Can GM Ramp Up Hybrid Sales?

Despite a big marketing push, hybrid sales for General Motors have been extremely low in the first quarter of 2008. The carmaker now has five hybrids on the market, including the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, which was designated “Green Car of the Year” by Green Car Journal.

GM eked out 843 hybrid sales from January to March. That number breaks down to 655 Tahoe and Yukon models, 158 Saturn Vues, 20 Saturn Auras, and 10 Chevy Malibus. Total hybrids sales in the first three months of 2008 exceeded 80,000 units.

General Motors said the company is maintaining significantly higher sales projections, including an annual projected volume of 10,000 to 12,000 combined sales for the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and GMC Yukon hybrids. “Things are starting out slow, but we expect sales to ramp up,” said GM spokesman Brian Corbett, in an interview with HybridCars.com. “We’re holding to our original projections for Tahoe and Yukon.” In order to achieve this goal, GM would need to an approximate four-fold increase in the pace of sales for the rest of the year.

Even if GM were to increase production and distribution of its hybrids, it’s unclear if the company has a winning formula for its hybrids. The Tahoe and Yukon, while offering impressive mileage for a full-size SUV, are priced above $50,000. The other GM hybrids are more moderately priced, but use a mild form of hybrid technology that produces only modest gains in fuel economy. For example, the Chevy Malibu Hybrid, which gives 24 in the city and 32 on the highway as compared to the gas version’s 22 city/30 highway.

Current economic conditions—a pending recession and high gas prices—mean that consumers either want to spend less or get a big benefit from the extra expense. In the case of hybrids, that has to add up to high MPG. Market analysts will be keeping a close eye on GM hybrid sales in April and May, as the company increased production and gas prices reach new record levels.


  • Boom Boom

    If GM ruins their reputation with such a poor attempt at getting into the hybrid market, they’ll need the Volt to defy gravity to make any sales.

  • Collin Burnell

    The solution is really simple. A small (say 2.0 liter) 4 cylinder engine + hybridization + 20 gallon fuel tank = Small V6 performance, a 50% increase in fuel economy and a 500 mile driving range!

    Now, the engineering is not so simple but clearly it can be done.

    GM needs to get it and Honda (Accord) does too!

    GM also needs fleet versions of the Hybrid Silverado and Hybrid Tahoe. A business owner will not justify a $50,000 truck to save money on gas and to have their employees mess up the leather interior. ROI = 50 years? Nope. I don’t think GM can come even close to the numbers they are forecasting without fleet buyers.

  • TD

    GM is trying really hard to fail.

  • ECD4ME

    rumor has it GM is negotiating to buy Cobasys, the only American Nimh battery mfg. This will give them an assured supply of Hybrid batteries if it is completed.

  • shines

    GM aught to quit calling their vehicles with stop-start technology hybrids. Stop start technology is helpful and way less expensive than the hybrid technology in say the Prius.
    I did a quick search and a local dealer has a brand new Malibu ‘hybrid’ for $22k. I am sure a lot of people think expensive when they see hybrid in a cars name.
    GM should call a spade a spade.
    Hybrid may be the big green word but I bet ‘New fuel saving stop start technology’ would sell more cars.
    I also noticed that each Chevy dealer within 50 miles of here (Seattle) had only 1 hybrid available. Ya can’t sell ‘em if ya don’t stock ‘em…

  • David

    Ha Ha! Yea they are. They need to incorperate some more electrical engineers to get a controller so they can run all electric in front of the gas engine. They would only need a 3 cylinder smart engine in order to maintain a constant charge of power to the motors.

  • Anonymous

    Haha, that’s true.

    GM at a board meeting:

    “So can anyone here offer us new ways to fail?”
    A roomful of hands shoot up like elementary school children.

  • Ross Nicholson

    GM’s been working on fiberglass cars since the Corvette came out in the early fifties. It was difficult making them, but now their technology is the most advanced. A fiberglass corvette SEDAN seems an obvious step to take. Then Lincoln continental needs to go carbon fiber, up and down the line, vehicles must lighten up.

  • VaPrius

    GM has already ruined their reputation. And they are continuing. The 2-Mode hybrid system is great for oversized vehicles and I’d love to see them succeed. They won’t because of the mentality of GM leadership and the dealers. They price it out of the market, low supply, dealers adding more to the price and talking them down. On the upside it will hasten the demise of the oversized vehicle as a commuter vehicle and relegate them back to their original purpose — a specialty vehicle.

