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
      Mark
      • 7 Months Ago
      So, GM did NOT receive $1/2 billion from DOE to produce Volt? None of the $50 billion from taxpayers went towards Volt ads or production? Volt does NOT have a $7,500 subsidy on every one sold? The fact that GE is buying 25,000 of them is NOT an indicator of crony capitalism? An additional approximate $2 billion didn't go to other battery and electric development which benefited the Volt? How about GE's investment stake in A123 Battery, GE vested interest in producing charging stations or government purchases of Volts? Why don't you call the dealers that have Volts listed for sale instead of being a shill for GM? And I also suppose GM stock has been a great investment for taxpayers, right? Must be all that money the Volt is making.
        Smurf
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Mark
        One thing about the Internet, if you have an opinion, you can find a website to support that opinion. I found a web site that proved that shopping carts caused cancer. One thing not listed on those web sites, is the size of the waiting lists at Chevy dealerships. I'm 20th on the waiting list at my dealership, and I signed up 9 months ago. My dealer told me that the waiting list is up to 50 now, and that is just one dealership. How many other dealerships out there have large waiting lists in the 33 states where the Volt is not yet available? Quite a few. These are real customers, not gov't and corporate fleet purchases. But if you add on those fleet purchases it is clear that it will be a long time before GM can make enough Volts to fill all those orders..... Two things are clear. There are a lot of people out there that want this vehicle, and most of those people are very glad that the gov't gave assistance to an "American" company instead of tax breaks to other companies that create more jobs overseas than they do in the US.
        EV Now
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Mark
        @Mark "So, GM did NOT receive $1/2 billion from DOE to produce Volt?" No. The money went to keep one million jobs and prevent a "free-market" no-regulation" induced depression. If you are worried about subsidies etc. first look at the TRILLION dollars spent "securing" oil last decade alone. Stop sending weekly donation to Middle East Dictators.
        Spec
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Mark
        Do you know the difference between past tense and present?
      Mark
      • 7 Months Ago
      Shill websites and billions spent on ads will not improve situation at GM. In one day taxpayers lost as much on GM as they did on total Solyndra scam. You guys back that one up too? You can quiet TV networks with your stolen taxpayer money, but critics who aren't on GM's payroll will still speak out. GM share price speaks for itself as does Volt sales numbers. Of course Volt numbers will improve as GE and US government place their orders. Too bad share price can not be as easily manipulated, although they have tried.
        Marco Polo
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Mark
        Mark, I realise you are very busy, (all that ranting must take up a lot of time and energy) but since you are obviously so familiar with 'scam' surrounding the Volt, I bet you know were all those GM Volt's that can't be sold are hidden, is there any chance that you could get a bunch of us a discount on them for cash??? Aw, c'mon, surely that wouldn't hurt? What ? You can't? Well then, why not just STFU?
        Spec
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Mark
        The conspiracy theories run strong in this one. LOL.
      • 7 Months Ago
      The Volts are not selling! they are shutting down the factory for a month. This and Solyndra are what happens when the government uses YOUR tax dollars for Venture Capitol to fund their favorite agenda. Even though the factory is shut down, Obama's union cronies are likely still getting paid to sit at home.
      Larz Larzen
      • 7 Months Ago
      The Volt will get cheaper. GM just broke ground on a new plant in Shenyang, China. If that results in a substantial price reduction, like I think it will, a Volt may be in your future.
      At_Liberty
      • 7 Months Ago
      For that $ 535 million loan that Obama gave Solyndra, we could have bought 11,888 Volts for people. Instead of money down a rat hole, we would have nearly 12,000 commuters in the near future not burning much gasoline... just sayin'...
        Marco Polo
        • 7 Months Ago
        @At_Liberty
        @liberty Gosh, President Obama personally lends money! Thanks for the tip! I see he's visiting Australia shortly, and I wasn't really excited by the visit, but this changes everything. Y'see I've got this little proposition and I just need ...........
          At_Liberty
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Marco Polo
          @ MP Really? There's no accountability for his own administration? You honestly think that? @ fordinsight Bush admin considered and rejected the loan the month before Obama took office. Is there nothing that cant be blamed on him? Ignorant.
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Marco Polo
          Both Obama and Bush are puppet figures, clowns of different costumes portraying different sides of the same farce of American "democracy".
          Ford Future
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Marco Polo
          Incompetent Republican Rant again. Bush started the Solyndra Loan program.
          Marco Polo
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Marco Polo
          Hey! What the.....I'm being attacked by ol' Ford for making fun of his beloved Obama, and Liberty for defending the President! This is fun! @Liberty, Seriously? Of course you are correct, he is the head of his administration, but the US is a huge responsibility and this is a relatively small matter, in the greater scheme of things. It would be serious if the President were personally involved, or put the money in his own pocket. But, in truth, he would never had heard of it before it went under. Since there are no allegation of fraud as yet, I fail to see how the President can be held responsible, except in an overall way.
          At_Liberty
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Marco Polo
          "But, in truth, he would never had heard of it before it went under. " In truth, Obama went to the Silicon Valley and gave a speech at their factory. You need to catch up, MP. Obama : The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGBc7ROxKi4
        j
        • 7 Months Ago
        @At_Liberty
        Reported that US exports of solar systems are up by 200% ovey 2010 at 1.8 billion dollars and employing US workers, Despite risks of failures for start-ups like Solyndra and the massive subsidies by Chinese government that threatened to ship the whole industry to China and have already bankrupted Solyndra.
