General Motors, the largest auto manufacturer in the U.S., just reported the best sales month ever for its electric car, the Volt. In August, GM sold 2,800 Volts, beating its previous record of 2,289 vehicles sold in March.
Nissan also reported record sales of its all-electric model, the Leaf. In August, the company sold 685 units in the U.S. market — a much smaller number than GM, but a record for Nissan.
The EV market is still a very small part of overall auto sales in the U.S. However, the surge in sales marks a significant consumer shift toward purchasing smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
U.S. Automobile sales in August increased by nearly 15 percent over last year, even with gas prices rising at the end of the month to $3.80 a gallon. The New York Times highlighted the trends driving strong vehicle sales:
“Although trucks had a solid month, the small-car performance is what’s most impressive about G.M.’s numbers today,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with the automotive research site Edmunds.com.
The Ford Motor Company said its August sales increased 12.6 percent, to 196,000 vehicles. It reported its biggest gains in the Focus compact car and the new Escape, its smallest sport utility vehicle.
Focus sales were up 35 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, and Escape sales rose 36 percent.
“As fuel prices rose again during August, we saw growing numbers of people gravitate toward our fuel-efficient vehicles,” said Ken Czubay, Ford’s head of United States sales and marketing.
An executive from Chrysler called the U.S. auto market “incredibly resilient” due to the surge in demand for fuel-sipping cars. Chrysler saw a 14.1 percent increase in vehicle sales, partly due to its new compact sedan, the Dodge Dart.
Last month, the White House finalized new fuel standards that will boost the efficiency of the nation’s automobile fleet to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Those standards could reduce oil consumption by 12 billion barrels by that date, thus saving consumers roughly $1.7 trillion in fuel costs. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that those fuel standards could reduce save Americans $68 billion each year after 2030.
According to a 2011 national poll from the Consumer Federation of America, three quarters of consumers in the U.S. said they supported an increase in fuel standards, with 65 percent saying they would support targets of 60 miles per gallon by 2025.
In May, the Congressional Budget Office issued a report concluding that the only way to protect consumers from oil price shocks is to use less petroleum — not more drilling: “Policies that reduced the use of oil and its products would create an incentive for consumers to use less oil or make decisions that reduced their exposure to higher oil prices in the future, such as purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles or living closer to work.”