After a difficult first year in 2011, during which Chevrolet sold a mere 7,671 Volts, sales of the vehicle shot up to a respectable 23,461 car sales for 2012 — driven largely by consumer demand reacting to high gas prices. According to the Washington Post (hat tip to Treehugger) that surge looks likely to continue: General Motors will be upping 2013′s production to 36,000 units.
Able to run on electrical or gasoline power, the Volt — along with other hybrids, electric vehicles, and fuel-efficient cars — has helped boost job growth in the automotive sector in the face of a sluggish economy. This happened despite a storm of right-wing contempt for fuel-efficient automobile technology over the last few years, which focused largely on the Volt as a symbol of President Obama’s (largely successful) attempts to give the American automotive industry a chance to retool itself and get back on its feet.
Since then, overall hybrid sales increased 50 percent in 2012 from the previous model year, sales of plug-in electric vehicles tripled, and GM itself captured 7 percent of the hybrid market — up 2 percent from the year before. And now the company is looking to bulk up its Volt production by 20 percent:
General Motors Co. is planning to build as many as 36,000 Chevrolet Volts and other plug-in hybrids for worldwide delivery this year, 20 percent more than in 2012, two people familiar with the effort said.
GM is planning to build 1,500 to 3,000 of the fuel- efficient vehicles a month, said the people, who didn’t want to be identified because the target isn’t public. GM sold about 30,000 Volt and similar Opel Ampera cars globally in 2012, said Jim Cain, a company spokesman, who declined to give a target for this year.
Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson has struggled to compete against more successful alternative-power vehicles such as Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius. The CEO originally touted the Volt’s gasoline-and-electric system as the technology of the future and forecast global Volt sales of 60,000 in 2012, before settling for half that amount.
The 36,000 target is “probably a doable number,” Jim Hall, principal of consultancy 2953 Analytics, said. “It will have a full calendar year in Europe” and GM will probably sell more this year now that the Volt is eligible for the car-pool lane in California, he said.
Admittedly, these numbers remain behind GM’s previous hoped-for targets. It still lags Toyota, which boosted its hybrid sales 70 percent in 2012 over the previous model year, dominating the market with 892,519 sales of its various Prius hybrid models worldwide. The Prius starts at $24,200 — and a subcompact Prius model sells for $19,080 — which undercuts GM’s $39,145 four-seat Volt.
So good news for electric and hybrid cars as a whole, and thus for fuel efficiency and the environment. But less so for the Volt itself.
Still, the Chevy Volt has several factors going in its favor. It was selected as 2011′s North American Car of the Year — with 92 percent of those surveyed telling Consumer Reports they would buy open again. Meanwhile, fuel standards are set to require 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, technological moves on the horizon promise to make the car’s lithium ion battery technology lighter and more efficient, and there’s every reason to think high gas prices are here to stay.