With the high gas prices we are facing today, the popularity of the fuel-efficient car is seeing its inevitable increase. Two of the fiercer competitors of this type of car are the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, both released within days of each other in December 2010. Although the Volt was more substantially advertised and thus greatly anticipated, the Leaf (according to the sales numbers), is dominating. In 2011, Nissan sold 9,674 Leafs compared with 7,671 Chevy Volts. We can only hypothesize as to why this may be the case.

Consumer values of course play a key role in this. Customers have to like what they are buying and according to the Detroit Free Press, people in the fuel economy market are looking to reduce dependence on foreign oil. The all-electric Leaf fully accomplishes this with a 100-mile limit per charge. The half-fuel half-electric Volt can travel only 25-30 miles on electricity alone and then must rely on gasoline.  The Volt’s complexity has an additional downside, a higher price: without federal or state tax credits that apply to both vehicles equally, the 2012 Chevy Volt has a sticker price of $39,995, while the 2011 Leaf has a sticker price of $33,630. Aside from the price and fuel costs, the Leaf fits the standard five people, while the Volt, due to the battery pack consuming the space in-between the two back seats, holds only four passengers.

The production rates of each car also contribute to their sales numbers, as the faster the cars are produced and shipped to dealerships, the sooner they can be sold. Neither Nissan nor Chevrolet has proved particularly successful in meeting production targets, but recent issues have been especially acute for Chevy, even with the tragic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan and affected Nissan.  Extensive retooling at the Detroit plant where the Volt is made has drastically reduced the Volts available for sale.

Looking forward, both companies are planning to dramatically increase their production, but the targets for the Leaf are more ambitious. Autobloggreen tells us that Chevrolet claimed in October of 2010 that they aimed to mass-produce 10,000 or 15,000 cars in 2011, and 60,000 in 2012. The Nissan Leaf also had a goal of 50,000 cars produced for 2011, but by June, the company realized it wasn’t going to reach it.  However, both Nissan and Chevrolet are on the road to recovery. By January 2012 Chevrolet plans to reach their original goal of 5,000 cars produced monthly, and Nissan plans to have their new factory in Smyrna, TN rolling out up to 150,000 Leafs annually by late 2012. As a result, in seems that in the next few years the Leaf will be producing (and potentially selling) more than the Volt.

However, the Volt may begin to catch up with the Leaf. Looking at social media could be a good leading indicator. Back in July 2010, the Leaf also had more than 54,000 fans on Facebook, more that the Volt’s 24,000. The 2:1 ratio continued through the summer of 2011. However, while about 145,000 like the Leaf, roughly 155,000 like the Volt.

But for now, the Leaf seems to be winning the battle of the electrified vehicles.

This post was written by Yvette Loch, who interned at the Baker Institute Energy Forum and is a student at Awty International School.