The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt are arguably the market darlings for vehicles powered primarily by electricity (Leaf is all electric; Volt has electric motors with gasoline power as an augment). While not expected to be volume vehicles in the early years, each is important to the market overall and to their parent brands.
To assess their success to date, Compete quantified each model’s in-market shopper volume over time. As each also serves as a halo vehicle for their parent brand, we also assessed the share of total Nissan and Chevrolet shoppers that shopped Leaf and Volt, and surveyed consumers on the extent to which they correctly associate the names “Leaf” and “Volt” with the parent brand.
Shoppers Plugging In
To date Volt has had more shoppers, with a peak near 40,000 in January. Recognizing that January often has elevated shopper volumes market-wide, Volt’s 36,400 shoppers in November and 35,500 in May be more impressive. Leaf has had fewer shoppers but has had steady, more linear growth, with peak shopper volumes to date at 14,700 in May. Of note, neither got a particular boost from gas prices, which increased sharply in March (up 11% m-o-m). Prius did get a boost with over 60,000 shoppers in April. Recall that stock shortages do not impact shopping (though they may limit the ability to turn shoppers into buyers).
Halo One: Vehicle Impacts on Brand Shoppers
For the first part of assessing the halo effect, Compete documented the extent to which Chevrolet shoppers in aggregate are shopping Volt and the same for Nissan and Leaf. Volt’s highest penetration of Chevrolet shoppers was in May, when 7.3% of Chevrolet shoppers shopped Volt. Leaf’s share of Nissan shoppers peaked in April 2011 at 4.6%; May held nearly steady at 4.5%. A higher share may increase the potential to convert Volt and Leaf shoppers into buyers of other Chevrolet/Nissan models in the showroom (important given Volt and Leaf supplies are tight).
Halo Two: Building Brand Awareness
Volt and Leaf are important as brand-building tools by demonstrating the ability of a brand to bring cutting-edge technology to market. That works best of course if consumers know that Leaf and Volt are built by Nissan and Chevrolet, respectively. Volt is also ahead on that measure: nearly half of all respondents associated Volt with Chevrolet vs. 17% that associated Leaf with Nissan (respondents could choose from any brand). Nearly 70% did not know the Leaf parent brand, but at least they did not associate it with a rival brand.
Leaf and Volt have followed two distinct patterns in shopper volumes: Volt’s has been more erratic and Leaf’s more linear. However, both are trending up in terms of shopper volumes and brand penetration, and consumers are starting to equate the model names with their parent brands.
Given the spark that Nissan and Chevrolet have created, logical next steps in this research include:
- How successful have Nissan and Chevrolet been in converting shoppers into buyers, including vehicles other than Leaf and Volt?
- Based on shopper volumes, how many Volts and Leafs could have been sold if supply was not a constraint?
- What drove the lack of bump in shopper interest in March (as gas prices increased sharply)? Are electrics still more eco-centric or a technological novelty than a way to combat higher fuel prices?
- How much is vehicle price (sticker and after government support) a factor in shopping/consideration?
- How will shopper volume and brand attribution track over time? Will they reach Prius’ sustained heights or fall short?
- How will the expanded Prius line and Ford C-Max electrics change the dynamics?
Lincoln Merrihew is the Senior Vice President of Transportation at Millward Brown Digital. At Millward Brown Digital, Lincoln is responsible for steering the Transportation Team, which encompasses the automotive and travel practices. Before Lincoln joined the Millward Brown Digital team, he worked at TNS Custom leading the Automotive team, and then continued on there to lead business development for 10 different industry verticals. Lincoln's career aspiration is to create game-changing solutions and insights. Connect with Lincoln on LinkedIn.