-sized market. It was a big fish in a small green car pond, and still exceeds all other swimmers by a large margin in the deepening and widening alt-energy gene pool.

Toyota now lumps the regular Prius (Liftback) in with its other family members, so the Prius v (approximately 4,400 units sold) has inflated reported numbers and soon enough the plug-in version and the smaller c variant will further.

Total Prius sales last month of 20,579 (an estimated 16,200 were Liftbacks) dwarfs the third-in-line Camry Hybrid’s 3,750 units sold, and 3,465 sales of the fourth highest-selling alternative-fuel car, the VW Jetta diesel, and fifth highest selling Lexus CT 200h hybrid, of which 2,259 units were delivered.

Aside from these top-six best-selling alternative-energy vehicles ("Prius" actually counts as two cars), all other alternative vehicles sold last month in numbers no higher than one-thousand-something.

Put in that light, the Volt’s 1,023 units sold do not appear so bad against the 1,568 units sold of the Hyundai Sonata hybrid, or 669 units sold of the long-established VW Golf diesel, or the 773 units sold of the long-established Honda Insight hybrid, and so on ...


The Volt ranked number one among all plug-in vehicles last month. If it were measured against the hybrid list (see below), the Volt would place eighth, just behind the Ford Fusion hybrid, which sold 1,110 units.

It would also place ahead of 28 other hybrids, some of which get by month-after-month with sales of negligible significance to their major manufacturer's bottom line.

For comparison, let's throw out some random examples of numbers of units sold in February from the hybrid list: Civic: 741 units; Ford Escape: 434 units, Buick Regal: 137 units, Porsche Cayenne: 137, Cadillac Escalade: 57, GMC Yukon: 46, Mercedes S400HV: 28, Nissan Altima: 22, Lexus GS450h: 20, GMC Sierra: 12.

Or how does the Volt’s 1,023 units sold stack up against clean diesel sales? Its numbers would make it third-best selling behind the class king Jetta, which sold 3,465, and Passat, which sold 1,948. The Volt outsold the other dozen diesels (see below) by a wide margin.

Of course the Volt is an extended-range electric car, and not in the same specific category as these vehicles, but it is in their general category: "Green cars" represent attempts by major automakers to create alternatives to vehicles that strictly consume gasoline.

Among electric vehicles, in which the Volt is more directly fitting, its sales of 1,023 units were up 69.7 percent over January, compared to the next-in-line Nissan Leaf, which was down 29.3 percent with 478 units sold. Third in line is the limited-availability BMW Active-E which delivered 115 units, then comes the Mistubishi i at 44 units, then Smart ED at 2 units.

Clean-energy vehicles' 'take rate'

The slice of the total U.S. vehicle market pie – the "take rate" – for all clean energy vehicles on the HybridCars.com dashboard is still yet small. As a sales category compared to all North American models, in February, hybrids took a 3.16 percent share. Plug-in cars including the Volt took only 0.15 percent of the passenger vehicle pie. Clean diesels, a limited market compared to Europe, took 0.79 percent of sales next to the entire North American passenger vehicle market.

Another big picture perspective

February sales of all passenger vehicles increased by 25.9 percent compared to January. In contrast, the hybrid segment increased in February by 66.3 percent over January, the plug-in market increased by just 16.4 percent, and the clean diesel market increased by 19.7 percent.

As a category, in light of gasoline prices edging upwards, and improved availability, hybrids increased the most percentage-wise, and exceeded February’s 25.9-percent increase of all passenger vehicles by around two and a half times. Sales of over 36,000 hybrids last month represented the highest for the hybrid category since March 2011, which saw around 35,000 hybrid sales.

That said, the class to watch is plug-ins, which started out slowly and in calendar year 2011 increased by 292 percent from their next-to-nothing beginning compared to the 13.8 percent rate of growth for the total vehicle passenger market.

About that Volt

The Volt has shown a few times now it can sell in the thousand-plus range, and is expected to crest higher from here.

Some Volt observers have grown weary of what have been presented as negative reports about its market acceptance. Given that it is yet-new, and had to weather a media storm and limited availability out of the gate, it is doing alright against other alternative-energy vehicles.


We will readily agree the numbers could be sliced in other ways, and while only hitting some of the highlights, we think the picture of the Volt's ranking they present is accurate.

Of course, more alternative vehicles are on their way, which will further mix into this widening assortment of different ways to wean the world away from gasoline dependence and reduce emissions.

Among them, electric vehicles have been said to promise energy independence more dramatically than hybrids or diesels, which need petroleum to operate. The Volt is electric with gasoline generator backup, and can run solely on electric power from a low of maybe 25 miles up to 55 miles, with the EPA saying 35 miles is the average on its test cycle.

According to GM's OnStar data, many Volts are going up to 1,000 miles between gasoline fill ups. Beyond this, there are many who boast of using no more than a fraction of their Volt's fuel tank capacity after several month's driving.

While its mileage numbers are revealing, its sales numbers indicate the Volt sold within the upper 18 percent among North American clean-energy vehicles. Maybe that’s why GM executives say they are not all that worried, no matter how the media mills spins the story in other ways.