Chevy Volt Outsells Half The Cars On Sale; Is That Failure?

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2011 Chevrolet Volt on test in Little Rock, Arkansas, July 2011

2011 Chevrolet Volt on test in Little Rock, Arkansas, July 2011

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With the Chevrolet Volt racking up the highest sales last month since it launched--though the numbers were helped by incentives for both buyers and dealers--some of the "Volt is a flop" coverage has abated.

Now, a post on the fan site points out that this so-called "sales failure" has higher sales to date this year than roughly half of the other 260 or so models sold in the U.S.

The post responded to an article yesterday on Forbes, "Notwithstanding GM's Protests, No One Wants the Volt," written by the director of science at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank in Washington, D.C.

The post simply lists sales totals through August of every vehicle that logged fewer deliveries than the Volt's 13,497.

The aggregated sales data can be found here, among other venues. The Volt is # 133 out of the 262 models listed, though the sales data are hardly linear: The top vehicles sell tens to thousands of times the volume of those at the bottom of the list.

The highest-selling cars are the Toyota Camry (280,536 plus another 30,587 Camry Hybrids), Honda Accord (218,665), and Honda Civic (212,483 plus another 5,168 Civic Hybrids). No surprise there.

And granted, some of the cars outsold by the Volt are predictably low-volume models. No one expects expensive sports cars like the Nissan GT-R (849) or the Lexus LFA (29) to do better than the Volt.

Moreover, GM executives made rash projections of the number of Volts they planned to sell in 2011 (15,000) and 2012 (45,000) they they've now had to walk back.

Still, a number of the models that delivered fewer cars than the Volt are surprising.

Would you have expected the Volt to outsell both the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes-Benz S Class, Lincoln's large sedan, the MKS, for example--not to mention the mid-size Audi A6? It did.

Then there are the several hybrids it beat, including the Lexus RX 400h and CT 200h, and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

2011 Chevrolet Volt Production Line

2011 Chevrolet Volt Production Line

Enlarge Photo

Even more impressive, it beat every single hybrid model sold by BMW, Cadillac, Ford, Honda, Kia, GMC, Infiniti, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volkswagen.

The only hybrids it didn't outsell, in fact, were the Toyota Prius, the Toyota Camry Hybrid, and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.

For context, we like the data from this past January, when total 2011 sales figures revealed that the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf each sold more units in their first year on the market than did the Toyota Prius hybrid back in 2000, its first year.

Now, even the GM reporter at Automotive News has suggested that the incentives to move more Volts are a good thing for GM, for plug-in cars as a whole, and for the industry's move toward greener cars.

In other words: Don't believe everything you read about "failure."


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Comments (38)
  1. One thing is clear… Volts are being bought, and they're been driven. I'd say the Volt has found an audience. Just like music, one band can't please everyone.

    Best news is there are more models of PHEV's & BEVs to choose from each year. It's so nice to listen to your favorite music when there's less background noise. ;-)

  2. It doesn't matter, naysayers will ALWAYS find a way to saying negative things about the Volt. If they don't, they will be out of jobs...

  3. That's the thing about volts, there's plusses and minuses.... Kakakakak....

  4. Sure, Volts has "negatives". All cars do. As long as they are facts, it is okay. But if they are LIES, then they are NOT okay in my book...

  5. If it was a little more affordable, say $27k out the door, it would be a smash.

  6. In some states like IL where there is a 4k rebate, it's already there. 38k - 7.5k - 4k = 26.5k + tax

  7. It’s a great car period. Drive less than 40 miles each and every day plug it in at night and you hardly need to go to a gas station ever again. Road trip/range anxiety, no problem either since once the gasoline engine kicks in the 4 passenger Volt averages a respectable 35mpg in gasoline mode too. I bet heads are exploding at Faux Noise now that the car that was deemed an albatross is really taking off in sales. Since CAFÉ standards will be increasing and hybrid/ plug in technology will allow good fuel economy in a larger heavier car is by as Bob Lutz's said the electrification of the sutomobile is inevitable.

  8. There's a director of science at the CATO institute? I'm guessing he once worked for the Heartland Institute, and before that was probably an intern at Koch Industries. The entire conservative empire of think tanks is just a big joke, the majority funded by, I would guess, no more than 50-100 people.

