GM’s Voltec – When No News Is Sort of Good News

By now most advanced-tech car followers know the Chevy Volt set another record of 2,851 sales in September – a narrow 0.7-percent increase over the 2,831 sold in August – and the good news for Voltec fans beyond this is GM says it is definitely committed to its plug-in technology.

For all the critical media questions about the Volt’s relative success, the Volt for now remains heads above the plug-in car market but with others gunning for it even so.

Its 16,348 year-to-date sales surpass the March-launched, and not fully rolled out plug-in Toyota Prius PHV which may be catching up with 1,652 sales in September – a sizable 57-percent increase from August sales – and 7,734 sales year to date.

Nissan’s Leaf also saw a year-to-date record 984 units sold in September representing a big 43.6 percent rise over August sales but it has just 5,212 year to date.

For all intents and purposes, while more plug-in competitors are coming, these are the only solid players in the U.S. market at the moment – not counting Tesla and its high aspirations but with maybe 250 Model S sedans sold so far, and Fisker having sold over 2,500 or more Karmas this year – at least this number is in line with what speculators have guessed.

But GM cannot afford to rest on its laurels – and while broad announcements are scarce, it is not – but while it was more willing during the Volt’s 2007-2010 expedited development to share details and future plans, GM is less inclined now to divulge whatever it has up its sleeve.

In trying to learn more about GM’s aspirations for it’s Voltec “extended-range-electric” plug-in technology – and why GM’s next move is up market to the Cadillac ELR instead of to more bread-and-butter variants – we spoke yesterday with GM electrified vehicle communications personnel.

Alas, we did not get much, but as you likely know, the ELR is the only known Voltec variant on the roster pending production. Despite rumors, the 2014 model year launch is not official, but we otherwise have reason to believe it is a good guess.

But, we asked, aside from questions as to whether the next market priority should be another more-or-less $75,000 plug-in car, what about down-market Voltec options?

Wasn’t the $40,000-plus Volt once upon a time during its development targeted to sell for around $30,000 – before discounts or incentives? And even if did launch for more now, isn’t Voltec a solution for the mass market?


What’s happening with the Volt-based MPV5 crossover? No telling, but GM has not forgotten it, you can be sure of that.

Wasn’t GM’s Voltec an answer to OPEC and environmental concerns?

Yes, the Volt is the king of a small but growing hill, however as many fans, let alone critics have observed, opportunities to flesh out a product line remain. Right?

The proof of the Volt’s concept has been widely observed that even though it’s a kind of pricey four-seater Chevy, it is amassing raving fans, is super frugal to operate, starts paying back the up-front costs right away, has racked up lots of awards, and is being exported from the U.S. to everywhere, even China.

Its drivetrain technology helps justify the car, and has plenty of potential for spin-off models besides.

But, we asked GM, how is it going to change the world if to date we’ve seen just over 16,000 units sold this year in North America out of around 10.8 million total vehicles total?

Of course Voltec is not expected to have taken significant share so soon, but GM has reduced sales projections from 60,000 Volt and Ampera versions globally this year to “matching supply with demand.” Nor is it saying anything definitive about other variants that could help create momentum.

Unfortunately, GM is not even prepared to discuss how it sees the upscale ELR fitting into the market, and what its expectations for that car will be. The ELR got started in 2009 as the Converj concept, so that ball was already kind of rolling before Volt was launched late in 2010.

GM has also shown the MPV5 Voltec crossover in China, and it has Voltec-related research and development ongoing – but under wraps – to see what other models could be marketable.

And while Voltec is an important part of its strategy, GM is not putting all its eggs in a Voltec basket.

But GM is keeping the lion’s share of specifics to itself for the time being even as it works on ways to cut costs from the production Volt, develops other electrified vehicles like the Spark EV, eAssist mild hybrid variants, and works on a host of technologies including fuel cell vehicles.

So as much as we’d like to know timing and details of what’s next for Voltec, GM’s communications strategy has shifted.

Why? Nearly every other automaker is now working on plug-in cars, including three start ups in California, and it is not in GM’s interest to tip its hand.

What is technologically possible in terms of cost, features and performance actually is not something GM sees as in its best interest to broadcast when such news would fall on the listening ears of competitors as well as the general public.

But, we asked, doesn’t the competition know more than the public anyway? What would it hurt to share expected electric range for the ELR, or launch date, or that GM will produce a $32,000 Voltec variant in two years, or something like that if it were so? Wouldn’t that buy good will, and create excitement, and enhance GM’s image?

Maybe, or maybe not, but GM has its reasons.


If the Volt is a tech “halo,” the ELR will be a halo extraordinaire. It adds prestige for the brand, and competition for a couple of startups in California with big ideas – Fisker and Tesla – not to mention Infiniti’s pending all-electric LE , and we’ll see who else. But wouldn’t it be nice to know some cars priced closer to $30,000 are definitely planned too?

