There's no end to people's emotions surrounding GM's Chevy Volt. Those with hate-GM and/or hate-Obama agendas are duty-bound to rage against it because they resent the bailout and see the Volt as a direct result of that money (even though it's not). Those who can love only "pure" battery electric vehicles must disapprove because it burns some fossil fuel on days when it runs out of battery juice.

On the other pole is just about everyone who has spent time in a Volt, including virtually all automotive media and the few thousand owners, including a local gas service station owner who bought the second one in my area and flat-out loves it. An eco-minded businessman who also paid big bucks to install the only E85 pump in our town a couple years ago, he drives it daily and encourages customers to take it for a spin.

Volt critics seem delighted that Chevy's range-extender EV has been selling in the low three digits monthly. This is a sure sign, they chortle, that the plug-in hybrid is too pricey and/or nearly no one wants one. No doubt it's expensive ($40,000 for the 2012 model, minus the $7,500 federal tax credit), which doesn't help. But Volt sales (like the Nissan Leaf's) are still limited by short supply, not lack of demand. There are waiting lists for both.

chevy volt production line

GM says Volts typically sit on dealer lots an average of three days before being delivered to a customer. But when Ward's Auto World recently reported that 226 Volts sat on dealer lots at the end of July, critics jumped on that as a 22-days' supply (inventory divided by sales rate) – which would actually be good, since about 70 days' is average – but they failed to note that only 550 Chevy dealers had been allocated Volts by that time. So if 226 of them had one, the other 324 had exactly zero in stock.

Ward's James Amend, who wrote that story, tells me he regrets that it has been misinterpreted. "Days' supply can be very misleading with low-volume vehicles," he says.

When Popular Mechanics recently asked me to do a story on (Volt and Leaf) EV sales, I found that Volt sales were just 302 in August and 3,172 for the first eight months of 2011. We can compare this to 1,362 Leafs in August and 6,168 since January 1.

GM reports that fewer than 4,300 2011 Volts were built before the Detroit-Hamtramck plant shut down for a month in mid-June for upgrades needed to increase Volt capacity from 16,000 in 2011 to 60,000 in 2012. Of those, 784 (as of Aug. 31) had been assigned to dealers in 13 launch-market states as not-to-be-sold demonstrators, and some 300 are being used for GM engineer and executive evaluations, engineering test and development and media test cars. That leaves about 3,200 saleable Volts, which correlates well with AN's reported 3,172 total.

GM says the plant is now building roughly 150 2012 Volts per day and that Chevy dealers nationwide will be getting them by the end of this year, when more than 2,500 will have demo vehicles. GM also said that 6,000 2011s and 15,000 2012s will be shipped to Europe and other overseas markets, leaving just 10,000 2011s and 45,000 2012s for U.S. dealers.

"We expect demand to exceed supply for most, if not all, of the 2012 model year."
"Volts are being sold as quickly as they arrive," a GM spokesperson added. "We remain on target to sell every one of the 10,000 units we will build this year for U.S. consumers. Demand continues to significantly outstrip supply, [and] we expect demand to exceed supply for most, if not all, of the 2012 model year."

Of course sales would be better if dealers could sell their demos, but GM believes that retaining them for folks to see and drive is more important: "Although it's tough to limit the number of Volts for sale to potential customers when demand is so strong, the dealer demo program is the right strategy as the vehicle is drawing new customers into our dealerships." See also: Cruze sales.

chevy cruze

Then there is the laughable theory that GM and the federal government are conspiring to cover up weak sales of what one web writer calls, "an unwanted, over-priced vehicle that has no measurable benefit to the environment." Really? So GM must be lying when it reports owner satisfaction data better than on any GM car ever, then?

An amazing 97 percent of Volt owners say they are "completely" or "very" satisfied, while the other three percent are merely "satisfied." They report driving more than 1,000 miles (or about 30 days), on average, before refilling their gas tanks, and that two-thirds of those miles are on electric "grid" power. Nearly 90 percent of those who traded in vehicles for a 2011 Volt traded non-GM cars and are new to Chevrolet, and 35 percent considered no other vehicle.

This agenda-driven writer also claims that "billions of taxpayer dollars are being funneled to GM for production of green vehicles." Really? That would be great news to the incredibly dedicated and hard working team already laboring on the next-generation Volt and Voltec powertrain (and a variety of other EV, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles)... if it were true.

Perhaps GM could falsify owner survey data for a short while, if it believed it worth the trouble. Of course, the company would inevitability be embarrassingly caught. How in the world could anyone believe they could hide poor sales of any vehicle for long with relentless global media focused on U.S. sales, especially Volt/Leaf performance?

It is entirely possible that the high cost – and therefore a high price – of the Volt and other extended-range EVs will limit demand to where they will eventually start piling up on dealer lots. But with production so slow and supply so limited, that is far from happening right now and likely won't over the next year.

By the time supply does catch up to (and maybe pass) demand for the current Volt, there may be a more efficient and affordable Gen II ready for launch (that'll be the subject of a future column). But if GM were not confident, would it be investing in Gen II and expanding its EREV range to Cadillac and other brands and products? And would other OEMs already be showing EREV concepts that may or may not be heading for production?

We'll all see soon enough how Volt – as well as Leaf and other BEVs – will perform over time in the U.S. market. With no investment or agenda, my view on Volt's prospects has evolved from skepticism to cautious confidence. But show me a real inventory build-up or some seriously dissatisfied owners, and that opinion could change.