  9. My apologies to the director of science at CATO. It appears he was hired by the Koch brothers because he is probably the most credentialed climate change skeptic in the country and has testified to Congress that no action needs to be taken. Nice.

  10. That nice, but you do realize GM spent $4.5 BILLION to develop this car and needs to sell 650,000 to break even. GM won't well 150,000. GM is loosing $13,000 on each car that rolls out the door. If they do not earn their money back, the purpose of profits, what is the point? The car has a very narrow user segment and GM never tried to stay within shouting distance of that number. I would never buy a vehicle like this, but I understand why others do. If you really want this type of technology, you should worry a lot about the cost to build it. Rebates from taxes won't last. Illinois, California and the US Governement are nearly bankrupt. Unless Democrats win big in November, both states are looking at chapter 9. That's the truth.

  11. @james: Amen!!!!!

  12. Pat Butler is the biggest fan of "false information".

  13. @Li: That's why I love reading your writings!

  14. GM spent 1.4 Billion not 4.5 Billion, they have to sell 120,000 not 650k. The math works out a little better when actual numbers are used.

    ps. Toyota spent 5 Billion on their hybrid program in 1997 (you have to spend money to advance technology in any field)

  15. John...the numbers from your "aggregated sales data" link point to an article that references the ANDC. A writer for the ANDC, Mike Colias, acknowledges that a combination of GMC "dumping" Volts onto the market and taxpayer subsidies were used to get their sales numbers. The Volt is not selling by normal market competition. The author summed up the article with "GM already is losing a bunch of money on the Volt, regardless of the sales total." I will add that the same market force that drove Christmas sales of Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers, Teddy Ruxpins, and Beanie Babies is driving what little market-driven demand exists for the Volt.

  16. @Randall: One man's "dumping" is another man's "incentivized sales". Every volume car sold in the U.S. comes with some level of incentives, though they vary considerably among makers and models. GM recently cranked up the incentive level on Volts, which obviously helped sales. No news there.

    But I challenge you to find me a volume model from a volume maker that doesn't have four figures of incentives on the hood. Those include cheap finance deals, cash back to buyer, dealer incentives, stair-step sales bonuses, and more.

  17. VW does not use any incentives for their diesels. They sucker people into the dealership by offering ultra low financing where, in fine print, they note that this special finance rate DOES NOT apply to diesel models. VW seems to move their diesels quite well without any incentives. I got a steal on a Golf TDI because I threw a low-ball price a brand new sales manager and got the price in writing. When I went to pick it up, the first thing out of the salesman's mouth was "If we had seen the email first, you would have never gotten this price." He told me that they could get at least MSRP for it. The same could be said for the Prius. The Toyota "special deals" fine print exempts the Prius. Both are volume cars.

  18. Must have been that same magic market force that drove Christmas sales of Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers, Teddy Ruxpins, and Beanie Babies, that drove you to negotiate for a VW that burns all hydrocarbons all the the time from an expensive green handled pump, for your for propulsion needs, with nary even an incentive in sight.

    No wonder you are negatively downplaying the alt fuel choices of others, now that the effects of that magic market force are wearing off.

  19. Jeff...Where do you think all of the electricity comes from that drives Hybrid/Electric cars? It isn't free; it has to be created somewhere. Solar panels and wind won't cut it. Greenies whine that nuclear power plants are the precursor to Armageddon. There isn't much left except burning hydrocarbons for electricity. Electric cars do nothing but move the source of pollution from the exhaust pipe to a power plant. Electric cars are not alternate fuel choices. Electric cars are not zero emission vehicles. Many on this website choose to pretend that electricity is clean. That is the only way arguments can be made for electric cars.

    Sorry John Voelker...I am gonna do it again.

  20. @Randall Smith,

    I charge my Volt at work under the 1MW solar panels, the outlets are tapped directly off the solar inverters. At home, I do the same with solar panels. So, all the "additional electricity" charges are "Offset" by solar generation.

    How is that NOT correct in terms of that my home and work solar panels are powering my Volt?

  21. @Xiaolong panels are not appropriate for everywhere in the world. Maybe you live in CA where the sun shines 24 hours a day. But not everybody has that luxury. Solar panels and wind power in their current form will never replace traditional electricity generation. We have a very interesting experiment in Texas. West Texas has been blanketed with wind turbines that feed Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. West Texas is an ideal location for wind turbines. But unexpected issues have been run into that are going to put a hold on growing wind generation out there. They are making so much juice that the system has outgrown the existing infrastructure for moving electricity from West Texas to where it is needed.