So for now, advanced Voltec news will likely continue to come from rumors and speculation – which may be wrong – but officially, GM says it is working on a variety of options that will “meet customer expectations.” Its policy is to wait until fairly close to a launch window and when the production vehicles are basically finalized, then start feeding the news mill and work on amping up that excitement.

So sorry, the news is there’s little news, but this is the state of competitiveness, at least for GM, nor is it the only player who keeps its cards close to its chest.

Meanwhile, we do have the Volt’s progress to track.

While more often we hear GM is only “matching supply with demand,” Bloomberg reported GM Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson said in June he expected as many as 40,000 global Volt sales this year.

Comprehensive European sales data has been difficult to get in a timely manner, but last we heard from Europe, the Volt/Ampera is on track to exceed its allocation of 10,000 cars this year. And then you have a small number being sold in other markets like Canada, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand (pending), China (negligible) …

To date the Volt has sold 16,348 in the U.S. and there are three months to go. If GM conservatively sells 2,500 per month, that’s another 7,500, which added to 10,000-plus exports would bring the total to somewhere around only 34,000-plus globally, not quite 40,000.

Let’s see if Europe/UK sells more than 10,000, and what Canada and Australia do. If it is only 10,000-15,000 worldwide units exported in all, then GM may either just make it, or need to set serious U.S. sales records each month for the last quarter of the calendar year for the unofficial 40,000 target to be hit.

But again, officially, there is no target since GM revised it from 60,000 globally estimated for 2012, and started saying it would match supply to demand.

But people will nonetheless be watching, measuring, and analyzing the Volt’s progress, and the company’s CEO was quoted mid-year, so we’re down to an unofficial race this year just like last, when 10,000 U.S. units was the goal that was narrowly missed.

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  • Volume Van

    Volt interior volume = 99 cu. ft., price = 40K, range = 38 miles
    PIP interior volume = 115 cu. ft., price = 32K, range = 11 miles
    C-Max Plugin interior volume = 118 cu. ft., price = 34K, range = 20 miles

    If you see overall, C-Max plugin will be the winner. When it comes, both the Volt & PIP will face severe competition.

    Why should GM design it as 4 seater. And now they are talking about Cadillac ELR which is another 4 seater coupe. And if it costs 75K, people would rather buy Tesla for another 13K and could carry 7 passengers and also save a lot since it runs fully on electricity.

    Sell the Voltec soon, that will be good for GM.

  • DownUnder

    V Van,
    Which car is the best for you will depend on your driving pattern, at leat when charging time for a depleted set of batteries is more than 5-10 mins. If you drive the Volt to work and back home for around 40 miles, it’s a winner. But if you drive for a long day trip, say 300 miles, then 38 miles electricity range is nothing and you’ll have to carry the bulk of the batteries. And if your everyday trip to work and back is around 15-20 miles than Prius or C-Max may be the one.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    I can’t believe the Right gave up so easily. No major negative news after the Sept sales numbers? Did they run out of ideas? After the Volt became the number one plug-in of any type in the states this year, maybe they realized they better switch sides as people start paying attention…


  • Modern Marvel Fan

    @ Volume Van,

    2 corrections; EPA rated Pip as 6 miles pure Electric and has YET to rate the C-max plugin.

  • DownUnder
  • MrEnergyCzar

    I think the PIP range is 0 – 11 depending on how hard you drive and speed….


  • Jeff Cobb

    Sean – It may get 11, and that claim was made. The EPA sticker does say 6 miles electricity range; 11 miles gas+ electric.

    If you do not accelerate hard, you may get the 11-plus in EV mode depending on speed, other conditions.

  • ACAgal

    JD Powers- 2 years in a row, says that Volt owners are the happiest new car owners. Although the EPA estimate is 38 miles/Volt charge, the actual miles delivered depends on the type of driving one does, and the weight of the cargo. As a result, our mileage has been better that the estimated. The truth is that car is so much FUN to drive, we only take the SUV out once a month to keep the gas from jelling. We have seen gas price escalations before, if we had had an option like the Volt the first time through, we now would only have EVs or PHEVs.

    Helpful Hint: a solar attic fan for the garage
    There are two batteries in the Volt. One helps cool the large battery during high heat (108 was this year’s high, here), and warms the the main battery during periods of freezing weather (can happen here, but not every year). Before getting the Volt and mostly to keep people who work in the garage comfortable, we put a solar attic fan on the roof a couple of years ago. We added a thermometer to the garage after we got the car and have found the solar attic fan has kept the temperature within range most of this very hot summer, and it is quieter than the wind turbines.

  • jelly andrews

    Great post! This is really interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing something like this.

  • mark willson

    The car shape is really graceful and its sales data showes the market value of this car. here