Autofield Blog

Volt Unplugged?


By:

13. August 2013

Last week General Motors announced that it will be offering the 2014 Volt for $34,995 (including destination fee), and for some people this indicates the beginning of the end for the car.

Which makes little sense at all.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

It must be acknowledged that they aren’t selling a heck of a lot of Volts. According to Autodata, they’ve sold 11,643 so far this year.

Not a good number. But someone at Chevy ought to take solace in the fact that Cadillac has moved only 6,782 Escalades, which seems to indicate that the era of the BIG SUV is being eclipsed by a plug-in hybrid.

What’s more—or less, depending on your POV—they’ve sold 10,007 Buick Regals, a perfectly fine car with a conventional powertrain.

And not to simply pick on GM: Lincoln MKS so far in 2013? 6,150. Toyota Sequoia: 7,765. Lexus GS 350/300: 10,471. Hyundai Azera: 6,720.

And there are more with fewer sales.

The problem with the Volt is that it is “different.” And unless it is an Apple ad, people don’t like to think different. They like to think “same.” Regular. Ordinary. Predictable.

Which puts GM in a particular fix regarding its messaging for the Volt. They want to make sure that people know that GM is pushing the future, not simply pushing vanilla tin. Yet they need to make people feel comfortable with the technology, because it is a heck of a lot easier to walk into a dealership and opt for a Cruze that has no sign of a plug or a dashboard that seems like it is something you’d see on the screen for an Xbox game.

Costs generally come down as companies get better at making things. Maybe that’s the case with the Volt’s hybrid-electric system. Maybe.

Costs generally come down as companies make more of essentially the same thing. Cadillac will be coming out with 2014 ELR, which will make use of the Volt architecture (and assembly line). Maybe that is helping reduce the price of the Volt. Maybe.

But here’s something to consider: Bob Lutz, former GM product czar and all-around car guy, a man who proudly points to the Volt as a product that he helped shepherd into the market, once famously said that Toyota wasn’t making money on the Prius, that it was simply a marketing play.

And maybe Toyota was using marketing money to subsidize early Prius sales. Maybe. But with all the Prius variants included, Toyota has sold 143,508 Priuses so far this year. That’s more than all of the Buicks sold during the same period (117,230).

The Volt simply needs time. And given the other successes that Chevy has—like the Cruze, Sonic and Spark—this time GM can afford to give it time.

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