GM: Bad publicity hurt Volt

January 27, 2012
GM: Bad publicity hurt Volt
Ad seeks to recharge reputation, sales in wake of fed fire probe
By DAVID SHEPARDSON / Detroit News Washington Bureau
Washington— The day after a congressional hearing into a fire in crash-tested Chevrolet Volt, General Motors Co. acknowledged that sales of the car had been hurt by bad publicity.

And as the carmaker stepped up its efforts to rebuild the reputation of the Volt, it began airing a commercial titled “Morning in Hamtramck” that portrays the extended-range electric car as part of the fabric of the Detroit enclave in which it is built.

Asked Thursday if Volt sales have taken a hit in January, General Motors North America President Mark Reuss said, “Oh, yes.”

Reuss, on the sidelines of the Washington Auto Show, said bad publicity from the government’s investigation into fire risks is “definitely a component” of the Volt’s sales decline.

GM had its best sales month for the Volt in December with about 1,530 sold. GM sold about 7,700 in 2011, but its sales target was 10,000.

Reuss said when GM restarts production in February at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, it will build Volts in a “very reasonable” volume. He said there is some export demand.

GM is focused on rehabilitating the vehicle’s reputation. “It’s a tough road, but we’ve got to do it,” Reuss said.

On Wednesday, GM began airing a commercial filmed in Hamtramck touting the Volt as “the car America had to build” and saying GM built it “for our town, for our country, for our future.”

The ad shows a Chevy Volt assembly line running through the streets of Hamtramck’s blue-collar neighborhoods and downtown, while workers install battery packs and put finishing touches on cars. Dogs give chase, and residents and shopkeepers pause as Volts roll down the line.

The commercial is scheduled to run for a month.

Chevrolet ad executive Rich Martinek told The Detroit News the commercial was released to coincide with GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson’s congressional testimony Wednesday, and his “open letter to America,” which ran in newspapers nationwide.

Akerson defended the Volt as safe, and said the car has become “a political punching bag” for some in Congress.

Reuss sent a letter to Volt owners Thursday, thanking them for their support.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday at the Washington show that he was satisfied the Volt is safe. He denied the government gave GM preferential treatment in not revealing that a crash-tested Volt had caught fire for nearly five months after it had occurred.

He also rejected GOP criticism, saying it was inappropriate to disclose the Volt fire until its investigation was complete.

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