General Motors Co. and Nissan made good in 2010 on their promise to bring mass-produced electric cars to the market. But don't count on seeing one in traffic soon. Sales so far have been microscopic and they're likely to stay that way for some time because of limited supplies.
GM sold between 250 and 350 Chevy Volts last month and Nissan's sales totaled less than 10 Leaf sedans in the past two weeks. Production for both is slowly ramping up.
It will be well into 2012 before both the Volt and Leaf are available nationwide. And if you're interested in buying one, you'll need to get behind the 50,000 people already on waiting lists.
It's still unclear just how large the market for electric cars will be once those early adopters are supplied. The base sticker price is $40,280 for the Volt and $32,780 for the Leaf, much higher than most similar-sized, gas-powered cars. If those prices rise, it could make them even more of a niche product than predicted. Buyers also are worried that advertised lease deals may not last, and a federal tax rebate of $7,500 could disappear if Congress decides battery-powered cars are no longer a priority.
The first electric car sales were marked with fanfare. The envy of green-car geeks across the country, new owners were treated like rock stars at dealerships. They were greeted by high-level GM and Nissan executives, followed by cameramen and interviewed by local reporters. When they got home, they blogged about their experiences and sent links of newspaper stories to their friends.
Japan-based Nissan initially sent only 10 Leafs to the U.S. and spokesman David Reuter said a second shipment of around 90 cars that arrived by cargo ship on Dec. 23 is on the way to dealers.
The Volts are being assembled in Detroit. GM predicts it will sell 10,000 of them in 2011 and between 35,000 and 45,000 in 2012. By way of comparison, Chevrolet sold 187,250 Malibu sedans in the first 11 months of the year with sticker prices that start at $21,975.
Hybrids made up 2.4 percent of U.S. sales this year and the category that includes hybrids and electric cars is expected to double to 4.8 percent by 2013, according to consumer website Edmunds.com. But electric vehicles likely will be only a small part of this total, said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Edmunds, and she doubts they will be big money makers for the car companies.