If the Chevy Volt is a sales failure, you'd never know it from the guy who runs General Motors.
At a meeting of Volt owners in San Francisco yesterday, GM's CEO Dan Akerson said unequivocally that the company was standing behind its halo plug-in electric car.
"We are not backing away from this product," he told the assembled Volt owners.
Akerson had earlier said, both during a Congressional hearing and on GM's VoltAge blog, that the Volt was designed as a safe, state-of-the-art car, not a "political punching bag."
"Although we loaded the Volt with state-of-the-art safety features, we did not engineer the Volt to be a political punching bag," Akerson told Congress in January. "Sadly, that is what it's become."
In San Francisco, the CEO met with about 30 Volt owners to answer questions, assure them that the five-week production stoppage was just temporary, and reaffirm the company's commitment to the range-extended electric car.
Volt owner Fred Ehnow attended the lunch and posted his thoughts in the Volt Owners Group on Facebook. Some excerpts (slightly edited for clarity):
GM CEO Dan Akerson speaks to Chevy Volt owners, San Francisco, Mar 2012 (photo: Shad Balch, GM)
Akerson assured us that the five-week Volt production shutdown was nothing more than a matter of keeping inventories in line with demand.
He pointed out that the best-selling car in the U.S. last year, the Chevrolet Cruze, also had a two-week production shutdown in November, and nobody made a fuss over it.
But because the Volt has been under such heavy scrutiny, the media has pointed to the shutdown as yet another indication that the Volt is doomed.
He said that in the old days, GM would not have shut down production, but rather would have tried to bend the demand curve by incentivizing dealers and offloading Volts to fleet sales.
That's what got them (and other American auto manufacturers) into the troubles they were in several years ago.
Akerson spoke and answered questions for over an hour. I was impressed with how genuine and unguarded he was.
To add a note of Machiavellian reality, it may be worth remembering that CEOs are paid to say the right thing.
There's another scenario in which Akerson publicly supports the Volt...right up until the time when he doesn't.
But we think it's far too early for GM to make that decision. The car's barely been on sale for a year, and one year is a very short time in the life of a vehicle program.
Our best guess: GM continues to hammer away at Volt sales through 2012 and 2013, and launches the 2014 Cadillac ELR luxury coupe--based on Voltec mechanicals--next year.
But will there be a Volt 2.0? That's the big question to us.
And it seems far too early to answer--despite what you read in the media.