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Nissan Leaf (Nissan)
Nissan Leaf (Nissan)

Driving It Home

Can you guess how many Canadians bought plug-in cars last month? Add to ...

Sales of the Nissan Leaf plug-in car soared 180 per cent in August. On the year, sales of the Leaf have nearly doubled.

Over at General Motors Canada, the Volt plug-in also had a relatively great month. Alas, the Toyota Prius plug-in did not fare quite as well, with a sales number so low I am sad even to mention it. But I will. Be patient.

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And Ford? Ford has made the biggest commitment to electrification of any major car maker, if your measure is the number of plug-in models for sale. Ford has three plug-in models in its lineup – the Fusion Energi, C-Max wagon and Focus EV. Together, these three tallied up August sales of 63 and year-to-date Ford has moved 231 plug-ins. For the record, the purest plug-in of the three, the Focus EV was the least popular in August; just seven were sold. What does that say about pure battery cars?

As you can see, Canadians are NOT stampeding to showrooms, desperate to buy plug-in battery cars. Governments may want them, but not real buyers.

Okay, I’ve teased you with Ford’s actual sales numbers, so here are the rest. Despite the big percentage increase in sales, Nissan Canada sold 56 Leafs in August and the year-to-date total is 346. GM Canada sold 84 Volts in August and 597 for the year-to-date through August. Toyota? Toyota Canada sold exactly 21 plug-in Prius hatchbacks in Canada last month. That’s one Prius plug-in for every four Volts sold.

So exactly 224 plug-in cars were sold in August by the four big players in Canada. That in an August when new light vehicle sales hit 159,004, a 6.5 year-on-year increase and an all-time record for any August. If you’re keeping score, the four big guns in plug-in cars accounted for 0.14 per cent of the new vehicle market.

The raw sales numbers in the United States look better, however. As Automotive News reports, sales of plug-in cars likely exceeded 10,000 vehicles for the month.

Many thought plug-in sales might be even stronger in August. After all, GM Canada tried to jolt Volt sales by zapping $5,150 off the price of the Chevrolet Volt. That pushed the price of a 2014 model to $36,850, versus $42,000 for the 2013 version. GM in the U.S. had already done something similar on pricing before its Canadian arm went for the cut. Add in taxpayer-funded incentives ranging from $5,000-$8,231 in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, and a new 2014 Volt in some places can be had for less than $29,000, plus fees and taxes.

As a sign of a plug-in price war, earlier in August, Nissan Canada lowered the sticker on a base 2013 Leaf S to $31,698 from $38,395 in 2012 – plus the company was offering a $1,500 factory incentive. And Leaf buyers get that taxpayer subsidy, too. The aspiring Leaf buyer in August could have driven one home for something in the low-$20,000s plus fees and taxes. That is if home was within range of a battery charge – realistically, about 100 km or less and this buyer had time to wait for a re-charge.

What’s obvious here is that the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of buyers don’t see a plug-in car as a practical and affordable option. Car companies make them and sell them because, as Automotive News said this week, they are “under pressure from regulators to sell more electric cars for the benefit of the climate.”

Even though the sales numbers remain dismal, car companies plan to add more plug-in cars to their fleets. Lots and lots of them. Someday plug-ins may even account for one tenth of one per cent of new vehicle sales in Canada, month after month.

Someday. But not until prices come down dramatically and battery technology makes a moonshot-equivalent leap ahead so that a plug-in car – an affordable one, not a Tesla – has the single-charge range of your typical $14,000 gas-powered runabout.

Correction: Plug-in vehicles accounted for 0.14% of new vehicles sold in August, not 0.001, as stated earlier.

Please send your automotive buying, maintenance and repair questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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