Electric-Car Sales: Does GM Have A Chevy Volt Sales Problem?

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2012 Chevrolet Volt Gas Station Advert

2012 Chevrolet Volt Gas Station Advert

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It's that time of month again. Car sales reports spewed forth from the High Gear Media teletypes yesterday (September sales were up), and analysis stories followed.

On the electric-car front, Nissan sold 1,031 Leaf battery-electric vehicles and Chevy shifted 723 Volts.

While that's an improvement over last month's 302, it brings the Volt's 2011 sales total to just 3,895 (plus a further 326 last December, the month when the first Volt was delivered).

The 2011 total for the Leaf, on the other hand, is now 7,199 (plus another 19 for December 2010, which was when Nissan sold its first 2011 Leaf)--making it likely that Nissan will sell 10,000 or more Leafs by the end of December.

So with just three months remaining in 2011, it's probably time to take a serious look at the question: Does General Motors have a problem with sales of its much-publicized, often-lauded Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car?

If you're so inclined, you can find rather a lot of angry, superficial, misinformed coverage (often in right-wing venues) proclaiming the Volt a sales disaster that virtually no one is buying. Most of them follow one or more of the following story lines:

  • GM is a lousy company that makes crappy cars (used to be true, not so much now)
  • The bankrupt GM didn't deserve to be restructured by the U.S. government (certainly debatable, but old history at this point)
  • The Volt is a joke, because no one will ever buy electric cars, and they're another Gummint failure in the making (not true, but it will take time for this to become obvious)

First 2011 Chevrolet Volt delivered to retail buyer Jeffrey Kaffee, in Denville, NJ, December 2010

First 2011 Chevrolet Volt delivered to retail buyer Jeffrey Kaffee, in Denville, NJ, December 2010

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A more nuanced treatment comes from our friends at Jalopnik, who raised the question and left it open yesterday. Consider this article a response to their musings.

But indeed, if you look at Volt sales--especially in comparison to the Nissan Leaf electric car--the tally is hardly impressive. The Leaf is now frequently selling 1,000 or more per month, whereas the Volt has never hit that number.

John Duncan takes delivery of one of the first 2011 Nissan LEAF EVs, near Portland OR, 12/15/2010

John Duncan takes delivery of one of the first 2011 Nissan LEAF EVs, near Portland OR, 12/15/2010

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As we often point out, there are reasons for the lower Volt sales total, including GM's summer shutdown of its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant for retooling over four weeks just as Volt sales began to climb in the spring.

But the plant restarted before Labor Day, so production should be climbing, yet sales appear to remain anemic. General Motors, however, has stayed publicly confident. Part of the sales delay, it says, has to do with refilling the pipeline.

GM spokesman Rob Peterson--who's been with the Volt program for years--notes that all Volts are trucked to the primary markets of California and New York, saying, "At any given time, one third of our Volts are on the road in transit."

First 2011 Chevrolet Volt built on production tooling at Detroit Hamtramck plant, March 31, 2010

First 2011 Chevrolet Volt built on production tooling at Detroit Hamtramck plant, March 31, 2010

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Here's how Peterson lays out Chevy's plan for the 16,000 Volts it says it will build during calendar 2011:

  • 10,000 deliveries for retail and fleet sales in the U.S. market
  • 2,500 demonstrators that Chevrolet dealers cannot sell
  • 3,500 delivered outside the U.S. to Canada, Europe (as the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera), and China

But we're left with the math: To hit 10,000 U.S. sales for 2011, GM must sell more than 2,000 Volts a month--on average--in October, November, and December.

There you have it, GM. Show us the sales. You have three months.


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Comments (32)
  1. Let the comments flow in abundance!!!

    There are really two possibilities here.
    1) Nissan and Chevy are selling all the EVs they can possibly make but are not currently able to produce in greater numbers.

    2) Nissan and Chevy are deliberately holding down supply because they see softness in the market and don't want unsold EVs out in the public.

    I am inclined to believe that there is plenty of EV demand, but the vehicles are just not available. If I was Chevy or Nissan and saw softness in demand, I would keep shipping product and roll out production to the other 45 states that currently are not allowed to buy EVs.

    It will probably be another year before we can really assess the EV strength or softness.

