Is the Chevy Volt a sales flop?

Illustration for article titled Is the Chevy Volt a sales flop?

General Motors has repeatedly claimed a sales target for 2011 of 10,000 units for the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt sedan. But, nine months into the year, they've only shipped 3,895 off the lot. In fact, in September sales numbers, released an hour ago, GM sold only 723 Volts. Will GM fail to meet its own sales predictions?

To be fair, GM has claimed that sales would falter during the summer because of a pre-planned shutdown of the automaker's Hamtramck assembly plant. But, it was thought by most analysts that GM would have already swallowed that hiccup and by September we'd see higher sales. Despite more than doubling last months sales, we somehow don't think 723 units sold this past month is what one would consider massive sales momentum — especially given this summer's anemic numbers. And that's not to say there aren't any Volts on dealer lots. shows over 2,600 units available in a nation-wide search of new vehicle listings.


To give you an idea of how few vehicles that is, here are just a few of the GM vehicles that sold better than the Chevy Volt this month:

Cadillac Escalade - 1,527
Chevrolet Colorado Pickup - 2,171
Chevrolet Avalanche - 1,861
Chevrolet Suburban - 5,246
Buick Lucerne - 1,068

That last car, the Buick Lucerne, is even more ironic considering it's made on the very same assembly line as the Chevy Volt — yet the Buick-for-blue-hairs still managed to sell almost 50% more units this past month.

Compare those sales with the vehicle most pundits position as a direct competitor — the Nissan Leaf all-electric car. Nissan sold 1,362 Leafs during the month of August and 1,031 during the month of September. Year to date, they've sold 7,199 — twice the number of Volts GM has shipped off dealer lots.


GM has a steep hill to climb if they plan on making their claim of 10,000 units sold. By our count it means they'll have to sell over 2,000 Volts during each of the remaining three months of 2011. We'll see if they can make it — or if the Volt ends up being a flop for GM in its first year of sales.

So what does all this hand-wringing mean? Who knows. It could mean there's very little desire for such weird, new technology. Or it could just mean GM's still working the kinks out of the supply chain. All we know is — sometimes it's best not to put hard targets to leap over unless you're sure you can clear 'em. Because tripping and falling always hurts.


Photo Credit: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images News

You can keep up with Ray Wert, the author of this post, on Google+, Twitter or Facebook.

Share This Story

Get our `newsletter`



Its a useless vehicle, overpaying for nothing. Its very expensive for what you get, better off with a light, simple and efficient car. Hurry up and bring great diesels to the USA, you guys need it!

"Jeremy Michalek, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Michalek has an upcoming article on the sizing of batteries for such cars in the journal Energy Policy. According to his calculations, plug-in hybrids with big batteries, like the Chevy Volt, may never save consumers any money. Our study showed that moving from a battery pack sized for 7 miles of electric travel to a heavier pack sized for 60 miles of electric travel would increase the amount of electricity needed to propel the vehicle in electric-only mode by about 10 percent and increase the gasoline needed in gas-only mode by about 8 percent. So there’s definitely an effect, but it is not the most significant factor. What turned out to matter much more is the charging pattern.

Most of the other studies of plug-in hybrids analyze what the vehicle does for the median driver. But we wanted to see how differences in driving patterns would influence the economic and environmental implications of such cars."

A few of the facts we know are the Chevy Volt has a 16 KWH battery.

The Chevy Volt is supposed to do 40 miles on the battery, before going into Gasoline mode.

The Gasoline mode kicks in when the battery reaches 30 percent charge remaining.

So from this we can assume the battery never gets below 30 percent.

This means that the 16 KWH battery never has any less than 4.8 KWH remaining.

This means that the Volt is able to go 40 miles on 11.2 KWH

Assuming 100% efficiency which doesn't happen a 11.2KWH battery would take 11.2 KWH to charge.

GM assumes household utility rates of 10 cents / KWH. Meaning it would cost $1.12 to charge it at home.

Of course in Texas and other states, we don't get these cheep rates. Try more like 16 cents / KWH.

This means at the average Texas rate it would cost $1.79 to charge your Volt.

But once again no charger is 100% efficient. There is always lost efficiency due to heat.

A highly efficient charger still only makes 60-70%. We will give the Volt the benefit of the doubt and assume 70% charging efficiency.

This means means the 11.2 KWH you are trying to charge back into your Volt only represents 70% of the power you used to charge it.

In reality you used 14.56 KWH to charge your Volt.

Meaning your cost to charge the car in Texas is closer to $2.32.

One of the claims GM was making was that the cost to drive the Volt was 2 cents / mile.

If that was so then it would only cost 80 Cents to Charge your Volt for the 40 Miles in Electric only mode.

But from what we have found it costs almost 3X this much to fully charge your Volt in Texas.

The Volt is rumored to get 50 MPG in Gasoline Mode. This would be slightly better than a prius.

But considering you can buy a new prius for $22K, and the Volt is rumored to be priced closer to $40K. I don't see how the Volt will ever make it off the ground.