Early buyers of both the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf often traded in a Toyota Prius. They're fans of solar power. Most of them are men.
When they're asked why they bought their car, the top answer is the same for both cars' customers: less dependence on foreign oil. But after that, the difference appears: Volt customers love being able to use gasoline for longer trips via their car's onboard generator, which takes over after about 35 miles. Leaf customers are thrilled that they won't put gas in their pure-electric cars — ever.
The two mind-sets are showing up in General Motors' and Nissan's marketing choices: GM has chosen to label the Volt as "more car than electric." Nissan says its car is "100 percent electric, zero-gas" in a commercial that shows a world burdened by its dependence on gas, complete with an office worker gloomily putting fuel into his Chevrolet Volt.
The Leaf passed the Volt last month in U.S. sales, as the Volt's Detroit-Hamtramck plant shut down for four weeks of updates ahead of increased Volt production later this year. But both Nissan and GM believe their approaches will result in mass-market sales.
Nissan has said its Smyrna, Tenn., plant will be able to build 150,000 Leafs annually after production of the electric car starts there next year. GM has officially said its Detroit-Hamtramck plant will build 60,000 Volts next year, but CEO Dan Akerson has said he hopes GM eventually will build more than 100,000 a year.
|Nissan Leaf||Chevrolet Volt|
|U.S. sales (since December 2010 launch)|
|Base price (excluding delivery, tax credits):|
|2011 model, from $32,780 (from $35,200 for 2012)||2011 model, from $40,286 (from $39,995 for 2012)|
|U.S. production capacity (annually)|
|150,000. Currently imported from Japan. Production begins in late 2012 in Smyrna, Tenn. The plant will be able to build 150,000 annually.||Possibly 100,000-plus. Production began last fall in Detroit-Hamtramck. GM plans to build 16,000 Volts this year, with some badged as the European Opel Ampera, and 60,000 next year. CEO Dan Akerson has said GM may eventually build more than 100,000 a year.|
|Sales available in full U.S. next year.||Sales available in full U.S. by November.|
|A majority male, but not as high as the Volt, said Mark Perry, Nissan North America's director of advanced planning and strategy.||90 percent male.|
|Top reasons people say they buy|
|1. Reduce dependence on foreign oil. 2. No gas — ever.||1. Reduce dependence on foreign oil. 2. Onboard generator/American-made (tie).|
|What they used to drive|
|90 percent are non-Nissan drivers. Of those, top model replaced is Toyota Prius hybrid.||86 percent replaced a non-GM vehicle. Of those, top model replaced is Toyota Prius hybrid. A third of early buyers had never been in a Chevy dealership before, said Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for the Volt.|
|About 30 percent of buyers have solar panel access at home. Nissan has broken ground on solar-powered charging stations at Smyrna plant and at its North American headquarters in Franklin, Tenn.||Nearly a third of buyers have solar power at home or are interested in getting it, Posawatz said. GM has solar-powered charging stations at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant, with more than 100 dealers to follow suit by year's end, Posawatz said.|