  2. One small point, Nissan sold more LEAFs than Cube, 370Z, and GT-R combined last month. I don't see anyone calling those vehicles failures (well maybe the Cube).

  3. and don't forget Juke

  4. The points made by those critics have a lot of merit. We as taxpayers (without our consent) "invested" $105 billion in GM stock, part of which GM took and used to repay the $6 or $7 billion loan they had been given to keep them alive until they were able to re-IPO. As I recall, the stock cost taxpayers around $40 per share. The stock is currently trading about half that and there is no reason to assume the taxpayer money will ever be recovered. That is, in a word, obscene. Defense of General Motors I also consider obscene. Now what was that complaint about criticisms by "right wing venues"? You don't have to be a "right winger" to despise this company. All that's required is a brain and some ethics. You don't need much of either.

  5. GM is a lousy company and sells crappy overpriced cars!!! GM wants to keep us chained to the gas pumps with those roller coaster gas prices and Nissan doesn't!!!

    Let me repeat that: GM is a lousy company and sells crappy overpriced cars!!! GM wants to keep us chained to the gas pumps with those roller coaster gas prices and Nissan doesn't!!!

    GM is going to be kicked off the planet, in sells, when Tesla's Model S comes on the market!!!

  6. All electric vehicles should be sold my specialized dealers who only sell electrics. The regular dealerships do not want anything that does not go Varoom.

  7. Volt's fans seem to take it as an article of faith that supply is severely limited compared to demand - but that is just an assumption. But is there really any evidence that Volt's demand is more than the supply ? Remember, GM refuses to disclose # of orders for Volt, unlike Nissan for Leaf.

    There is one more important point to consider. Chevy is making 150 Volts a day. But delivers only 5 days worth of production ? It doesn't add up.

  8. I agree, it is an assumption that there is demand for the Volt.

    That said, there are 45 states worth of demand that have not even been tapped yet.

  9. GM’s Volt team has recently (Friday) stated quite clearly the supply challenges they have been faced over the past 10 months and 6 days since the Volt was launched. If you choose to disbelieve them, that's your prerogative.
    Speculate away...

  10. Umm, yeah - but reading skills are required.

  11. EV Now-now, and oyu can find the evidence with a simple search.

  12. Nice speech tonight at the IEEE event.
    For why the Leaf is selling better than the Volt I don't know. The Volt is a far better looking car than the Leaf. I wonder who the typical Leaf buyer is?

  13. @Aaron: Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the good words.

  14. Do you think the price difference may have anything to do with it..... hmmmm Leaf approximately $5000 less.

  15. i have said it from the get-go. the volt-like technology simply is not gonna be around for very long.

    gm is not the only company stupid enough to start using that technology.

    we all know that gm is tied to oil.

    i dont know what the other company's problems are.

    price and range will improve just enough to keep selling the cars that have been manufactured.

    battery technology is still at its infancy - it could already be better if the bigwigs needed it to be.

    this isnt rocket science - just enough years in the belt to know how things work.

  16. $5.00 gas changes a lot of old patterns....

  17. The fact that the Leaf appears to be outselling the Volt two to one could be seen as an indication that sales are still very much a function of supply rather than demand I suppose. The Volt isn't particularly competitive compared to the Leaf for people looking to buy a car but lease is a different story since the lease price of the Volt is not that much higher than the Leaf's. So for people looking to lease a car the Volt actually makes a lot more sense than the Leaf. Current sales numbers don't seem to reflect this though.

  18. Maybe you will be able to see why a Leaf is greatly outselling a Volt when put this way: A Volt is a low extended range ICE vehicle and gas is close to $4.00+ a gallon; the Leaf is an all electric vehicle and range is going to continue to increase. With solar panels, you can charge the Leaf and your house for free and even put power back in the grid. Electric cars can get 320 MPC for free if you have solar panels. The Volt gets 27 MPG at $4.00 a gallon. Now can you do the math and figure it out?

  19. James, Get real.
    You simply choose not to recognize that the Volt gets 35-40mpg (not 27 - sheesh that's some "typo")ONLY when it's being used for single "trip" distances the LEAF cannot even achieve! Drive a Volt 150 miles to grandma's house and you'll effectively get 60mpg (burning only 2.5 gallons at 40mpg highway after 50 miles of pure EV) Now try that with Leaf!The majority of Volt users are reporting 150+ mpg lifetime.You sir are seriously misinformed.

