GM won’t meet its Chevy Volt 2011 sales goal

Chevy Volt Eye Candy: GM's Great Green Hope Strikes a Pose (or 9)

Whether you like the Chevy Volt or not, if you are a supporter of electric cars, you should be disheartened by the news that the Volt won’t meet its 2011 sales goal after all. General Motors said Thursday it won’t be able to sell 10,000 Volts this year, as it had set out to do after launching the plug-in hybrid electric car a year ago, reported the Detroit News.

Not hitting the goal signals a setback in efforts to convince consumers to embrace more environmentally friendly vehicles. The Volt attracted a lot of fanfare leading to up its launch because it represented a departure from the gasoline-centric approach of GM and the auto industry. Sure, at a price at around $41,000 (before tax incentives), the car isn’t as affordable as comparable sedans that run on combustion engines only. But then, GM wasn’t expecting the car to sell outsell any of its other models either, particularly given the weak economy.

GM saw an increase in Volt sales in October and November, but the uptick isn’t enough to enable the carmaker to hit its goal.  GM sold 1,139 Volts in November while Nissan sold 672 all-electric LEAFs in the U.S. In October, 1,108 Volts found buyers while 849 LEAFs did so. But Nissan still leads in overall sale for 2011 so far: 8,720 LEAFs versus 6,142 Volts.

GM and other carmakers have been under pressure by the government to roll out more fuel-efficient cars and invest more in electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles (with hefty financial support from the government). Just last month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new fuel economy standard for 2025 that comes with provisions to allow automakers to hit lower fuel efficiency numbers if they invest in, say, building electric cars or using better air conditioning systems that emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Though GM and Nissan were early to the electric car marker, other carmakers plan to follow. Ford, Toyota, Honda all plan to launch similar cars in the United States over the next few years. Tesla Motors plans to roll out Model S into the showroom next year, and Coda Automotive just started producing its very first, all-electric model.

How well GM and Nissan fare will give other automakers an indication of the consumer appetite for electric cars, and they will adjust their production accordingly. Any product plan cuts will not just impact carmakers and their dealers, but suppliers such as lithium-ion battery makers. A123 Systems already is doing layoffs and has reduced its sales projection because its customer, Fisker Automotive, has cut its battery orders.

President Obama has set a goal of putting 1 million plug-in electric cars on the road by 2015. Debates have raged over whether the goal is easy to meet. His administration had counted on a number of car companies to supply enough cars to help achieve the goal. It was counting on GM to produce 15,000 Volts and Nissan to deliver 25,000 LEAFs for 2011. Figures for Think EV and Fisker Karma also aren’t panning out.

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