  • Mitch Davis

    GM ought to release hybrids which effect REAL fuel savings. not just marginal.

    the Saturn, Tahoe and other Hybrids are not what people are looking for, they are just dressed up to look like a hybrid.

    when compared to Toyota or Ford Hybrids, they just ain’t good enough.

    it is just like GM made existing vehicles look the part without real making a difference

  • drivin98

    The only hybrid my Chevy dealer has is a $52,000 Tahoe.

    I called the Ford dealer and they are selling every hybrid Escape they can get a hold of and wishes he could get a hold of more.

  • Todd C

    GM is unbelievable. They expect consumers to pay thousands more on the sticker price for 2 more mpg?! Many of these offerings are designed to appeal to middle-class car buyers whose finances are frighteningly tight right now. GM has officially become a first class embarrassment to the car industry. If GM were a hardware store, and I walked in to buy a hammer, I believe they would pressure me to buy a crappy screwdriver for $500 until I fled the store. Shamefully, stubbornly out of touch with what real people want & need in a car.

  • Mr. Ed

    I have had an Accord Hybrid for two years…and have 100K (Yes, 100K) miles on it. All I have done is change oil and wiper blades with the first set of tires at 89k miles. I track all fuel consumed by the car…with an all-weather / all-conditions fuel average of 31.1 MPG.

    GM has a challenge. Improve quality. Improve performance. Improve ergonomics. Stop BS’ing folks that a car is a hybrid…just to play in the market space. It will do more harm for the company and for the hybrid community.

    Come out to play when you have a real product.

    Mr. Ed

  • Darrell W Hovermale

    Why can’t GM bring to market a car like Honda is promising to introduce in 2009? A subcompact $18K car getting @ 60m.p.g. Something about the size of the Aveo, but preferably made in the U.S. I was very interested in the Volt, until they revealed it will have a 35K price tag. So how about a nice little hybrid american car wearing a chevy bowtie for the common man. I thought that’s what the chevy brand represented.

  • cgorm

    Honda started selling a 60 plus mpg subcompact in 1999 as the Insight. Production ended in 2002 with very few changes made during the course of the production run. On 10 gallons of gas I have seen over 660 miles! Honda should never have taken the Insight out of production. It’s the best car we have ever owned.

    I am sure their new model will be a big success, but it seems to make little advances beyond the Insight. Honda, GM, and others should set their sights higher and look at the new generation of vehicles that are coming out next year like the Aptera, 230 mpg! This is my replacement for our beloved Insight.

    I agree the comments above, GM is the best in the industry at finding new ways to fail in successful markets. Too bad, they were not always like this. The problem is that I am too young to remember when they did not have this serious character flaw.

  • GM Customer

    Dear Ladies & Gents,

    I have to wonder if the CEO’s of GM wants future jobs?? With cut backs and a lack of concerned for customers is a sign that the wrong people are running GM. I wonder if the model “T” would have gotten off the ground if they treated customer then they way GM now treats future and returning customers. With GM being one of two that have Hybrid Trucks (Silverado) and Hybrid full size SUV (Tahoe). Do you really want to corner the market when Dealers talk to future and returning customers that Hybrid is not worth the extra 2 miles a gallon, and to top it off and you expect consumers to afford $50,000 for a truck to save money on gas? One of the Salesman at the GMC Altus, OK., sounded as if they would never carry any Hybrids on their lot and tried everything he could to talk me out of one. My father was a Ford man and I’ve been a GM man most of my life. The 2-Mode hybrid system is great for oversized vehicles and I’d love to see them succeed. They won’t because of the mentality of GM leadership and the dealers. They price it out of the market, low supply, dealers adding more to the price and talking them down.

    Do you want future and returning customers… make them real offers… real cut backs!!!
    Do you want to keep customers that are loyal to American cars and trucks? Show that you can be loyal to American customers… because Senators and Congressmen have shown they don’t support the American Public.

  • Daniel.kim

    Oh!! that’s good news..
    Anyway, I want GM to recover market share in USA and global market taking use of HYBRID cars..

    Good Luck!!

  • Dave99

    Wow, talk about a GM-bashfest.

