“Do you want to accompany? or go on ahead? or go off alone? … One must know what one wants and that one wants”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight Of The Idols
This week’s news that GM would stop production of the Chevrolet Volt for the third time in its brief lifespan came roaring out of the proverbial blind spot. Having watched the Volt’s progress closely from gestation through each month’s sales results, it was no secret to me that the Volt was seriously underperforming to expectations. But in the current media environment, anything that happens three times is a trend, and the latest shutdown (and, even more ominously, the accompanying layoffs) was unmistakeable. Not since succumbing to government-organized bankruptcy and bailout has GM so publicly cried “uncle” to the forces of the market, and I genuinely expected The General to continue to signal optimism for the Volt’s long-term prospects. After all, sales in February were up dramatically, finally breaking the 1,000 unit per month barrier. With gasoline prices on the march, this latest shutdown was far from inevitable.
And yet, here we are. Now that GM is undeniably signaling that the Volt is a Corvette-style halo car, with similar production and sales levels, my long-standing skepticism about the Volt’s chances seems to be validated. But in the years since GM announced its intention to build the Volt, this singular car has become woven into the history and yes, the mythology of the bailout era. Now, at the apparent end of its mass-market ambitions, I am struck not with a sense of schadenfreude, but of bewilderment. If the five year voyage of Volt hype is over, we have a lot of baggage to unpack.
The Chevy Volt’s best news in ages broke yesterday when GreenCarReports, er, reported that the Fisker Karma had received EPA approval at 32 miles of EV range, and 20 MPG (combined) thereafter. Moreover, the MPGE (the “e” is for “equivalent”) rating of 52 on electric power is nearly half the Volt’s 94 MPGE rating, suggesting that the Karma is not the most efficient car even in EV mode. And, at nearly 5,600 lbs (per evo.co.uk), you don’t have to look far to find out why. But if you ask Fisker, the problem isn’t the car… the problem is those darn EPA numbers, which you should probably just ignore anyway. After all, nobody drives less efficiently than their car’s EPA numbers, right?
I’m sure the resident anti-GM-bias patrol won’t look kindly upon this double-dose of Volt skepticism, but at the point that GM’s Volt production is ramped up well above its sales rate, we should be paying attention to what GM is saying about the challenge of marketing the Volt. Automotive News [sub] reports that it’s still too early to compare Volt and Nissan Leaf deliveries in terms of a competition, arguing
Chevrolet and Nissan are still selling to early adopters and green enthusiasts and will be for most of the coming year. Their real challenge is to learn how to market the high-profile cars to mainstream U.S. consumers in mass-production volumes in 2012 and beyond.
To prepare for that, both automakers are using 2011 as a sort of practice year, taking notes, tinkering with tactics and honing their marketing messages.
And according to GM sources, there’s a lot of honing to do…
Is the Chevy Volt a flop? It’s a question that plenty of folks both inside the industry and beyond seem awfully curious about, and one that I’ve tried to stay away from until we had some strong data to go on. And with nine months of 2011 under our belt, we’re starting to get a sense of where the Volt is going… and it’s not been all reassuring news. Jalopnik notes that such unloved GM models as the Buick Lucerne and Chevy Avalanche outsold the Volt last month, but failed to look at the important stuff: production as compared to deliveries, and inventory. Jalopnik does quote a Cars.com inventory figure of 2,600 Volts on dealer lots, although the latest data we have from Automotive News [sub] shows 1,400 units in the national inventory as of September 1… which at that point constituted a 121-day supply. Add in the 1,644-unit differential between Volts built and Volts sold in September, and the estimated Volt inventory across the nation should be closer to 3,000 units. We will be sure to update when AN gets new inventory numbers, but for now, the signs aren’t promising.
Ed, Sajeev, and yours truly have all weighed in on the Chevrolet Volt. We all agreed that it drives surprisingly well, but that aspects of the interior need work. I hadn’t been planning to review the Volt again, but was asked if I’d like to have one for a week following the Cruze ECO. And so an intramural competition was born. If the $19,995 Cruze ECO is such a solid, comfortable, and efficient commuter, why spend twice as much for the $39,995 Volt?
The Detroit News‘s David Shepardson has a way of being on hand with a microphone whenever GM CEO Dan Akerson lets loose with a memorable line, and today he has Akerson telling a Bloomberg News Forum that the green star of the American auto turnaround, the Chevy Volt, could be built in China within a few years. Said Akerson
We’re going to export into China for probably a year or two and see if it gets a take … if customers set the right usage patterns. If it does, we may manufacture it there.
