General Motors detailed sales data this week revealed that only 281 Chevrolet Volts were sold in February, down from 321 in January. There are a few moving parts to consider before making any definitive statements about Volt's success or failure.
We can certainly speculate on why Volts aren't flying off the shelves. Here are a few thoughts about why there's no need to panic just yet.
First, the Volt isn't available across the U.S. yet. In fact, the Volt is available in seven states: California, New York, Michigan, Texas, New Jersey and Washington D.C. area. Roughly speaking, GM sold 40 Volts in February in each state. That sales pace in 50 states would equate to 2,000 Volts a month. For comparison, GM sold 2,760 Chevy Aveos in February.
Production and availability matters too. It's still a bit fuzzy on how many Volts GM can actually produce. In late January, GM said it would speed up the nationwide rollout of the Volt. Deliveries will begin in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, GM will have Volts available nationwide. Simply put, we won't know how Volts are really performing until 2012.
Price is key. GM's Volt splash page features an MSRP of $32,780 with a big footnote. That net price includes the full $7,500 tax credit. However, after April 15 you can't claim that credit until 2012. In other words, the Volt isn't cheap and needs to come down in price without tax credits.
GM is changing consumer behavior. Let's face it, the Volt appeals to early adopters. I ran into one Thursday in fact. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is a Volt owner. He has had the Volt for two weeks roughly. Key points from Benioff:
- He enjoys the car and says it's fun to drive.
- Benioff doesn't drive that far---about 40 miles a pop in mostly city driving. In fact, the gas engine portion of the Volt has yet to come on.
- Charging hasn't been an issue since Benioff equipped his home with a heavy duty charger.
- The user interface of the Volt isn't as intuitive as it could be, but overall is well designed.
However, Benioff isn't the average bear. Benioff plans to take Salesforce.com's new San Francisco headquarter off grid with a wide array of technologies (fuel cells, solar etc). Benioff is a front runner and a sustainability evangelist. The average consumer, who will choke on the additional expense of upgrading their electric system to support faster charging, has to rethink the Volt thing. I expect $4 a gallon gas may speed up that process.
In short, the Volt remains in the experiment mode. I doubt we'll get a definitive read on Volt sales until 2012 at the earliest.
Also see: First drive: Chevrolet Volt