Leaf. Prius. Volt. Who Got Off To The Best Start?

What is the best selling electric car of all time? It depends upon who you ask. If you consider electric vehicles to include anything with an electric motor, such as hybrids, than the Toyota Prius smokes all others just based upon its history, though when you breakdown the math of early years of green car sales by model, a different picture looks to be painted. If you go however by the pure definition of an EV though, which is to say a vehicle propelled forward only by an electric engine not supported by any time of under the hood gasoline devices, than that title continues to go to Nissan and its Leaf.

Nissan said it recently celebrated a milestone in its continued dominance in the smaller electric car market, having passed 50,000 units sold since December 2010 when the vehicle debuted. By comparison, the Prius, as of November 2012, had cumulative global sales of over 2.8 million since its introduction in December 1997.

2013 Nissan Leaf (image via Nissan)

2013 Nissan Leaf (image via Nissan)

Comparing the two by yearly sales volume of early years on the market makes things a little interesting. Given the shorter history of the Leaf versus the Prius, one finds the latter in the same period of time – a little over two years, to be exact – actually selling less then the former, with estimated sales numbers from 1997 to early 2000 for Toyota’s hybrid hitting around 33,000 units or so.

Now, to be fair, several factors should be taken into this comparison. First, the perhaps shoddy math of this journalist. Second, the Leaf debuted much earlier to American buyers than the Prius did in terms of number of years on the market (the first American Prius model year was 2001). Finally, the viewpoint of green cars back in the mid to late 90s when Toyota kicked off its offering in Japan only are much different than compared to today.

Taking a look at GM Chevy Volt sales for the same period shows this other mainstream green car, from its introduction in mid-December 2010, globally is over 40,000 units sold. This includes sales of the Ampera, which is the European version of the Volt. 

So who is the winner here in this comparison of well known green car models? By just a side to side view, it is obviously the Leaf over the same numerical sales period against the others. In terms of historical precedent, one has to give the title to Toyota though for showing the way for other car manufacturers on how to make and successfully market for well over a decade a funky looking hybrid that somehow has wormed its way into many driveways around the world.

As for the Leaf, Nissan said owners of this car have now covered a total distance of more than 260 million km, or over 161 million miles. The highest mileage a Leaf globally has been driven is believed to be from a Japanese customer who has covered more than 175,000 km, or over 108,000 miles, in a car that has only been on sale for a little over two years.

I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.