General Motors has staked much of its credibility on the Chevy Volt. GM has a goal of selling 10,000 of the vehicles in 2011 and is only about half way there with two months remaining. Ad spending seems to have ramped up faster than sales though with much of GM’s marketing dollars going towards Volt commercials while only 1,108 of the vehicles sold in October. I can’t remember ever seeing as many TV ads for a vehicle that has sold in such low numbers. Despite the low proportionate sales to hype ratio for the Volt, sites like Mother Nature Network are proclaiming success for the Volt with the headline reading “October was a great month for Chevy Volt Sales.”
So just how great a month was it for the Volt and for the taxpayers who continue to be bilked out of billions of dollars for the misguided greening of America? Well, compared to the Nissan Leaf tax subsidized vehicle, Volt sales don’t look too bad. Only 849 Leafs sold in October. The two most hyped green vehicles of the year, which were built at the expense of billions of taxpayer dollars, could not even break 2,000 combined sales. It is hard to validate the benefits to society or polar bears at such low levels of sales, particularly given the fact that the Volt has limited range in electric mode. The bar had been set so low for Volt sales in the first portion of the year that green ideologues are now boasting about sub-mediocre Volt sales.
Up to this point, GM has blamed supply constraints for low Chevy Volt sales. This defense loses credibility when you take into consideration the fact that GM recently canceled plans for a second shift to produce Volts. The Toyota Pius, which had supply hampered by a massive earthquake and tsunami, managed to outsell the Volt by a margin of 10 to 1. Curiously, the numbers looked somewhat similar, with the exception of a missing 0 from the Volt numbers. Prius sold 11,008 compared to the Volts 1,108. Sales for the year stand at 104,251 for the Prius and 5,003 for the Volt. And the Prius does not benefit from a $7,500 tax credit for buyers like the Volt does.
The actual supply of Volts is also a source for debate. GM claims a 72 day supply of inventory for the Volt. Cars.com shows 3,537 Volts available for sale. VIN numbers are listed for these vehicles. Either GM is not telling the truth about Volt supply, or Chevy dealerships are (perhaps illegally) advertising vehicles that are not truly for sale. The most likely scenario, in my opinion, is that GM is not counting any vehicles that have been used as demos as inventory, even though these vehicles are now available for sale. If the cars.com number is a more accurate number for inventory, the Volt would have over a three month supply available. Compare this to the 11,677, or one month supply, of Toyota Prius vehicles listed on cars.com and the low supply defense for poor Volt sales further erodes.
There is another missing set of data for Volt sales that is the most important. Just who is buying the vehicles? Many articles point to localities buying vehicles, at heavy discounts, for police and other fleet use. Crony corporation, GE, has stated that they will buy 25,000 of the vehicles. Our federal government continues to help GM out through fleet purchases and funding through government owned Ally Financial. If GM manages to somehow manufacture enough demand for the Volt in the last two months of the year to sell 10,000 vehicles by year end, the sales will most likely not have come from individual consumers. That won’t matter to GM though; regarding the perceived success of the Chevy Volt, while it might not be nice to fool Mother Nature Network, GM will certainly continue to try.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.