    As a reply to a couple of the posts above:
    1. Lincoln is not owned by GM, it is owned by Ford. Also, Lincoln doesn’t even sell the Continental anymore. Besides that, you’re saying that making a CF body is the cheapest way to add fuel economy to a luxury car? It’s possible, but will likely be debated by at least a few people. Finally, the CF market has had its hands full lately, I can’t imagine what a large-scale increase in demand would do to the market.
    2. The Model T would have gotten off the ground regardless of how GM treated their customers, as this vehicle was also built by Ford.
    3. Corvette sedan?? First, that goes against Corvette heritage and IMO should NEVER happen. Second (and more appealing to other users on this site), you really want them to build more 16/26 mpg cars? … see final quote of this post.

    If you’re going to bash, at least get your facts straight. It would also be nice to see some links for data/reports/other information which supports any non-firsthand experience claims. I’d definitely like to see a link to the “230 mpg” Aptera, and how they calculated this figure. Also, some market data to support views on projected sales would be a plus.

    I have to admit I did laugh out loud at this post though, great timing and delivery :)


    GM at a board meeting:
    “So can anyone here offer us new ways to fail?”
    A roomful of hands shoot up like elementary school children.

  • Jeff

    GM — the Ralph Wiggum of car manufacturers

  • Robert O’Mara

    GM is not going to sell many $50,000 SUV hybrids. It needs to develop a 4 cylinder full Hybrid car that can get 50 to 60 mpg. That the average American can afford. Not many people can afford a Volt that looks like it going to run $35,000 plus. GM needs a full hybrid car that the majority of the buying public can afford. You cannot invest your money in big SUV Hybrid that is not going to sell. GM you need to think small fuel-efficient hybrid cars. If you do not we can read about you in the history books.

  • Bill

    GM HAVE got it right. They just haven’t got the Volt to market yet. The Volt does not just reduce gas consumption in town by a fraction and do nothing for long distance fuel consumption like conventional hybrids. The Volt is a car that uses NO fuel on the average commute and much much less on those rare longer trips.

  • S. Baker

    100K miles in two years? You sir are an energy hog! WHy don”t you walk or take a bus!

  • John Brendel

    Mr. O’Mara says that not many people can afford $35,000 for a Volt. I see his point — $35 k is a lot of money for most of us. At age 37, I’ve bought only used cars, and never paid more than $10 k. My other debts require me to keep vehicle costs down.

    So yes, GM & Ford need to get off their butts and make full-size and mid-size hybrid sedans under $30 k, preferably under $25 k. They must get at least 50 and 60 mpg, respectively, to compete with the 3G Prius.

    But as gas prices continue to rise far faster than our incomes, year after year, we can’t just ask the isolated question, “can you afford to spend $35,000 on a hybrid?”

    Even people who follow EV & hybrid developments closely, still aren’t realizing just how soon pure internal-combustion vehicles will become unaffordable.

    When buying a vehicle, one must consider how much gas is likely to cost OVER THE LIFE OF THE VEHICLE. It doesn’t matter what gas costs when you buy the vehicle. What matters is what you guess gas will cost, on average, over, say, the next 7 years.

    Chinese and Indian oil consumption is soaring, and it’s widely suspected that Saudi Arabia no longer has enough free capacity to boost production enough to lower prices. Thus, it’s a safe bet that total global demand will continue to go up faster than supply. Gas prices will continue to rise faster than the general rate of inflation (and faster than the growth in our after-tax incomes).

    It’s easy to see gas reaching $5 in 2009 and $6 in 2010. And that doesn’t account for any spikes if there’s a war with Iran, further deterioration of Venezuela’s inept government-run oil operations, further insurgent sabotage in Nigeria, or a collapse in Iraq.

    In that context, can the average family afford NOT to buy a plug-in hybrid at $35 k?

    When I buy the Chevy Volt or a plug-in Escape, I will have a huge vehicle loan payment each month. It will be hard to afford. Other people will have a much lower loan payment, but then go out and blow the entire difference at the pump as I cruise by in all-electric mode…..

  • skeller

    Even with the recent trends of people converting into hybrids, I don’t think it will still be enough that it will be able to ramp up the sales. Auto trends change fast, and before you know it, hybrid would be out.

  • Anonymous

    According to the GM car commercial the new hybrid cars for 2009-10 are supposed to be run by electricty and hydrgen. Need Iremind you that the Hindenburg ran on hydrogen and you know what happened to it. So I think that you need to rethink that one before someone either has an accident and there is an explosion, or someone lights up a cigarette, gets careless with it and BOOM!