        Tina
        • 7 Months Ago
        @At_Liberty
        (I'm asking At_Liberty)
        Tina
        • 7 Months Ago
        @At_Liberty
        That means that for the $3 billion we give oil companies in subsidies each year (not including the services of the US Navy, Army, and Air Force), we could give away 86,000 Volts for free every year, year after year. What's your point?
      • 7 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.
      • 7 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!
      paulwesterberg
      • 7 Months Ago
      I am disappointed with the volts high price, heavy weight and its lackluster mileage in range extended mode. But I think it is step in the right direction and could allow some people to dramatically reduce their petroleum consumption. If GM can push the technology forward and add more range or a lighten its footprint or switch to a smaller more efficient engine while reducing the price then I think the vehicle could be a big success. Apple's 1st gen iphone was big on ambition and light on execution also.
        lne937s
        • 7 Months Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        I think a better phone analogy for the Volt would be first gen satellite phones. Too expensive, but make sense where infrastructure doesn't exist. No new infrastructure needed to be built, but they were ultimately niche players. However, for some people, it opened up the concept of a portable phone. Cell phones were initially very restricted in where they could be used. However, infrastructure accellerated quickly, replacing traditional wired phones in may places. Satellite phones are now largely irrelevant except for the most extreeme circumstances. Electric vehicles need infrastructure to be built up for unrestricted use, like cell phones. However, that infrastructure is accellerating and costs are comming down quickly, with newly-developed quick chargers for less than $10k (a fraction of the price of a gas pump). You can already travel throughout Japan using quick chargers and charger density is rapidly increasing. Nissan recently announced that they are installing "thousands" of quick chargers in Europe by the end of next year, which will connect most of the continent. By 2015, that goes up to "tens of thousands" of quick chargers. The US is behind, but hopefully it shoudn't be too much longer before we start to catch up.
        sirvixisvexed
        • 7 Months Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        I like you 1st gen iphone comparison
        • 7 Months Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        I have a volt and get right around 40 MPG in range extended mode. I am not sure I would qualify that as lackluster. What do you perceive the mileage to be in range extended mode?
          Smurf
          • 7 Months Ago
          I think a lot of hype and rumors set expectations that the Volt would get 100 mpg in range extended mode. Its tough trying to live up to the hype......
          • 7 Months Ago
          Smurf, At no time in history has anyone claimed that it would get 100 mpg in extended range mode. Over 100 as an avg. incl. EV miles yes. Not in extended range. Orig. they were shooting for 50 mpg in extend-range and of course were not able to with the 1st gen. They should get ??? 40+ mpg ??? with gen 2. Its good to see jstark getting 40 mpg but that isnt what it is rated at. As always mpg will vary depending on location, conditions and driver.
      Smith Jim
      • 7 Months Ago
      One way to tell if an automobile is in demand is the amount of advertising you see for a particular model. Automobiles that are in short supply and high demand are not heavily advertised such as the Dodge Viper or Chevrolet Corvette. Models that are produced in large numbers but are not selling well are heavily advertised. I have never seen a television advertisement for the Leaf or the Volt. The only advertisements for the Volt or Leaf I've seen are on the internet and are carefully targeted to green enthusiasts. Ads appearing on ABG website are a perfect example of this.
        PR
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Smith Jim
        Jim, Halo cars can often get MORE advertisements than bread-and-butter models, regardless of supply and demand. The reason for this is that Halo cars are what get you into the dealership so the salesmen can show you the boring, but affordable car they ultimately sell you instead. I'm not trying to rip on you or anything, because what you said is generally true for non-Halo cars. But Halo cars are the exception to the rule. Typically WAY more dollars are spent on advertising per-unit sold for Halo cars than bread-and-butter cars from the same manufacturer. Sometimes this leads people who aren't involved in the sales industry to claim that manufacturers often sell Halo cars for a loss, when really those ad dollars for Halo cars are actually being spent indirectly to sell bread-and-butter units. As a Halo car, I would expect to see many, many Volt ads in the future.
        Michael Walsh
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Smith Jim
        LEAF - has been advertised heavily on MSNBC. Volt - I saw the new ad last night on Comedy Central (make of that what you will).
        Ford Future
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Smith Jim
        I haven't seen any advertising, and I haven't seen any Volts in Pennsylvania yet. Why advertise when you're selling all your stock in the initial states?
      rich
      • 7 Months Ago
      The unamed GM spokesman stated the cars are being sold as quickly as they arrive at the dealership. Based on this fact the factory must be producing much higher quantities then reported as the present inventory shows 2,354 cars in dealer stock. That is up from 1,262 at the end of August. Looks like the sales are finally showing up as well as the production levels.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 7 Months Ago
      Gary Witzenberg is a former PR person for GM. Take that into account when reading.
        ufgrat
        • 7 Months Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        "Former"-- Are you suggesting he has an axe to grind against GM? Or can you actually disprove any of the numbers he used in his article? I'm guessing not, since all you appear to have is cheap innuendo.
          2 Wheeled Menace
          • 7 Months Ago
          @ufgrat
          Settle down over there. I am just stating a fact that was not mentioned in his mini bio.
        paulwesterberg
        • 7 Months Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        Gary is more of a cheerleader than an axe grinder. He still lives in Michigan and is still involved in the auto industry there. He has access to GM insiders and gets to test drive new vehicles. He is like an embedded reporter. If I had worked on the EV1 and saw those cars killed and crushed by GM management & beancounters then I would would have a battle axe to grid, but it seems that Gary has moved on and is more concerned about looking forward towards the next big thing.
      fmarasajr
      • 7 Months Ago
      I remember cruising the channels on the car radio last year and landing on some lib windbag named ed shultz who was RAVING that GM wasnt building millions of volts. I wonder if HE bought one (like I need to ask).
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