By Mike Ramsey

General Motors Co.
Chevrolet Volt

DETROIT – In the early months of sales of General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf electric car, an interesting horserace analysis ensued over which company would truly live up to the hype.

No longer. GM’s Volt is averaging around 1,700 sales a month and has 8,817 at the halfway point of 2012. The Leaf has 3,148 in the same period, topping out at just over 500 a month on average – below its 2011 total. As recently as a few weeks ago, a Nissan executive said the company still expects to sell 20,000 Leafs this year. That will take a fairly major surge in the second half.

While there aren’t many models to compare against one another, it appears the plug-in hybrid models are getting more traction than the pure electrics, albeit at still low volumes.

GM is getting a boost this year in Volt sales from California, where the car is now certified to allow drivers to access the “high-occupancy vehicle” lane even with a lone driver. It didn’t initially have that designation. California accounts for one in 10 of all auto sales and an even higher percentage of sales of alternative energy vehicles.

“Certainly having a Volt that is eligible for HOV lanes in California is a huge win for us and about 1 in 5 Volt sales are in California,” said Jim Cain, a GM spokesman.

Other pure electrics in the field besides the Leaf include the Mitsubishi i electric vehicle which has sold 333 vehicles this year. Ford’s Focus electric is on sale now in three states, though the company hasn’t released separate numbers for it. BMW AG has leased out about 400 ActiveE electrics, which are based on 1-series coupes, and plans to lease 700 in total.

Tesla Motors Inc. just started selling its long-awaited Model S in June and has promised to build 5,000 this year and to sell 20,000 next year. Late this year, Toyota Motor Corp. will start selling the RAV4 electric, which uses Tesla’s batteries and drive train. Late this year, Honda Motor Co. also will lease a Honda Fit EV in a few states.

Ford will jump into the plug-in hybrid game later this year. First it will begin selling the C-Max Energi, a plug-in version of its hybrid wagon, late this year. And production will start on the Fusion plug-in hybrid electric by year end.

By Mike Ramsey