GM and Nissan Put Pedals to Floor on Early EV Rollouts

· · 7 years ago

General Motors announced Thursday that it will make its Chevy Volt available to customers nationwide by the end of 2011, accelerating a rollout that was initially only expected to have expanded sales to seven states by the start of next year. In a press release, the carmaker attributed the decision to high consumer interest in the vehicle, which has been gradually making its way out early customers since November. “We are seeing 10-15 customers a week who are seriously considering buying a Volt,” said Harry E. Criswell III, who owns Criswell Chevy in Maryland. “Many of them own competitive brands and now have Chevy on their shopping list because of the Volt.”

Within the next few months, customers throughout the country will be able to place an order on the Volt, with deliveries expanding to 11 new states in the third quarter. By years end, Chevy hopes to deliver Volts in all 50 states.

For Chevy, simply having the Volt in dealerships could wind up having as big an impact on the bottom line as sales of the car itself. Curiosity from customers like those stopping into Criswell's dealership may or may not translate into earth-shattering early sales numbers for the Volt, but should at the very least lead to more showroom traffic, as consumers who may not even be in the market for a new car flock to get an up-close look at the revolutionary new vehicle that has generated a steady stream of headlines for years now.

GM has been tinkering with the Volt's rollout timeline since last summer, as it measures consumer demand against logistical considerations like the availability of electric drive components. The carmaker is also rumored to be looking into doubling 2012 production on vehicle from unofficial target of 60,000 units, to as many as 120,000.

Meanwhile, the Volt's all-electric competitor, the Nissan LEAF, will also be making changes to keep up with consumer demand. Nissan announced earlier this week that it will offer overtime and holiday shifts to workers building the LEAF its Oppama plant, in an effort to ramp up production on the car by 33 percent, to 4,000 units per month. The world's second-largest carmaker (and largest producer of electric vehicles,) has received more than 24,000 orders worldwide for the plug-in—putting it about 8 months behind catching up with existing demand.

Nissan promises that it is on track to deliver 20,000 LEAFs to American customers by September, which is good-but-not-great news for the thousands of customers who long ago paid to be put on a waiting list for the car but have been told not to expect delivery until 4-7 months after they placed their order.

Early demand for the LEAF and Volt has been stronger than expected, and though Nissan and GM will both soon open new facilities capable of producing hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles each year, evidently neither was fully prepared for the overwhelming early interest that the first plug-ins have managed to generate. And if oil prices continue to rise as they have in recent months, that interest is likely to grow further.

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