General Motors came out ahead of Nissan in the rechargable car race this month, an ongoing showdown driven by falling lease prices and piqued consumer interest in the alternative fuel market.
While June auto sales looked promising across the board for the auto industry, figures in the electric car sector were especially encouraging for plug-in proponents.
Nissan said it sold 2,225 of its Leaf electric cars, making June the second-highest month ever, up over 315% compared to the same month last year. In the first half of the year alone, Leaf sales have already surpassed those for all of 2012. Nissan reported a 12.9% increase in total U.S. sales, hitting a June record with 104,124 cars sold.
GM sold 2,698 of its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrids in June. That marks a 53% gain over June 2012, when GM sold 1,760 units. The automaker said it sold 9,855 Volts in the first half of the year, up nearly 12% over the same period last year.
Tesla Motors reported sales of 1,425 Model S electric sedans and 8,931 for the first half of the year. That leaves the luxury carmaker a bit shy of the pace it needs to nail down projected sales of around 20,000 by year's end.
"Momentum continues to build for Tesla," said Thilo Koslowski, an automotive analyst for tech advisory company Gartner. "They've had a lot of announcements in the last several weeks, and that might be the final push for consumers on the fence."
A leasing price war might be responsible for Nissan and GM's higher sales. Nissan recently dropped its price to $199 a month after slow sales for the last two years, which GM said it would match with its Spark EV. California consumers benefit not only from competition broiling between automakers that appears to be driving prices down, but also the $2,500 state rebate.
Koslowski said the lease war was a big part of June's surge. "At the end of the day, people are still buying for the financial benefit they can get out of electric cars," Koslowski said. "When you offer an attractive purchase price plus what they save at the pump, you make that equation easier for consumers."
Koslowski said EV automakers and advocates would be wise to hedge their enthusiasm with this month's sales. "I would be cautious not to draw the conclusion that electric vehicles have found a firm place in consumers' hearts," he said. "We're just not quite there yet."
Overall, automakers report strong sales in June, helped by rising consumer confidence and a rebounding construction industry that was hungry for trucks.
Automakers sold about 1.4 million vehicles last month, a 9% gain from the same period a year earlier. The brisk sales amounted to an annualized pace of about 16 million, a threshold not seen since 2007.
[For the Record, 8:51 a.m. PDT July 1: An earlier version of this post stated that June was the first month the Chevrolet Volt outsold the Nissan Leaf. The Volt had previously outsold the Leaf.]