Having started sales last October in just 11 states as a 2016 model, the second-generation Chevy Volt last month transitioned to a 2017 model and all 50 states are able to get the car.
One of the original plug-in electrified cars of this present li-ion battery based era, pent up demand last fall saw sales of leftovers plus 2016s double from September’s 949 units, to 2,035 in October, 1,980 in November, and 2,114 in December.
Two-thousand-units per month was a good start and closer to peak levels achieved by the first-generation Volt launched as a 2011 model and carried through to the 2015 model year.
Given that 2016 Volt sales were only in 11 states which follow California zero emission rules – and despite slower sales for the first two months of this year – supporters have been hopeful the Volt will break out to new highs when the rest of the country comes online.
That time has now come, says Chevrolet.
“The 2017 started shipping last month and switched over just prior to that,” said Chevrolet Communications representative Michelle Malcho about the assembly line at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant which builds the Volt.
While reports of folks getting 2017 models have come forth on enthusiast sites like GM-Volt.com, even GM was vague on how soon the entire country will get new 2017 Volts.
“All 50 states are eligible for shipping based on dealer allocation The allocation and orders will determine what locations the Volts are distributed to certified dealers,” said Malcho adding that dealer allocation will determine stock.
Dealers are clearing 2016s and some may not yet have 2017s in stock, but the short answer is 2017s are now rolling, said GM media rep Kevin Kelly.
So, it’s off to the races.
All New, But Delayed
The 2016 Volt had been postponed last year after initially Chevrolet told its dealers in all 50 states that it would be fully rolled out by December.
This change of plans to begin sales in the 11 top states and hold back in 39 states until this year made some enthusiasts take pause, as though they were witnessing a vote of less than full confidence.
Officially, Chevrolet said it wanted not to repeat mistakes from 2011 which included spotty allocations and disappointed customers and dealers left waiting. Wanting to do it right the second time, it said it would focus on its 11 strongest states.
Some enthusiasts expressed skepticism over this explanation, but that’s the story and Chevrolet has stuck with it.
The story today is the Volt starts at just below $35,000, is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and state incentives where they are offered.
Today’s average gas price is $1.79, whereas one year ago it was $2.41. GM however has resisted the cheap-gas objection saying the extended-range Volt is not just about saving gas.
Basing this on reams of customer feedback from “gas-averse” Volt owners, GM said the Volt is not just about saving bucks at the pump because owners frequently told Chevrolet the goal was to stay off gas, so price was less a factor when they did not need much at all.
Hard data has added weight to this assertion. Even when the former Volt was good for 35-38 miles EPA-rated electric range, Chevy OnStar data reported drivers averaging over 900 miles between fill-ups to its roughly 9-gallon tank.
That works out to roughly 100 mpg plus cost of typically cheaper – and domestically sourced and cleaner – electricity use. The new Volt is projected to go over 1,000 miles between fill-ups or around 125 mpg plus electricity costs.
These boasting points however are just conservative estimates, and anecdotes are numerous of Volt owners who go several months and well over 1,000 miles between fill-ups by staying within the daily electric range the car provides.
With 53 miles range now from the all-new 2016/2017 Volt, the prospects of having an effectively pure electric car experience for daily trips is now much greater. Studies have shown three-quarters of drivers cover less than 40 miles in their daily travels, so 53 miles on tap puts many more people over the top.
When the electricity in the T-shaped 18.4-kwh GM/LG Chem battery is used up, a 1.5-liter all-aluminum new Ecotec engine kicks on to extend range
This is true even though Americans still hold vague notions of Chevrolet’s plug-in car to the point that some have thought the Volt was a 40-mile pure EV that could leave one stranded after only 40 miles, as some dismayed Volt drivers have relayed from their conversations.
Getting out the balanced message of all the Volt’s pros and cons thus has been a challenge for Chevrolet, as well as owners who have been known to take it upon themselves to cheerlead for the Volt, and tout the benefits to anyone who will hear them.
The benefits are real, but America has choices, many do see the Volt mainly as a gas-saver in a land of cheap gas even if there are other reasons for it – like energy security, zero emissions, keeping dollars on U.S. soil, quiet-smooth, fun driving experience, and more.
In the Volt’s favor could also be that it has graduated to elder statesman status in the plug-in world. It is the only plug-in car to receive a full redesign and is thus evolved, and it is still standing after passing a gauntlet of politically minded detractors faced in 2011 and 2012 and even to this day.
Despite pundits who’ve predicted Chevrolet would kill it, GM’s Pam Fletcher, executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles, observed last year in Detroit the company brought it back, and that means something.
It means GM still believes in the product, they made it better, she said, and since then scores of reviews testify this is largely the case.
The compact car is however still tight in the back seat for those to whom that matters. GM did make a middle rear “seating position” with seat belts to technically classify it as a five-passenger car, but it’s a size class below some of its closest competitors.
Compared to all midsized blended plug-in hybrids from Ford, Hyundai, formerly Honda, and soon Kia, the compact Volt is smaller.
To its credit, the Volt is also now rated 42 mpg on regular gas, not 37 on premium, and its powertrain is what makes it a superstar among plug-in hybrids. It does what these kinds of cars are supposed to do better than any other and that is stay off of gas for the longest range.
Really, the Volt was and is the standard, and others have yet to catch up. Five years after the 35-mile electric range 2011 Volt came along, the best the competition has mustered is 27 miles range. And, unlike the Volt which runs all-electricaly under full throttle, a heavy foot will kick on the gas for all the others which are really just modified hybrids with bigger batteries.
The Volt on the other hand is unique, and was designed as a dedicated plug-in gas-electric car GM calls an “EREV” or extended-range electric vehicle.
A such, GM says it underscores its dedication to electrification, including with the all-electric 2017 Chevy Bolt due for production at the end of this year, and expected to more than double Nissan’s aging Leaf with 200-plus mile range.
Whether this plus new competitors and a history of off-key marketing saps Volt sales, as Michigan analyst Alan Baum projects in 2017 and 2018 will remain to be seen.
The best annual U.S. sales the Volt has ever made have been 23,461 units in 2012, and 23,094 sales in 2013. In 2014, Volt sales dropped to 18,805 and last year as the new one was pending most of the year 15,393 were reported sold.
Baum projects this year we’ll see around 18,000 units sold having reduced his former 24,300-unit estimate following a slow start this year of 996 sales in January, and 1,126 in February.
In 2017 Baum’s estimate is 22,500, up a bit from a previous estimate of 21,500, and by 2018, the Volt may be cruising at 20,800 units per year having peaked, and settled within the range of the first generation.
“The Bolt will not have a huge impact as I think they serve different markets,” offers Baum, citing instead a broadening product assortment. “The new Volt is better than the old, but so is the competition. I do not believe the Volt will get much marketing, as the Bolt will get more. That said, it does serve a specific market so there is a level of demand.”
Plug-in advocates we’ve spoken to however have said they are hoping the Volt will break out of former limits and for all anyone knows, and as Baum concedes, it could.
Chevrolet says it is sharpening its marketing message, and observers say the responsibility lies most heavily on the automaker to sell it like it means it, and show it wants to sell in higher volume.
Meanwhile, the positively reviewed new car remains a stand-out with powertrain offering more gas-free driving than other automakers have been able to match, and 2017s are now for sale everywhere in the U.S.