GM, Daimler amp up US electric car price war

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 2:33pm

General Motors and Daimler have amped up the electric-car price war, announcing significant price cuts aimed at boosting demand in a still-sluggish segment of the US auto market.

GM slashed US$5,000 from the price of its next year Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, while Daimler announced a steeply discounted monthly lease price of US$139 on its this year Smart Fortwo Electric Drive.

Plug-in vehicles such as the petrol-electric Volt and the pure-electric Fortwo ED have encountered stiff resistance from US consumers, in part because of their higher prices and lack of a nationwide battery charging network.

US sales of plug-in electric and petrol-electric vehicles through July totaled only 48,889, according to research firm Autodata. That represents just 0.5 per cent of total US vehicle sales of 9.1 million in the first seven months of this year.

The US$5,000 cut for the next year Volt will lower the price to US$34,995, including delivery fees but before federal tax credits.

Smart is offering US dealers a US$2,000 wholesale rebate on this year’s Fortwo ED model, effectively lowering the retail price to US$23,750. Customers also can opt to lease the tiny battery-powered two-seater for US$139 a month for 36 months, with US$1,995 down, a 30 per cent discount from the previous monthly lease rate of US$199.

Smart has delivered only 173 Fortwo EDs to US customers this year. The brand began offering an upgraded electric motor and battery pack in May and will start selling next year models in October. A redesigned Fortwo ED is expected for the 2015 model year.

Even before the latest price cut, the Volt has been one of the best-selling plug-in vehicles, with 11,643 US sales through July.

That is roughly the same number as the battery-powered Nissan Leaf, which has benefited from a hefty US$6,000 price cut in January. Including shipping, the this-year Leaf retails for US$29,650.

Both the Volt and the Leaf, however, have been outsold by the pricy Tesla Model S, which starts at nearly US$71,000 and accounted for one-quarter of all US plug-in sales through July with 12,200.

Other electric-car competitors have also followed Nissan’s lead with steep discounts.

In May, Honda Motor slashed the lease price of its Fit EV subcompact by one-third, to US$259 a month. In July, Ford Motor reduced the price of its next-year Focus Electric compact by 10 per cent, to US$35,995.

GM previously had cut the price of the this-year Volt by US$5,000 to help boost demand. In late May, it launched an electric version of the Chevy Spark subcompact with a lower-than-expected starting price of US$27,495 and is offering discounted leases on both cars.

The Volt price cut is another step in GM’s effort to seize the mantle of “greenest automaker in the world” from Toyota, which makes the popular Prius hybrid car. Toyota also sells a plug-in version of the Prius.

GM did not quantify the cost savings for the next year Volt, but has said the next version, due in 2015 or 2016, will cost US$7,000 to US$10,000 less. The next year models will begin arriving at US dealers later this month.

GM is aiming by 2017 to build up to 500,000 vehicles a year with some form of electric power. The vehicles would include the Volt, the Spark EV and those with its eAssist system that boosts fuel efficiency in gas-powered cars.

GM will begin building the Cadillac ELR plug-in electric coupe late this year.