Chevy Idles Volt, Media Draws Politicized Conclusions
GM will temporarily halt production of the Chevy Volt at its Detroit-Hamtramck factory next month as part of a planned shutdown to retool the facility for the remade Impala line. The idling will last for less than a month, spanning from September 15 to October 17.
Some media outlets took the news as a sign that Volt sales had tanked, jumping back into a familiar narrative that has maligned the car since long before its release. "GM Expected to Suspend Chevy Volt Production Over Slow Sales", read the headline at the USA Today's website. The factually-unsupported sentiment was echoed immediately around the web, spawning headlines like "Call It A Dud? Chevrolet Idles Volt Plant Again For Slow Sales".
Chevy says it has 6,500 Volts on hand, which should leave it with the standard 60 days worth of inventory once production resumes in October. The carmaker last idled the Volt line in March because it had accumulated more than 10,000 unsold vehicles (enough to cover about four months of sales,) but this time around, swelling inventories weren't a consideration in the decision.
"We are comfortable with our current inventory levels of these products, which allows us to take time for launch readiness of the Impala," said GM's David Darovitz in an email to the Detroit Free Press.
Since March, the Volt has experienced a major uptick in popularity, selling more than 8,000 cars in a five month period thanks in part to aggressive lease pricing. In the first half of 2012, Chevy sold more than three times as many Volts as it did in over the same period the year before.
The Most Politicized Car on the Market
No car in recent memory has proven to be as politically polarizing as the Volt. For many Democrats, the recent success of the Volt is seen as proof that the auto bailouts and stricter emissions standards have succeeded in creating a booming, American-manufactured green car market. For Republican critics, Chevy's failure to meet its original sales targets for the car has been trumpeted as proof that the Volt is yet another government boondoggle. In truth, neither characterization has much basis in reality.
While it's true that carmakers are being forced to innovate in anticipation of increasing fuel economy standards, steadily rising fuel prices have played just as much of a role in inspiring the shift. The Volt is considered the brainchild of Bob Lutz (a staunch Republican,) and was originally conceived of long before Barack Obama had even announced his candidacy for president.
While the car's fortunes have reversed of late, it's far too early to consider it either a smash success or an abject failure. If this latest temporary shutdown is proof of anything, it's only that we can expect sensationalistic headlines to propagate around even the most mundane news items related to the vehicle.
For its part, GM has mercifully decided to ban all candidate appearances at its factories during the 2012 election season.
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