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Economy & competitive position

Debate continues, but Volt retains its buzz

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson recently lamented that the Chevrolet Volt had become “a political punching bag” for conservatives who see it as a rolling symbol of liberal economic policies.

But the repeated right hooks haven’t knocked the Volt out yet.

Just weeks after GM announced a temporary production shutdown due to slow sales, the electric plug-in hybrid posted its highest monthly sales since being introduced in December 2010.

Chevy sold 2,289 Volts in March, more than double sales of 1,023 in February. Volt sales of 3,915 vehicles so far this year are more than triple the 1,210 Volts sold in the first three months of 2011.

Analysts attributed the sales improvement to a variety of factors, including high gasoline prices and the introduction of an attractive, $349-a-month lease deal.

Many conservatives, opposed to the Obama administration’s 2009 bailout of GM and federal subsidies for “green” initiatives, felt a measure of vindication when GM announced a five-week halt in Volt production in early March.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has called the Volt “an idea whose time has not come.”

 But the sales spurt has prompted GM to resume Volt production on April 16, a week earlier than planned. Restarting production will return about 1,300 workers to their jobs at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant where the Volt is built.

A GM spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on media reports that the company is planning to extend the normal two-week production shutdown in July to three weeks for the Volt.

“We will continue to build Volt to demand, and we’re not making any other production announcements at this time,” spokeswoman Michelle Malcho said. Akerson told reporters at the New York Auto Show in early April that GM hoped to sell about 3,000 Volts a month for the rest of this year.

Sales of the Volt plunged last fall after batteries in several of the vehicles caught fire two weeks after federal crash tests.

Republicans later accused the Obama administration of purposely delaying news of the Volt fires to protect the car’s reputation and the federal government’s $60 billion bailout of GM.

Akerson, who was hauled in to testify about the fires before a congressional panel in January, said no real-world Volt fires had occurred and that the vehicle was safe.

“Although we loaded the Volt with state-of-the-art safety features, we did not engineer the Volt to be a political punching bag,” he said. “And that, sadly, is what the Volt has become.”

Volt sales are likely to remain relatively low because of the vehicle’s $39,145 base price (not including a $7,500 federal tax credit) and competition from lower-priced, fuel-efficient, gasoline-powered vehicles.

“There’s no (charging) infrastructure, and consumers can’t seem to justify the premium you pay for a plug-in hybrid,” said Michelle Krebs, an auto industry analyst at

But the Volt has won over at least one prominent Republican. Fox News reported on April 2 that former President George H.W. Bush recently bought a Volt as a birthday president for his son, Neil.

Rick Haglund has had a distinguished career covering Michigan business, economics and government at newspapers throughout the state. Most recently, at Booth Newspapers he wrote a statewide business column and was one of only three such columnists in Michigan. He also covered the auto industry and Michigan’s economy extensively.

9 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Chuck Fellows

    There is no such thing as instant pudding. Read the box!

    As long as oil production is subsidized the the taxpayer ( and these subsidies are huge – the overall financial impact of using fossil fuels is being ignored) electric vehicles will have market penetration difficulty.

    Politicians and policymakers have become the pure image of stupid is as stupid does primarily due to short sightedness driven by insatiable greed for false value.

    1. Matt

      Please explain the subsidies you are referring to.

      1. mark

        On the off chance that you really dont understand the extent and nature of these giveaways, here is a fairly good, if conservative summary.

        But just start googling and you will ge the picture. Even the GOP is in favour of cutting these off… at least the elected members who have enought backbone left to stand up and be counted.

  2. sinz54

    How many of those Volts sold in that “spurt” in sales were sold to government agencies?

    And in response to Mr. “Chuck Fellows”:

    Electric cars are useless unless you also have a garage to put them in for recharging overnight.

    I rent an apartment and I park my car in the street. For me, gasoline is the only energy source I can readily obtain.

    Conspiracy theories about oil companies are worthless. Gasoline has a ubiquitous supply infrastructure, you don’t need a garage for your car, and you don’t have to worry that your car will be unsellable because any potential buyer knows he will soon have to replace the battery pack.

    1. mark

      Gm has consistently published these numbers… 160 fleet sales, 2128 individual consumer sales. The GE sale begins to kick in in the second quarter, so look for the fleet and goverment sales to begin to make up about 500 units a month of a target of 3000 a month starting in July. If they can hit these numbers it would make it one of the best selling cars in its price range.

  3. Alan Stamm

    Joe Nocera spoke with Bob Lutz on this topic for a NYT column last Saturday (4.7.12):

    “In his regular blog at Forbes, Lutz has tried to counter what he has called the “rabid, sadly misinformed right.” But he has largely given up. . . . Although he remains deeply conservative, Lutz told me that he has become disenchanted with the right’s willingness to spread lies to aid the cause. . . .

    ‘It’s nuts,’ said Lutz. ‘This is a significant achievement in the auto industry. There are so many legitimate things to criticize Obama about. It is inexplicable that the right would feel the need to tell lies about the Volt to attack the president.’ ”

    The Times’ headline: The Right Flames the Volt [ ]

  4. Hardvark

    How on earth do you expect Bob Lutz to say anything bad about the auto industry. Yes, the technology is outstanding as are the engineers and production people that got this vehicle to the market. The problem is it is not a practical vehicle for 99% of the population. Same old “in theory” this is just what America needs, now you just have to convince more than 100,000 people to buy the thing. The Fed may have to pass a law requiring every family with at least one driver’s licensed member to buy health insurance and at least one electric car. ;)

  5. Tim

    It is practical for anyone who has a place to plug it in and can travel less than 40 mile between plugins. Even if you go further, the benefit of the first 40 only costing around $1.00 is pretty darn good.

  6. Tim

    And if everyone used no electricity for their first 40 miles of driving after plugins, that would make a big difference on the amount of gasoline that is used in the world and would ease up on the amount of oil that has to be refined each day. We are bumping up against that limit now but would be well under it if enough people used that much less gas. The price of oil would plummet.

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