  22. There are more comments in this thread
  23. Randall, To your point the U.S. "reports" having 13% in "renewables". What they don't point out is that 60-70% of the amount is either biomass or hydro. Solar is 1% of the electric supply, and wind is about 4%. The majority of the fuel source for the life of a new Volt will be coal and oil, primarily coal.

  24. @James Eckler,

    That is incorrect. Majority of Volt are sold in California. Majority of Electricity generation in California are Natural Gas, Hydro and Nuclear. In that order. Coal and Oil account for less than 20% of electricity generation...

  25. @James: As you may know, two different reports (2007 EPRI-NRDC and 2012 UCS) have shown that a mile driven on grid power even on the dirtiest grid is at worst the wells-to-wheels carbon equivalent of a 30-mpg car, and at worst the equivalent of a 45-mpg car.

    The grid is getting slowly greener over time, making any plug-in car lower and lower polluting over time. While existing coal plants will indeed stay in use for many years to come, there will be no new coal added to U.S. grid (China's another story). Natural gas is likely the fuel source for all new and replacement capacity, which is--as you know--considerably lower in wells-to-wheels carbon. FYI.

  26. @Xialong: I don't believe a "majority" of Volts are sold in California, at least not over a full year.

    GM hasn't released specific figures as far as I'm aware, but anecdotally the company has said 30 to 40 percent of Volts are sold in CA.

    If you have more precise data, I'd love to see it.

  27. There are more comments in this thread
  28. How about 5 figure incentives?

  29. It can be the number one selling car on the planet and people will say no one wants it...


  30. "Nobody wants it" means that there is not enough demand for the car to justify production. GM has a long history of flops. The Pontiac Fiero is a textbook flop. It was hyped up as a mid-engine sports car but ended up being an econobox with a pretty face. GM eventually got the formula right, but by that time the public was turned off by it. The Fiero was a market niche, just like the Volt is. The complexity of the Volt will eventually rear its ugly head once the car ages. Toyota has the best balance of technology and reliability. People are open to new technology, a la Prius, but they are not willing to empty their pockets for a car that is designed to "save them money" by not using gas. For $43,950 (Car and Driver price as tested),

  31. (part 2)
    I can buy a used 2012 Prius Plugin for $32,995 (Autotrader) and have change left over for investing in a solar panel array on my roof. Oops, I'll have to save some of that change to cut down that oak tree that is blocking the sunlight to my brand new, fancy-pansy solar panels.

  32. What a crybaby...! You complain about the high purchase price, but when leases make good fiancial sense, then you complain about incentives. You talk about the Prius as the be-all of efficiency, but you conveniently ignore the fact that the Prius was subsidized far more at first than the Volt is now.

    Then, a childish attack of people with solar panels simply because you're apparently too poor to afford them. Probably better, since you seem to know almost nothing about solar power to begin with. So sorry it hurts your sensitive feelings that some people actually take action to make things a little better.

  33. It's not a success because they are selling it at a loss and they sale few. Basically it cost a lot to build so it's not really a breakthru technology so people do not rush to buy that weighty costly car.

  34. Yet sales broke recordd last month and continue to increase... Hmm... Yes, they should cancel production now, just when sales are increasing and it's won award after award and attracked custoemrs like me who wouldn't have entered a GM dealer in a million years only 3-4 years ago. It's the first GM car anyone in my family has ever owned.

  35. The goal there year was 30,000, this includes Government purchases from itself, and the GE purchases plus $10,000 tax credits. Get serious.

  36. @James Eckler,

    Why do you attack the Volt so much? You preach the bio-fuel which can be easily adopted into Volt with its engine. The bio-fuel that you support can be easily used to generate electricity. Yet, you attack the Volt constantly. What about the Leaf? The Ford Focus? Both are developed with the assistance of DOE "green loan". That was one of your "whining", wasn't it? Instead of spending money on "electric", we should have spent it on research and incentive for bio-mass fuels? (which you preaches and benefits for your company that promotes that bio mass fuel).

    Volt is actually the perfect technology that allow you to transition between what we know and we you want to have in bio fuel. It doesn't happen overnight.

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