GM touts uptick in March sales for Chevy Volt

April 2, 2012
GM touts uptick in March sales for Chevy Volt
By DAVID SHEPARDSON / Detroit News Washington Bureau
General Motors says March sales of its plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt have surpassed February’s sales, with more than 2,000 sold — and the company’s chief executive is bullish on the future.

But GM said it also plans to suspend production of the Chevrolet Volt for an extra week this summer as it tries to control the electric car’s inventory; it could cancel that plan if sales stay strong. GM sold 1,023 Volts in February and 603 in January.

“Last month, we doubled sales from a net low, and this month looks like we could double again,” GM chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said in a recent interview in Annapolis, Md. “The car is fundamentally a great value. It’s a very, very safe car, but that didn’t matter.”

He said the Volt will succeed, and not because of a lull in political attacks. “Nothing’s better than success to stop the discussion,” Akerson said. “If we get to 2,000 or 3,000 a month consistently for the rest of the year, it will all fade to black.”

The more than 2,000 Volt sales in March are the best month so far for the car, and the company in February started building lower-emission Volts that allow single drivers to qualify for access to carpool lanes in California, GM spokesman Chris Lee wrote in an email to The Detroit News.

“We’re rebuilding sales momentum and will manage our future production schedule appropriately,” he said.

Akerson noted that GM has 7,000 pre-orders for the European version of the Volt, the Opel Ampera.

Akerson complained that coverage of fire-risks in post-crash Volts were on the front page, but when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found no safety problems in January, it was “lost on page 24.”

The government opened a preliminary investigation after a Volt caught fire three weeks after a crash test, but closed it after GM announced it is making voluntary improvements to the battery pack containment system.

Akerson noted that GM outsold the battery electric Nissan Leaf by 2-to-1 in February.

“I never hear anything about the Leaf,” Akerson complained.

Nissan says it is on track to double sales of the Leaf in 2012 to about 20,000 in the United States. The company plans to expand capacity to build 150,000 Leafs annually in 2013 in Tennessee, and is upgrading the 2013 Leaf to include fancier interiors and improved heating systems.

Akerson called politically motivated attacks on the Volt “outrageous” and “unfair.”

He noted the Volt was conceived and engineered well before the 2008 presidential election, dismissing the notion that the Volt is the “Obamacar.”

“It’s somewhat emblematic of our success and therefore it comes a punching bag,” Akerson said. “It’s literally won every accolade that was ever conceived.”

U.S. auto factories generally close for two weeks starting in July to get updated for the new model year.

GM said it is adding a third shutdown week at the Volt factory in Hamtramck. GM closed the plant from March 19 through April 23 in the face of soft demand from customers. About 1,300 workers at the factory have been idled.

GM also shut down production of the Volt from late December until early February, and extended last year’s summer shutdown as well.

GM missed its sales target of 10,000 for 2011 — selling less than 7,700 — and abandoned its plans to sell 45,000 in 2012, saying instead it will match supply to meet demand.

Akerson owns a Volt and is thinking about buying another one, he said.

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