Dan Akerson Says First Year Sales Of Volt As Good As Prius, Grows Long Nose

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
dan akerson says first year sales of volt as good as prius grows long nose

The repeated stoppages of the Volt production triggered rumors that GM might discontinue the Volt altogether.

Dan Akerson himself had to come to the rescue of the embattled plug-in. Saying that “we are not backing away from this product,” Akerson promised more advertising and less volume. So far, so good.

Then, Akerson did something really bad. Surprisingly, Akerson used Toyota as a benchmark and reportedly said that “Toyota sold about the same amount of Prius in its first year as the Volt in its first year.”

Utter nonsense.

It gets worse.

In the first year, the Volt sold half of what the Prius had sold in the first year. And that in a market twice the size.

It gets worse.

In the first year, the Volt sold half of what the Prius had sold in the first year. And that at a time when gasoline did cost twice as much as when the Prius was launched.

If Akerson would know more about cars, then he would not have to tell lies. He also would know that Toyota had been terribly unhappy about the initial sales of the Prius. What should give Akerson further pause are rumors from Toyota that sales of the plug-in hybrid version of the Prius, launched in Japan in January, are not going well. There are no numbers available, but all I am hearing is that the Aqua/Prius C compact hybrid is selling like hotcakes, while the plug-in Prius is collecting dust. Again from what I am hearing, people balk at the price. The regular Prius in the G trim costs 2,520,000 yen ($30,000) in Japan. The G-trim Prius plug-in hybrid costs 3,400,000 yen ($41,000). All prices including tax.

People seem to shun the plug-in, and instead go for the Prius, or its smaller sibling the Prius c. That one costs 1,850,000 yen ($22,000) in the G trim. The Prius is Japan’s best-selling car, the Aqua / Prius C has become Japan’s third-best-selling car right out of the gate. Price is a big driver of the success of a car. Price is the biggest problem of the Volt. Even with a generous (and unsustainable) subsidy, it is way too expensive. The example of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid proves an old adage in the business: People may swear up and down that no price is too high when it comes to the environment. Once in the showroom, they buy the car that makes sense.

Oh, and back to Akerson. I know how to get him out of this. He should say he was misquoted. He should say he meant calendar year. Launched in December 1997, the Prius sold 323 in that month and year. Launched in December 2010, the Volt sold 326 in that month and year. I know, it’s a lame excuse, but it beats being called a liar.

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  • Lokki Lokki on Mar 14, 2012

    I have to say that this is IMHO a tempest in a teapot. Bertel has indeed over-reacted to a throw-away remark by a CEO who probably heard the remark from someone at a meeting and seized on it as a talking point -without any actual detailed knowledge of the context of the remark beyond the raw numbers. If someone had called him on it on the spot, he'd have stumbled and turned to his staff. Anyone who has done staff work for one of these guys knows how that is. To lie requires intent to deceive. To misinform only requires ignorance. I used to just hold my breath and wait everytime my boss spoke in public. Unless he was throughly briefed (read trained and drilled) he might come out with any damned thing. I would tend to dismiss this as puffery, and frankly irrelevant. The circumstances of the two rollouts vary too much to be comparable, and even if they somehow were, what useful knowledge could you gleam from it? One might say that it shows that one or two years of saales data tell you nothing about the long term viability of a car in the marketplace. Some see sales grow from nothing (Corvette) and others see good initial sales vanish (Vega). Ain't tellin' till you roll those dice for a few more model years.

  • Pch101 Pch101 on Mar 14, 2012

    This parsing stuff is fun and all, but it would be more helpful to address with the substance of Akerson's comments. Akerson is saying that the Prius had a slow US launch. He's right -- it took years before the Prius ever hit the sort of volumes that would be considered to be mainstream for a compact car that lacks luxury branding. The substantive question to ask is whether this is a good comparison, i.e. whether the Volt will ever achieve the sort of sales volume in the US that the Prius eventually did. For a variety of reasons, I expect that the answer to this will prove to be "no". But that's going to be difficult to talk about if SOP is going to be to denounce Akerson as being sort of conniving liar, when perhaps he should be just taken to task for being unduly optimistic.

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