Dismal Chevy Spark EV Sales Make the Volt Look Good

Barra and VoltThe final tallies for 2013 sales are in for the Chevy Volt and its little sister, the Chevy Spark EV. The results are ugly.

While the Volt relies on both a gas engine and electric power, the Spark is actually an electric-only vehicle, assumedly designed to compete with the all-electric Nissan Leaf which had sales of 22,610 for the year. The Spark EV did not compete well, with sales for 2013 coming in at only 589 for the seven months in which it was offered. Chevy Volt sales for the year also disappointed, coming in at 23,094 and down from 2012 sales. The Volt’s sales drop came during a year when overall US car sales rose about 8%.

Back in November of 2012, new General Motors CEO, Mary Barra, hyped the Chevy Spark EV and proclaimed that GM would focus on such plug-in electric vehicles in the future. If this is Barra’s vision for the future focus of GM, shareholders should be very nervous. Following are excerpts from the Automotive News article with quotes from Ms. Barra on her electrified vision for GM:

General Motors’ future green-car efforts will focus on plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles rather than conventional hybrid powertrains, product chief Mary Barra said today.

Barra said GM has narrowed its future development emphasis in an effort to defend its leadership position attained with the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. GM will unveil an electric Spark minicar this month at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

“A major focus for GM’s electrification strategy will center on the plug,” Barra said via a satellite feed to reporters gathered here for a GM event. She added that plug-ins offer “a unique opportunity to change the way people commute” and that Volt owners “love the ability to refuel at home.”

Barra said she has worked with her global team over the past few months to narrow GM’s electrification focus. In the past, GM sought to “cover the waterfront” by pursuing myriad powertrain technologies, but that approach is too costly and inefficient, she said.

“We need to make educated bets on which technologies hold the most potential for creating values for our customers and our company,” Barra said.

Traditional hybrid technology, a realm now dominated by Toyota Motor Corp., “is important, of course,” Barra said. “But we think plug-in technology will play an increasingly important role over the years to come.”

So, how is Ms. Barra’s bet on plug-in EVs over conventional hybrids working out? Not so well, based on the numbers. Toyota sold over 200,000 conventional hybrid Prius models in 2013. That’s about ten times the combined sales for the Volt and Spark EV. And if Barra is concerned with “costly and inefficient approaches,” the money-losing Volt and Spark EV are certainly not the way to go.

GM wisely chooses not to talk about the Spark EV. Sales figures for the vehicle were not broken out from total Spark sales on previous monthly sales data releases. The taxpayer-subsidized vehicle’s apparent real hidden goal is to help GM meet compliance requirements in states like California.

Shareholders can only hope that Mary Barra does not really believe that plug-in electric vehicles are the wave of the future. Even a recent government report predicts sales to stay in the one percent range of total vehicle sales all the way through 2040. If Ms. Barra’s vision for GM truly centers on plug-in electric vehicles such as the Volt and Spark EV (not to mention the new Cadillac ELR which is sure to be a failure) there will be a price to pay; for both taxpayers who subsidize the vehicles and the GM shareholders who will end up absorbing the losses.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.