GM tightened its ties with Volt battery cell provider LG this week, announcing a deal to jointly develop next-generation electric vehicles. GM, along with the other Detroit-based OEMs, have been seeking closer ties with their suppliers, and as the JoongAng Daily reports, this deal helps LG at a time when the Korean conglomerate has been struggling
Two of LG’s pillars – LG Electronics and LG Display – are floundering. LG missed the boat on smartphones and persistently-low prices of display panels have plagued LG Display.
LG officials are hoping the EV project will give it momentum.
And though it’s no surprise that GM wants to move into the pure-EV market, its gamble on the extended-electric Volt has backed it into something of rhetorical corner.
Volt owners gather before their parade down Woodward
Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth
As part of the festivities surrounding the Woodward Dream Cruise, GM organized a parade down Woodward and back up again made up of 50 Chevy Volts driven to the event by their owners, at their own expense, from around the country. As far as car company promotional events go it was fairly low key (I was asked not to publicize the pre-parade reception for the owners) but it was clearly a high priority item for GM. The Volt marketing team was out in force and they brought in NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who are racing at Michigan International Speedway this weekend, to wave green flags at the start of the Volt parade. Gordon and Johnson both own Chevy dealerships and they both personally own Chevy Volts. They race for Rick Hendricks, who owns quite a few Chevy (and other GM) stores himself. There were news teams from at least two of the Detroit tv stations and a satellite truck that I believe was used for a national network or cable interview of the NASCAR drivers. GM also brought out a number of pace cars from their private stash of Camaros, Corvettes and even one Chevy SSR that paced races at Indianapolis and Daytona. There was also the ZR1 that set a lap record for production cars at the Nurburgring. Marketing being what it is, the parade also included 2 squadrons of Chevy’s most recent new product, the Camaro convertible and the subcompact Sonic. There were 100 cars in total, one for each year in Chevy’s current centennial.
There were t-shirts and baseball caps for the guests, and the Volt owners each got a nice die cast model of their car, but the Volt owners weren’t there for the swag or for autographs, though they eagerly accepted both. The Volt owners were there because they really, really, really like their cars.
For a vehicle named after a unit of measure, the Chevrolet Volt is a difficult car to pin down. From its drivetrain to its efficiency rating, the Volt defies categorization. From price point to performance, it defies comparison. It’s a rolling contradiction, this car, part electric car and part gas-burner, part high-concept moonshot and part workmanlike commuter. And yet for all its mysteries, contradictions and (yes) compromises, the Volt is also a deceptively simple car to use. Which makes it what exactly?
If the recent flap over the Volt’s drivetrain has taught us anything it’s that A) GM’s internal-combustion-assisted plug-in is more complicated than we thought, and B) GM is fine with simplifying its complex reality in order to make it appear as attractive as possible. Which is just fine: they’re the ones trying to sell a $41k car, and as such they’re entitled to do what they can to make it seem worth its many shortcomings. What the automotive media needs to take away from the brou-ha-ha isn’t necessarily that GM’s hesitance to bring forward “the whole truth” is an intrinsically big deal (let’s just say this wasn’t the first time), but rather that knowledgeable writers should focus on explaining the Volt in ways that are both comprehensible and fully accurate. In this spirit, the most important question isn’t “what should we call the Volt?” but “how efficient is the Volt in the real world?”And on this point, there’s plenty of room for some truthful clarification.
Latest Car ReviewsRead more
Latest Product ReviewsRead more
- Dusterdude When there is a strike the union leadership talk about “brothers and sisters “ . They should give up that charade . Bottom line is they are trying to wring out every last penny they can and could care less ( putting it politely) about the future of the industry 5 - 10 years+ down the road
- Ronin They all will back off, because the consumer demand is not there. Even now the market is being artificially propped up by gov subsidies.
- Keith Some of us appreciate sharing these finds. Thank you. I always have liked these. It would a fun work car or just to bomb around in. Easy to keep running. Just get an ignition kill switch and you would have no worries leaving it somewhere. Those OEM size wheels and tires are comical. A Juke has bigger wheels!
- Ollicat I have a Spyder. The belt will last for many years or 60,000-80,000 miles. Not really a worry.
- Redapple2 Cadillac and racing. Boy those 2 go together dont they? What a joke. Up there with opening a coffee shop in NYC. EvilGM be clowning. Again.