Green Update–>The Volt vs. the Leaf: No Contest

Volt vs. Leaf

It’s being billed as a big battle: The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf will soon appear as the first mass-produced EVs the U.S. has seen in many years. The real battlefield will be in marketing, not in showrooms, and I can’t predict who will sell the most cars, because each appeals to a different market segment with different driving needs.

If you’re a short-commute driver, the all-electric Leaf with its 100-mile range could work for you. If you need more range, the Volt with its gas engine charger will give you up to 340 miles—and less “range anxiety” (a new concept in autodom).

The Leaf depends on charging stations; the Volt can recharge while underway and by plugging in. Both offer nearly the same lease package; both have 8-year/100,000-mile battery warranties; both are eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit; the Leaf costs $8,220 less. We compared the cars here.

But it’s the differences that are interesting.

In engineering, function, and appearance, they are very different cars.

Chevy Voly plug-in portNissan plans to sell 20,000 Leafs in its first sales year; Volt, 10,000, though Chevy says it will ramp up production. GM offers more clout with its lease, though the terms are almost the same ($350/month, 36 months, $2,500 down [$2,000 down for Nissan]). But GM’s acquisition of AmeriCredit will give it the edge in attracting the under-qualified, subprime buyer who is hot to trot in a new Volt.

That said, with lease mileage caps at 12,000 per year, why would you lease a car that encourages long-range driving—at a big extra cost in mileage charges? If you’re going to be driving less than 12,000 miles a year (the national average is far higher), Nissan offers the better deal.

The Leaf will roll out, starting in December, in Oregon, California, Arizona, and Tennessee—ultimately in ten warm-weather states. The Volt will go initially to California; Washington, DC; Michigan; Austin, Texas; New York; New Jersey; and Connecticut—starting late this year.

Marketing for the Leaf is aiming squarely at the “enviro crowd” typified by Prius owners. The Volt is obviously aimed at a wider, more affluent audience. Whether the price is too high has been a subject of much discussion.

And recently there have been reports that a “majority” of those Chevy dealers getting an allotment of Volts are marking them up from $10,000 to $20,000 over MSRP. GM has sent these guys “a strong message” to do the right thing.

With its further restrictions on banning out-of-state sales, one could conclude that GM’s marketing of the Volt, at least so far, is more than a trifle confused. And early adopters who really want a Volt but don’t live in one of the seven states will be kept waiting.

We’d like to know: Do you see an EV battle coming? If so, who’s going to win?

—jgoods

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