###

Award-winning automotive writer Gary Witzenburg has been writing about automobiles, auto people and the auto industry for 21 years. A former auto engineer, race driver and advanced technology vehicle development manager, his work has appeared in a wide variety of national magazines including The Robb Report, Playboy, Popular Mechanics, Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Autoweek and Automobile Quarterly and has authored eight automotive books. He is currently contributing regularly to Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com), AutoMedia.com, Ward's Auto World and Motor Trend's Truck Trend and is a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 424 Comments
      • 6 Months Ago
      The original stock holders lost also. Obama's car guy took away the stock value and gave a large portion of it to the unions. GM should have gone bankrupt and liquidated. Not doing so awarded the bad behavior of the company, i.e. making products the market didn't support and running your business too close to the edge. Why doesn't capitalism work.....it's because government fiddles with it. Period. No need to comment further because I'm right and I won't care what you say anyway.
      • 6 Months Ago
      It is truly a conspiracy to keep the Volt down. Alex Jones and Michael Savage have it right!! George W gets a nickel and Cheney gets a dime of every gallon of gas we buy. Carney.....watch out for the black helecopters!
      fred
      • 6 Months Ago
      Know what you mean, man. I have a Ford Ranger, a Shelby Mustang and a Honda made in Marysville, Oh. According to Mr. Wisdom (above as uarperformance), I guess you and I (and millions of others) are unamerican. Go figure his logic, because I can't.
      droptoplloyd
      • 3 Years Ago
      Great.....the wife and I had a chance to get a close up look and frankly was very impressed with every thing eccept the sticker price....now this was our quistions and sulutions, why didnt GM build the Volt using the same bacis ideas as VW years ago (radio..simple interior....simple exter...optional AC....and other) and able to sell a million a week..........make sense to us.......we would buy two.
        carney373
        • 6 Months Ago
        @droptoplloyd
        All first generation tech is expensive. The first DVD player cost more than $1,000 as did the fist Blu-ray player. The first iPhone cost $599 with a contract, with no App Store, no 3G, and only one camera (with no video capability). This is new first gen tech and will be expensive. The price will come down eventually.
          • 6 Months Ago
          @carney373
          It is truly a conspiracy to keep the Volt down. Alex Jones and Michael Savage have it right!! George W gets a nickel and Cheney gets a dime of every gallon of gas we buy. Carney.....watch out for the black helecopters!
          carney373
          • 6 Months Ago
          @carney373
          I voted for Bush and Cheney twice, you dimwit. There IS a conspiracy - on open one called OPEC. Its member regimes get together to decide how much more above the free market price of gasoline we'll have to pay. And we have no choice because our cars are locked in to oil with no other way to move. This is obviously suicidally stupid, which is why even Bush, a Texas oilman, said we have got to end our addiction to ill.
      Sophia
      • 3 Years Ago
      http://www.cars.com/for-sale/searchresults.action?stkTyp=N&tracktype=newcc&mkId=20053&AmbMkId=20053&AmbMkNm=Chevrolet&make=Chevrolet&AmbMdNm=Volt&model=Volt&mdId=35025&AmbMdId=35025&rd=100000&zc=00001&enableSeo=1&searchSource=TRAIL_HEAD There are so many for sale! Why is nobody buying these?
      Mark
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Those who can love only "pure" battery electric vehicles must disapprove because it burns some fossil fuel on days when it runs out of battery juice." - Uh, green-heads, WTF do you think was burned to generate the electricity to recharge those batteries? And valstekel - please shut up you are making a fool of yourself and don't know your rear-end from deep center field...
        cesarvis
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Mark
        they dont want to acknowledge the pollution generated when generating electricity, if they just stay blind to it, it isnt there
      • 3 Years Ago
      Gary - Nicely researched and well-written article on an important topic. With all of the polarizing comments on the future of EV's, it's great to see the truth come out so that we can all make our own informed judgments. I've talked with many Volt and Leaf owners - they all love their cars. The only criticism seems to be from people who haven't been in them.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 3 Years Ago
      I also think they are supply limited but that does raise the question, why are GM making so few..
        Tina
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Dan Frederiksen
        This is a brand new vehicle with lots of new tech in it. GM always said they would have a staged, incremental ramp up to make sure they did not have any quality issues. Just look at all the yahoo's posting anti-Volt diatribes. Imagine what they would be screaming if the Volt was rushed and actually had quality issues. Given that 97% of Volt owners are very satisfied or completely satisfied, and the other 3% are Satisfied (JD Powers survey), I'd say the slow ramp up was a good idea. The first 4,000 or so were built with a lot more handwork. Then they closed the production line for a month and revamped it to enable higher production output. It is now pumping out more Volts/month. Next year will increase again.
          rich
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Tina
          Hi Tina When is the last time you hear of an innovator buying something that cost over 40K that said it was not a great investment. Inventory is now above 2300 units and growing daily. The factory must be producing substantial quantities if they can meet the huge pent up demand plus build inventory.
          cmcclarty
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Tina
          For 40 grand sorry Ill stick with the Challenger or Camaro.At least you can have fun with them sorry no muscle car guilt here!
      • 3 Years Ago
      I AM A RETIRED GM EMPLOYEE AND I ALWAYS BUY GM CARS, BUT I'M AFRAID I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO AFFORD A VOLT. BUT SURE DO WISH I COULD. PEARL
      WILD BILL
      • 3 Years Ago
      HOW MANY MILES WILL IT GO IN A MIDWEST WINTER WITH THE HEATER AND DEFROSTER RUNNING?
        Tina
        • 6 Months Ago
        @WILD BILL
        350-360 miles, Bill. I think you have the Volt confused with a Leaf.
        carney373
        • 6 Months Ago
        @WILD BILL
        Gasoline-only cars also suffer dramatically reduced range in extreme conditions.
      jcarr12217
      • 3 Years Ago
      WRONG...FIRST CARBURATOR WITH ELECTRONICS ANYTHING WAS 1981
      • 3 Years Ago
      i believe your report is a lie if you do real research, you will find that there are over 500 volts for sale.
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