Is the Chevrolet Volt being outshone by its own little brother?

The Wall Street Journal suggests that - just like millions of Americans - the Volt is a victim of some good, old-fashioned sibling rivalry - at the hands of the Chevrolet Cruze.

On the face of it, there's not a lot of reason that the two cars might compete. One is a regular compact sedan, the other a cutting-edge, range-extended electric car.

However, just as we noted recently that advancements in efficient gasoline engines could be one of the reasons behind the slow uptake of diesels in the U.S, high-mpg models like the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco could be tempting customers away from the Volt, put off by the electric car's high price.

The 42 mpg highway Cruze Eco starts at under $20,000, while the Volt retails at nearly double that before federal tax credits and state incentives.

Comparing EPA stickers doesn't make for good reading either. Though the Volt's electric-only 95 city, 93 highway and 94 combined ratings look impressive, the 35 city, 40 highway and 37 mpg combined figures on premium gasoline don't have much of a psychological benefit over the Cruze Eco's 28 city, 42 highway and 33 combined. That's on cheaper, regular gas too.

In isolation it would be harder to compare the two, but with the Volt and Cruze sitting side-by-side on the dealer lot, it becomes harder to justify the Volt on objective grounds.

Of course, the Volt does have one or two tricks up its sleeve.

Firstly, that low gas mileage when using the engine isn't much of an issue if, like hundreds of current Volt owners, including Jay Leno, your commute is short enough to drive entirely in EV mode.

The Cruze certainly can't do that, and based on the EPA's standard 45 percent highway, 55 percent city over 15,000 mile estimates, the Volt would save you almost $1,000 a year in fuel costs - as well as reducing environmental impact, often a concern for electric vehicle buyers.

You could also argue that a buyer with $40,000 burning a hole in their pocket is unlikely to choose the Cruze, despite the initial cost savings. Buyers able to make the most of government and state incentives would also pay significantly less than MSRP for the Volt, closing that financial and psychological gap.

Finally, there's evidence to suggest that although the Volt may not be selling in huge numbers itself, it has a halo effect on Chevrolet's less advanced models like the Cruze and Sonic - so far from those models harming Volt sales, Volts could actually be improving Chevrolet's sales overall...

Those factors considered, it probably makes more sense to assume that the Volt's relatively slow sales are related to factors we're already aware of - low availability, lack of advertising (and indeed, poor advertising when we do get it...), and the effect of a market still slightly suspicious of disruptive electric technology.

So is the Volt in trouble? It's hard to tell at this stage, but if it is, its brother across the dealer's lot is unlikely to be the cause.


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