Chevy Volt Buyers Trading In Toyota Prius

By · May 29, 2012

Chevy Volt at dealership

Del Grande Dealer Group President Shaun Del Grande is seeing new customers who are trading in Toyota Prius and Honda Civic models to purchase a Volt at his dealership in San Jose, Calif.

Nearly two-thirds of Chevrolet Volt buyers traded in non-General Motors vehicles when purchasing their Chevy plug-in hybrid, according to GM. In the automotive world, this phenomenon is often referred to as conquest sales—and it’s one of the key intangible benefits gained by early makers of plug-in electric vehicles. Nearly as soon as the Volt and LEAF were announced, executives from GM and Nissan were talking about how their plug-ins would earn new customers to the brand.

Chevy Volt sales data reveals that the most traded-in vehicles include the Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Honda Civic and BMW 3-Series. "I owned a Prius for six years and loved it. I was one of the first to sign-up for the [Prius] plug-in," said Steve Glenn of Santa Monica, Calif.. "While I was waiting for it to ship, I learned that the Volt would qualify for the HOV stickers, so I did a test drive. I fell in love then. I've driven it over 1,000 miles and I've only used five gallons of gas."

GM also attributes some of the sales success of its gas-powered Cruze to the Volt. According to the company, many web users who search for information on the Volt also research the Cruze. “Nearly seven in 10 Volt buyers are new to Chevrolet,” said Volt marketing manager Cristi Landy. “With new customers coming to the brand because of the Volt, our dealers have a great opportunity to establish lasting relationships and introduce them to our entire Chevrolet product line up.”

More than a year ago, Al Castignetti, Nissan vice president and general manager of the Nissan Division in North America, said that more than half of the 130,000 "hand raisers" who signed up for LEAF information were current Toyota Prius owners looking go even greener. Castignetti predicted that many Prius owners will trade up to an all-electric LEAF. "That's a pretty significant signal to us. It tells us that there is a segment of eco-friendly consumers who are interested in going to the next level,” Castignetti said. “They own a hybrid vehicle. But if the next step is available, they want to take it."

The big question is how much Nissan and Chevy will continue to conquest Prius’s customer base now that the Prius Plug-in Hybrid is available. Executives from both Nissan and Chevy recently told me that April’s 1,654 sales of the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid undermined sales of Volt and LEAF. The relatively low cost of the PIP, and the loyalty of many Toyota Prius owners, make it a compelling choice for drivers wanting to drive solo in California’s carpool lane. All three vehicles are now granted access to the state’s HOV lanes, even when the driver is the solo occupant.

There will obviously be some cross-shopping between different plug-in vehicles. But sales numbers for Volt, LEAF and Plug-in Prius don’t tell the full story. Judging from the high number of conquest sales, the benefits of jumping in front of the competition in the plug-in market has all kinds of hard-to-measure benefits. Toyota has earned the reputation as a green brand by virtue of its 15-year commitment to hybrids. It will be fascinating to see how much GM and Nissan can chip away at Toyota’s leadership role with their own long-term commitment to vehicles that are even greener and cleaner than hybrids.

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