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Through the end of September, year-to-date U.S. sales of the electric Nissan Leaf hit 7,199 units and sales of plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt tallied 3,895 units. What vehicles were those 11,000-plus people driving before their new plug-ins?

Recently, Barbara Keys, a R.L. Polk & Co consultant, surveyed buyers of both the Leaf and Volt and discovered that the vehicles are conquest hits. Keys states that through the end of June, 78 percent of Volt buyers didn't own a Chevrolet at the time of purchase. Similarly, nearly 90 percent of Leaf buyers didn't previously own a Nissan vehicle. Keys said that, "These two high-profile launches have been successful in bringing new customers to the brand, and that may have long-term benefits in terms of make loyalty and customer retention." See also: Chevy Cruze sales.

As it turns out, buyers of both the Volt and Leaf are often trading in their Toyota Prius hybrids. For the Volt, seven percent of buyers traded in a Prius. Meanwhile, some 18 percent of Leaf buyers have traded in Toyota's mid-size hybrid. That's positive news for both General Motors and Nissan, but not for Toyota.