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Prius owners are trading into electric vehicles

October 19, 2011 |  9:13 am

Chevrolet Volt. The most traded-in car for the Volt is the Toyota Prius.
One reason why auto companies are rolling out comparatively low-volume electric cars is to get buyers into showrooms they might have otherwise ignored.

The strategy appears to be working for Chevrolet, which makes the Volt plug-in hybrid sedan and Nissan, manufacturer of the all-electric Leaf.

Through the first nine months of this year, Chevrolet has sold about 3,895 Volts and Nissan has sold about 7,199 Leafs, according to Autodata Corp.

“The true value of these launches is the buzz, the conversation on social media and total media attention,” said Barbara Keys, a consultant with auto information company R.L. Polk & Co., which has examined who is buying the cars.

Through the first half of this year, about 78% of Volt buyers didn't own a Chevrolet at the time of the purchase, Keys said. 

That means that the Volt is bringing customers of other brands at almost twice the rate of the rest of Chevrolet, where about 43% of buyers are so-called “conquests.”

General Motors, which owns the Chevrolet brand, has provided some more interesting Volt data for sales so far this year.  About 37% of Volt buyers are California residents.  And the most frequent car traded in for a Volt is the Toyota Prius hybrid.  It is the car traded in 7% of all Volt sales. 

German cars also were comparatively frequent trade-ins.  The BMW 3 Series, the Audi A4 and the Volkswagen Jetta were traded in for a combined 6% of Volt sales, GM said.

The Leaf has a similar trend line for conquests, according to Polk.  About 90% of Leaf buyers didn't own a Nissan previously.  That’s much better than Nissan's average conquest rate of 52%.

Nissan says that 18% of the customers purchasing a Leaf are trading in a Prius.  And 38% of Leaf buyers are trading in a Prius or another Toyota.

Keys looked into whether both Chevrolet’s and Nissan’s ability to attract customers is a result of their respective EVs being new models. She looked at the Chevrolet Cruze and Nissan Juke, which also are new models. They had conquest rates of 48% and 65%, respectively.

Speaking of the Volt and the Leaf, Keys said, “These two high-profile launches have been successful in bringing new customers to the brand, and that may have long-term benefits in terms of make loyalty and customer retention.”

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-- Jerry Hirsch

Twitter.com/LATimesJerry

Photo: Autoworkers work on a Chevrolet Volt at the General Motors plant in Hamtramck, Mich. Credit: Associated Press.

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