Chevy Volt Sales Surge on Gas Prices
April 5, 2012
Despite the best efforts of the right wing noise machine, sales of the Chevy Volt, probably the most advanced piece of automotive engineering to come out of Detroit in our generation, are starting to perk. Not clear to what degree Fox News recent 180 on the car (above if you haven’t seen it) might be having on sales, but somebody seems to be getting the message that maybe saving money on gas, being an early adopter of hot new technology, and supporting American workers, might not actually be against conservative “values”.
It may be way too early to write off the Chevrolet Volt despite the fact that General Motors decided to stop making the plug-in hybrid model for five weeks and won’t start up again until April 23.
Exhibit No. 1 in this argument: today’s sales results for March, which showed Volt sales zooming to 2,289 units for the month, a full 277 percent ahead of a year earlier and about the same percentage ahead of poor sales in January of this year.
That result gave Volt by far its best sales month ever and could inject some life back into a proposition that lately has been much more about politics than about the product.
GM didn’t indicate in its mid-morning sales press release why Volt sales picked up so much ground. And in a subsequent conference call with Wall Street analysts and automotive journalists, Alan Batey, vice president of sales for Chevrolet, didn’t shed much light either. He said that of the monthly total, 2,129 were retail sales, and 160 were fleet orders for Volt. He discounted a suggestion that attractive lease offers were behind Volt’s surge, noting that such offers were about the same in March as in January and, actually, as a year ago.
In any event, there appeared to be some hope that strong Volt sales in March comprised more than just a one-month blip. Early last month, GM announced February sales results for Volt that had recovered to 1,023 units from only about 600 units in January — a month that had been dominated by continued publicity over Volt’s fire-crash issue. But then last month, GM also announced the suspension of Volt production and further soured the waters by blaming media “exaggeration” of the fire risk for Volt’s slump.
While many analysts jumped all over GM’s move as an indicator of corporate resignation that Volt sales would be going into the dumper over the long term, there were some complications. First of all, the move to stop Volt output temporarily involved factors of production balancing that were significant. GM also has begun to ramp up output of the new-generation Chevrolet Malibu at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant where Volt is built, and manufacturing executives wanted to throttle back Volt production somewhat anyway to synchronize it with full-volume manufacture of Malibu. GM is spending $120 million on tooling at the plant to ready it for the new Malibu.
Volt continues to make the most common sense to many consumers of any of the new-era EVs because it carries a gasoline engine, unlike the Nissan Leaf. And now Nissan is adding some “content” to Leaf, presumably at least in part in recognition of the need to make the model a more competitive proposition to Volt.
..the Republican view of the car as a symbol of all that’s wrong with President Barack Obama’s bailout of GM has come under challenge from other conservatives in the past few days. “The Volt is not an Obamacar or an Obamamobile,” said Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard magazine, part of a cover story that was sympathetic to GM’s political woes. The more surprising turn came from Fox News, which has been the most reliable repeater of every anti-Volt story regardless of accuracy, yet aired a five-minute piece this week that saw an anchor and guest praise the Volt and rebut most of the criticism against it.
And the Volt won its first Republican presidential endorsement from George H.W. Bush, whom according to a Chevy manager in Houston just took delivery of a Volt as a birthday gift for his son Neil Bush. (Another Volt buyer this month: Obama’s former auto czar Steve Rattner, who tweeted that he’d bought a silver one and loves it “even though not financially savvy.”) Obama has already pledged to buy one once he leaves office, giving GM a bipartisan set of presidential endorsements.
Even with the shift to summer fuels adding another 20 cents per gallon to gas prices, the Volt’s sticker will keep it from being a runaway hit — but that also makes it just unique enough for it to work as a statement vehicle for those who can afford it, no matter what the polarity of their politics might be.
Meanwhile, on the political front, the Volt continued to be a political piñata for Republicans, with GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney taking his turn with the beating stick. Stating he didn’t feel America was ready for the green car, Romney said government should stay out of dictating what kind of cars should be made.
In addition to the big Volt number, GM reported that it sold “a record 100,000 cars and crossovers that achieve an EPA-estimated 30 mpg highway rating or better” in March.