  20. I have solar panels but no range anxiety with my Volt. I'm getting 400+ MPG already....

  21. Well done sir.

  22. I've had a Volt on order since Dec 2010. I was told I'd be getting a 2012, since 2011's were sold out. My order was placed by the dealer with GM in May, and I'm now being told I'll get it early November. If there's no demand, why should my wait be so long?

  23. I admire your patience. You must live outside the initial roll-out areas, I think you will find the long wait worth while.

  24. As someone who waited eagerly for seven months for my ordered Volt to finally come in, I'll try to explain why I cancelled my order last week a couple of days after finally hearing my numebr came up. At work, so will have to ddo it later, but it's the supplt, again, people. Love the car but the lease went from $350/month official (at 12k miles/year) to $670 when I went to finalize my order. When I complained softly, I was told," No problem, we can sell it to someone else."
    Real demand will have to wait until 2012. I still may get a Volt but not for a while. I also didn't appreciate the dealer never contacting me once in seven months and then suddenly being told I had two days to take it or pass.
    Yes, JD, 350 miles is a "low range." LOL!

  25. robok2,
    What was the MSRP for the car you had ordered?
    The $350 lease deal is only for the base Volt with zero RPO options. Adding $4000 in options can have a significant "hit" to the lease price. Plus there's a few dealers that continue to use the incorect money fators in their "calculators" and software tools.If you're still interested in a Volt I suggest you do a search on gm-volt.com where more of these details are exposed. A Volt CAN be had for $350/ month.

  26. That is sad. Many greedy dealerships will turn potential buyers away while trying to gouge prices. I had to shop 4 different dealers in So. Cal. to find one who would sell at a fair price, and honor the US Bank lease agreement. ($350/mo + options). One of them tried to stick me with that $670/mo b.s. With good options, you'd be looking at about $470/mo. It came to the point that I would e-mail my spreadsheet lease calculator to the dealer before even stepping foot on the lot.

  27. Boy that is a Volt story worth telling. Simply crazy.

  28. It's a drag that people seem to believe there needs to be a winner between the Volt and Leaf, and these conversations spiral into irrational pettiness. I bought a Leaf because my commute is only 17 miles each way, and 90% of my driving is easily within range - otherwise we just take my wife's car. The Leaf has been fantastic and I recommend it to everyone that asks. I've also talked to Volt owners who love their car and say they get at least 40 miles of pure electric travel. I can't say I'll ever forgive GM after their choice to shred nearly all of the EV1s to indulge us with Hummers instead, but at least they're now trying to make a car that truly matters. Win-win right? Let's make OPEC obsolete.

  29. @Wop Ontour & Victor, good points. Yes, there were no base models left so I ahd to add options, but nowhere near enough to get to $670/month. As I stated, a markup is fine as it's a business, but I've never bought an American car and the extra markup drove me away instead. I will look for others since I don't want a LEAF, but I also might look at a Ford Focus Electric next year, too. I also may spend some money on solar panels instead so I'm ready for whatever I get.
    Instead, more research and I'll hope to revisit this in a few months. By then, perhaps I can convince my wife (who works at home) to get a LEAF.

  30. As some of you know, we have both the Volt and the Leaf. We now have about 7500 miles on each of these cars, and the Volt is the MUCH better and more finished piece of engineering. Every Leaf driver has been forced to ignore the delusional "range display" as it is horribly optimistic while the Volt always gets 95-105% of the predicted EV range at startup. For 2012, the Volt will correct the one inconvenient issue....required keyfob locking/unlocking with the auto sensing system that should have been on the 2011. Yes, the Volt is about $8000 more than the Leaf for the 2011 production year, but it is WORTH that much more. I have not owned a GM product since 1969, and the Volt deserves the "Moonshot" moniker that Motor Trend suggested.

  31. George, I just got my Volt a week ago and couldn't agree more. The silent acceleration is a nice surprise as well. I drove 420 miles this week using .7 gal of gas.

  32. I finally got my Volt after waiting one year. The plant closed for 6 weeks to re-tool and expand production. They are making 600 per week now so they'll hit their original first year target of 10,000.


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