Does $5K Tool Really Cause Chevy Dealers To Drop Volt Electric Car?

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GM engineer fits structural reinforcement to distribute crash energy away from Chevy Volt battery.

GM engineer fits structural reinforcement to distribute crash energy away from Chevy Volt battery.

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If you were a car dealer, would you decide not to sell a plug-in electric car because you had to buy a $5,000 tool to service it?

We didn't think so.

Late last year, trade journal Automotive News wrote a story saying that a few Chevrolet dealers have stopped selling the Chevy Volt range-extended electric cars because the company required them to buy a new battery-depowering tool.

This new device would allow service technicians to remove specific modules from the lithium-ion battery pack to send back to Chevrolet for repair or replacement, rather than shipping the entire 400-pound battery pack.

The article cited Jim Barnard Chevrolet in Churchville, New York, a small town of 2.000 residents in what might be called New York's large upstate snow belt.

The dealership sold five Volts in two years, putting it toward the bottom of the more than 2,600 dealers certified to sell the Volt (roughly one-fifth of all Chevy dealers are not Volt-certified).

But the article notes that 300 of those dealers generate more than two-thirds of all Volt sales--a number of them in California, we suspect.

The Golden State is expected to buy more plug-in electric cars by 2015 than the next five states combined, due in part to state incentives to encourage those sales as a way to reduce auto emissions statewide.

And largely temperate California is a long way from cold, often snowy upstate New York, where the range of plug-in electric cars falls in chilly winter weather.

Still, we'd suggest that any dealership which walks away from servicing plug-in cars from General Motors is taking a very, very shortsighted view of its own future.

In November, in a presentation that still hasn't gotten enough attention, GM product chief Mary Barra said the company would downplay conventional hybrid technology.

2014 Cadillac ELR revealed at 2013 Detroit Auto Show

2014 Cadillac ELR revealed at 2013 Detroit Auto Show

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Instead, she told auto journalists at an advance drive of prototype Chevrolet Spark EV minicars, the company would ramp up its work on vehicles that use the Voltec range-extended electric powertrain.

Which means that it's not just the much-maligned Volt that Chevy dealer is abandoning, but a whole swath of future products as well.

Frankly, we couldn't put it better than John Holt, owner of the Chevrolet-Cadillac dealer in Chickasha, Oklahoma, that bears his name.

He too has sold five Volts over two years, but chose to buy the new tool, in part to permit him to service the upcoming 2014 Cadillac ELR electric luxury coupe.

With that car on the way (and more later, we would note), "I figured I'd be foolish not to buy the damn $5,100 tool," he told Automotive News.



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Comments (23)
  1. Not every dealership is in a position or mindset of investing more capital in their business. That is understandable. I think they can pick up the E-REV technology in a year or two if the volumes seem to warrant it.

  2. What really stinks is GM cuts the Chevy Dealer off of even *selling* Volts if they don't fully participate. You can't sell them if you can't service them - even if a shop 10 miles away can service the Volt. That's not smart for trying to ramp up Volt sales.

  3. Whether chevy dealer buys the tool or not is one issue. But why would that tool cost that? That is outrages for something that "dissipates" the battery safely.

    In fact, even the standard EVSE cost about $1,000 each. That is way too expensive as well when you can build one yourself for around $400!!!!! Mass produced EVSE should cost way less than what an individual can build. It is gauging!

  4. This happens regularly when the military requires special tools or parts. The price which is paid by you and I can be astronomical and goes without question.Nothing new its just you have never experienced it.

  5. For what I would hope is a rare service requirement, would it not make sense for a cluster of dealers in a region to have joint use of one tool? If I were a dealer I'd at least discus splitting the cost with nearby Chevy dealers.
    Tim Shevlin Anaheim, CA Volt owner

  6. Makes perfect sense. That's how it should have been done. Why can't a volume-dealer be the holder of such golden tools and charge shops for renting it each time it will be *rarely* used?

  7. It would have been nice if GM could have split the difference with the dealers. Of course, maybe it's a $10k tool and they already have.

  8. The tool doesn't even promise to be used once in a year. It is only for removal of batteries going back to the factory under warranty conditions. Will the tool be used at-all in some dealerships? Probably not. Ship the tool when warranty work is needed, require the tool to be returned either to GM or a regional center. Make use of 30-50 tools across the USA rather than 2000+ of them.

