Ranking as the cumulatively best-selling plug-in electrified in the U.S., the Chevrolet Volt is crossing a 100,000 unit milestone.
Also the first PEV to undergo a complete redesign, and now in its second generation, the extended-range EV may have quietly sold its 100,000th example this past weekend. As of June, the tally since launch was 98,558 just 1,442 sales shy. We’ll know for sure next week, but for the past few months, it’s been tracking within 100 units of 2,000 sales per month.
In crossing this milestone, the Volt edges out the cumulative U.S. 95,384 unit total of the all-electric Nissan Leaf – released the same month, December 2010 – and Tesla Model S with about 75,000 since its June 2012 launch.
This Volt count is for U.S. models only, as the global number of all Volts and rebadged “Amperas” crossed 100,000 last October, is now around 117,000 through June 2016, making it third-highest worldwide, led by the Leaf’s 225,000, and Model S’ over 129,000.
Ironically America’s Number One
It’s been widely documented the Volt was a bit of a test case, at the forefront of the major legacy automakers’ moves away from petroleum-dependent cars half a decade ago, and has been roundly criticized on numerous fronts.
It came at a tough time for the restructured General Motors, and former Chairman Dan Akerson decried its being a “political punching bag,” as detractors politically disinclined toward the Obama administration made it a symbol of much that is wrong in their eyes with his energy policies.
In doing so, much fear, uncertainty and doubt was stacked on a technology already needing to prove itself to those with questions surrounding its viability, and safety. This was interspersed among an undeniable record for a car that’s received Car of the Year and design awards, with a unique powertrain, good reliability record, and high customer satisfaction.
That it sold as well as it did despite rancor and slanted reports could be a testament to otherwise popularity it’s received among people who appreciate its value.
While addressing many of the requests owners had to improve the first-generation 2011-2015 model, the 2016 Volt increased all-electric range from 38 EPA-rated miles to 53.
It had already been the top contender in this all-important category – all-electric range is the main reason why people would spend extra to go beyond a conventional non-plug-in hybrid. The new Volt’s specifications just put it that much farther ahead of competitors with none looking like they are ready to come close, though Honda says 40 miles range is in the offing for its 2018 Clarity.
The Volt’s 53 EV miles and all-electric drive no matter how hard you mash the pedal puts it in a class of one among competitive sedans. This range far surpasses that of blended plug-in hybrids such as the Ford Fusion Energi, former Honda Accord PHEV, and Hyundai Sonata PHEV – which has the highest range of these three at 27 miles.
As a compact car, the Volt has however been a tough call for people wanting more room and full five adult passenger room. They have had to decide between that criterion, and its ability to go gas-free on drives as far as the Volt can travel – enough for more than 80 percent of Americans’ daily needs, according to the federal government.
The Volt and exported variants have always been made in General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck plant.
In Europe, sales never really did take off, with Chevrolet Volts selling only around 1,000 units, Opel/Vauxhall Ampera variants selling close to 10,000, and the vehicle has not been reintroduced with the second generation to these markets.
Canada is its second-largest market. As a rule, Canada with about a tenth of the population absorbs close to a tenth of the cars as the U.S. Through June, over 6,700 units have been sold to our northern neighbors.
The Volt is also all-time top-selling plug-in car in Canada.
Still Facing Headwinds
The plug-in car market may not have the turnover of product you’d expect to see at Best Buy, but like consumer electronics, the still-new battery reliant market has been in flux.
New products pending or believed pending can put a serious damper on the ebb and flow of sales volume.
For example, promised all-electric cars like the Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt, and next-generation Nissan Leaf have diverted attention from a yet-limited consumer segment.
Also, the prospect of bigger vehicles, like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Chrysler Pacifica “Hybrid” (actually a plug-in with 30 miles estimated range), and others compete for mind share.
Bottom line is the Volt has yet to surpass the sales pace of its best two sales years, 2012, and 2013. From a start of just 326 Volts sold in December 2010, to 7,671 sold during a staged nationwide rollout in 2011, sales jumped to 23,461 in 2012, 23,094 in 2013, then dropped to 18,805 in 2014, and 15,393 in 2015.
The aforementioned phenomenon of future product cannibalizing sales was partially responsible for declining Volt numbers in ’14 and ’15 as folks sat back waiting for gen 2. Well, gen 2 is now here, but with definite improvements, sales are on track to match 2014, no thanks also to unforeseen low gas prices, and a host of other factors affecting buyer behavior. Through June, half-way through the year, Chevrolet has sold 9,808 Volts in the U.S.
Plug-in advocates may scratch their head – or beat their heads against a wall – trying to figure out why Chevrolet’s unique part-time EV has not been even more popular than it is, or explain to people why they should consider one.
With government incentives, people may buy the $33,995 starting MSRP car for the net outlay of a mid-level Toyota Prius hybrid which is the top-selling electrified car in the world and which cannot do the gas-free trick like the Volt can.
Of course a point-counterpoint discussion could now ensue, observing reasons why the mid-sized, true five-seat Prius offers advantages over the compact Volt – including 52-56 mpg in hybrid mode versus 42 in the Volt.
But advocates note the Volt can go months between fill-ups, has proven its build quality, and the disparity in consumer perceptions leading to vastly more sales for the Japanese incumbent over the domestic alternative have been widely noted.
Some have said if the Volt were a BMW, or even a product marketed by Toyota or Honda, we’d now be telling a completely different story.
Whether that’s true or not, history is what it is for America’s highest-selling plug-in electrified vehicle.
Thanks to Mario R. Duran for assistance with data.