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Empire Lakewood Nissan dealer principal Chris Lenckosz, right, and sales consultant Brian Deason, center, meet with customer Ben Stopnitzky in the showroom next to one of Nissan's electric cars, the Nissan Leaf SV Plus on April 8, 2021, in Lakewood. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado car buyers continued their steady push for fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electrics in the first quarter of 2022, though overall sales are down from lack of supply and spiking interest rates, a car dealers’ analysis said. 

Tesla sales were up 38% from the first quarter of 2021, leading the charge for Colorado’s combined EV and plug-in hybrid EV sales to hit 8.6% of total new vehicle registrations so far this year. That’s up sharply from 5.6% in the comparable period of 2021, as Colorado rules kick in pushing dealers to electrify transportation and cut state greenhouse gas emissions

Overall 2022 sales of light trucks, SUVs and cars in Colorado fell 10% from the year-ago period, to about 58,000. It was a significant drop, but not as bad as the nationwide decline of nearly 15% for the quarter, according to the analysis of registrations by the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association. 

“Lean supplies have pushed prices significantly upward and higher interest rates are boosting monthly payments,” according to the quarterly Colorado Auto Outlook. “Higher wages have helped, but monthly vehicle loan and lease costs as a percent of disposable income have moved higher during the past several months.” 

The portion of zero and low-emissions vehicles in Colorado new car sales continues to grow each quarter, though fossil fuels still dominate. (Source: Colorado Automobile Dealers and Experian)

CADA President Tim Jackson said, “Price increases, higher interest rates, lean supplies, and higher gas prices have put pressure on the overall market.” 

In more evidence of a dented marketplace for cars, the analysis said, market share for certain nameplates in Colorado shot up even though they didn’t have enticing new models or significant incentives. Manufacturers like Hyundai, Tesla, VW, Mazda and Ford gained sales in Colorado because cars were available, while usually popular competitors lost out simply because they didn’t deliver enough vehicles to lots. 

Colorado is on pace to sell about 242,000 light trucks and cars this year, down about 1,000 vehicles from 2021, the analysis projects. 

Colorado dealers would sell more if they could get them, Jackson said. “Right now, basically no vehicle models can be built and delivered fast enough.”

And Colorado has its own challenges, Jackson added — crime.

“With Colorado ranked highest in the nation in new car thefts and highest in catalytic converter thefts, we are in the most challenged time in producing new cars to replace those that are disabled or stolen,” he said.

In other highlights of the report: 

  • Pickups and SUVs continue to dominate the Colorado market, at 86.3% of the light vehicle market, with under 14% of sales going to cars. Wolf sightings are more common in Routt County these days than sedan sightings, with 97.8% of new vehicles registered in Routt being pickups or SUVs. 
  • Colorado’s low-emissions vehicle sales at 8.6% for the quarter are impressive, but still lag behind green-image competitors like Oregon, at 9.4% of the market; Hawaii, at 10%; Washington, at 10.7%, and thought-leader California at 17.8%.
  • Lags in pandemic and supply chain recovery put Colorado registrations in 2020 to 2022 at 92% of the pre-pandemic numbers, slightly above the recovery of the nation as a whole. Florida came out the best in vehicle sales, reaching 103% of pre-pandemic levels, with Georgia the closest behind at 95%. 
  • Individual vehicle models that shot up in popularity in 2022 over 2021 were led by Tesla’s Model 3, the Hyundai Kona, Volkswagen Tiguan and the Hyundai Tucson. Vehicle tags that lost the most market share were the Ford Explorer, Subaru Impreza and Subaru Ascent.
The most popular brands and models among Colorado new car sales continue to be dominated by pickup truck makers like Ford, and popular SUV makers like Toyota. (Source: Colorado Automobile Dealers Association and Experian)
  • The most popular individual models in market share are, not surprisingly, all pickups and SUVs. The Ford F-Series had 4.4% of the state first quarter market share, followed by Ram pickups at 4.1%, the Toyota RAV4 at 3.9%, and the Toyota 4Runner at 3.2%. 

Michael Booth is the Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of the Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He is co-author with Jennifer Brown of the Colorado Book Award-winning food safety investigation “Eating Dangerously.” Booth was part of teams that won two Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news. He also writes frequently about inexplicable obsessions that include tamarisk, black-footed ferrets and tire fires. Booth also serves as the underpaid driver for four children, and plans to eventually hike every inch of Colorado.