  9. That's a cheap tool in the grand scheme of things. Try a tire/wheel balancing rig starting at $30,000.

    I don't think that we're over the hump with a lot of dealers yet. Many local Nissan dealers, when asked "Will you make your EVSE available to others?" are baffled "Why would I give away free electricity? I'll have people parking their car everyday at my garage at night to charge up."

    "How many Nissan cars will you need to sell to ever-so-greatful-need-a-top-up passing i-MiEV, Focus, Smart or Coda owners to cover the cost of the electricity?" The math should win out but, only a handful get it.

  10. This has nothing to do with any $5k tool (typical dealer mechanics will have $15k-$20k or more in each of their tool boxes) and has everything to do with he owner's or service manager's political beliefs. Listening to Fox news and Rush 24x7 will mess up your views so bad that you will actually make decisions that a detrimental to your own well being while putting profits into the puppeteers behind all the rhetoric.

  11. Amen!

  12. I think that many other special tools are required for other vehicles. A friend wanted to become a BMW motorcycle dealer, and if I recall correctly, he would have been required to buy $40-50K worth of special tools, and a similar amount for a stock of spare parts.

    This is totally normal stuff for a dealership - many vehicles require new tools, and because they are special, they cost a lot of money.


  13. I am not sure what Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have to do with bottom line economics. Dealers are in the business to make money, and they are balking at being forced to spend money on a tool that shows little promise of paying for itself in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe the people that are so enamored with golly-gee-wiz products should feel the pain of being the first adopters of Star Trek wannabe technology. As for politics, maybe you need to quit drinking the Kool-Aid. Fox News is superior to the other networks because there is a distinct divide between the NEWS programs and the OPINION programs. The other networks deliberately blur the line between opinion and news. John...please censor me if I am being too political.

  14. @Randall: Did you actually read the article, which suggests a reason that the dealers may have made a short-term decision that is not in their long-term interests?

  15. I am commenting directly to Matt's commentary...reinforcing that the decision had nothing to do with politics. Long term financial decisions often take a back seat to immediate needs. I think many companies are just trying to stay afloat right now. Long term may not be on their hot list. Matt missed the point, not me.

  16. Shops selling 2 or 3 Volts a year don't want to invest far more in a tool than the profit potential of selling those 2-3 Volts.

  17. "Short sighted"?

    Let's see the author's willingness to make a $5,000 capital investment to support a product that's never managed to be economically viable to develop, produce, or sell without buyers being bribed using their neighbors' tax money.

    It's not just the $5,000 for this particular tool. It's the cost of every other aspect of becoming Volt certified and the prospect of Volts further clogging dealer lots that are already overflowing with dated stock.

    It takes an inherent bias toward EV;s to overlook the economic collateral damage Volt has wreaked or to be dismissive of those who choose to steer clear.

  18. Really? Apparently my local dealers are having issues keeping the Volt in stock. Maybe it is salesstaff like you who are clueless about the Volt that is the issue.

  19. And I am sure the "War on our oil interest" has caused more economic damages than anything that Volt has done.

  20. Bravo! Well said.

  21. This tool is not needed. It saves no time and doesn't get the vehicle back on the road any quicker. It does make servicing battery sections possible at the dealer level, but dealers still have to 1)drop the battery pack from the car 2)order a new battery section to replace the bad section and 3) ship the bad section back. The only thing saves is SOME shipping costs. But if it needs to be used often enough to justify the $5000 expense then the whole Volt project was a failure. Believe me, this tool is not about servicing Volts and their owners better, it's about thinning the herd of Volt dealers. For some reason GM thinks this is good. Having fewer options is certainly not good for Volt owners or intenders. So who is it good for??

  22. Well, if you have been some of the Chevy dealers that I have been, you would say that "thinning the herd" might be a good thing in this case. Some of the Chevy dealers are actually playing a "negative" role in selling the Volt.

  23. Right on Xiaolong Li I have a friend with a Vette and he drives miles away for service to avoid a local Chevy dealer he knows from experience to be incompetent. When I stopped by this dealer to see the Volt I knew more about it than anyone working there!

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