GM President: Demand for Chevy Volt Is Still Unknown

By · October 10, 2011

Pelosi, Reuss and Chevy Volt

Former US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi plugs in the Chevrolet Volt while General Motors President Mark Reuss (right) looks on, at the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

General Motors touts the great fuel efficiency of models such as its 40-mpg Chevy Cruze and its eAssist light electrification system. In tough economic times such as these, do those models take sales away from the Chevy Volt? I put that question to Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, at a press breakfast last week in Los Angeles.

“I can’t tell you,” said Reuss, adding “I won’t disagree with your analysis” that people are buying fuel-efficient internal combustion engine cars rather than the more expensive Volt.

GM isn’t sure right now what exact demand for the Volt is, Reuss said. “Right around (the second or third quarter) of next year, we will actually know what the demand for Volt is.”

In any case, the Volt has been a great marketing tool for other Chevy model, said Reuss. “We sell Chevy cars because of the Volt,” he said. “I don’t know what freestanding demand [for the Volt] is right now,” he said. “All I know is the car is very popular and there is a lot of good stuff written about it. It helps Chevrolet as a brand.”

Reuss said the Volt was a great vehicle to draw customers into dealerships, and that many ended up buying models such as the fuel-efficient Chevy Cruze instead.

Volt availability will improve during the remainder of this year, which should boost sales numbers for the electric vehicle, said Reuss. Deliveries slowed dramatically in recent months because the Detroit-Hamtramck plant that produces the Volt was shut down for four weeks in June for retooling to boost capacity.

4,000 Volt Sales in October?

Hamtramck Volt Production

With retooling of its Hamtramck plant completed, GM expects major increases in Volt sales in the coming months and years.

GM delivered 700 Volts last month—its best month yet, said Reuss. "So our availability of the Volt this month will be close to 4,000 units," he said.
Roll out of the 2011 Volt was limited to California, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C. It will be available nationwide by the end of this year, GM said.
Production capacity at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant this year will be 16,000 units, according to GM. The plant also produces the Ampera, the European version of the Volt. In 2012, global production capacity is expected to be 60,000 vehicles with 45,000 delivered in the U.S.

Volt sales have been lackluster since its launch in late November 2010. But GM is optimistic about the future of electric vehicles. Reuss said demand does justify producing an entire portfolio of electric cars. Indeed, GM has a range of electric-drive cars that includes a variety of hybrids, he pointed out.
“We already have battery technology that can be put into high volume production,” said Reuss.

Even if there isn’t huge demand for the vehicles, said Reuss, “I’m not sure it matters. As an industry, we have to keep making cars that people feel good about driving from an emissions and fuel economy standpoint. I like to feel good about that. I bought a Volt for my kids. I put two gallons of gas in that thing since last January and it has been driven about 4,000 miles.”

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