Chevy Volt Perspective: Present And Future

Volt mania! To hear GM tell it, it’s sweeping the country. In a stream of news releases, the resurgent automaker has heralded the car-of-the-year awards – of which there have been many – cited dealers practically fighting off a frothing public eager to see it up close, and announced with fanfare the vehicle would go on sale nationwide six months sooner than projected.

All this, yet GM actually sold fewer than 700 Volts in its first two months on the market – 326 in December and 321 in January. Meanwhile, Volt’s humble gasoline-powered cousin, the new Chevrolet Cruze, rocked 13,631 units in the first month of the year alone.

Chevrolet Volt, GM

image via GM

To some extent this outsized treatment of the Volt was to be expected. Years in the making and revolutionary, the extended-range electric Volt was always more a statement about GM and its intention of being a player in the unknown automotive future than it was a bid to sell a lot of cars. We knew the Volt was a peephole into that future, not the endpoint, not the thing itself.

Yet GM’s full-court marketing press on the Volt – and the mere fact that the car made it to market in time, and it works, at least so far – invites the question: What does the Volt’s early reception mean for the car, for GM, and for EVs in America? The question seems especially appropriate with President Obama calling for 1 million EVs on U.S. roads in coming years. After all, the Volt is, as of right now, the best-selling EV in America, its two-month total of 637 easily besting pure-battery competitor Nissan Leaf at 106.

“It’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement,” Rebecca Lindland, who watches the auto industry for IHS Global Insights, said in an interview. “I mean, what an amazing achievement for GM, to create this vehicle and see it in the market as planned and performing as well as anyone would have hoped.”

Beyond the news flurry, GM has stoked real speculation that the Volt might grow much faster than projected. At the Detroit auto show in early January, CEO Daniel Akerson said the company could build up to 25,000 Volts this year, a big leap from the planned 10,000, and would extend the Volt powertrain to a multipurpose vehicle and perhaps other models in the next couple of years. Soon afterward, a report sourced to company insiders said next year’s target of 45,000 might be in for an even more substantial revision, possibly to more than 120,000.

That’s a lot of cars.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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