The Chevrolet Volt has become a symbol of energy independence and cleaner emissions to proponents, while others less inclined to think so continue to criticize the car and its maker.
Be that as it may, and despite setbacks last year, the Volt has climbed upwards in monthly sales this year. Last month the plug-in extended-range vehicle sold well against not only other plug-ins, but against all alternative energy vehicles, including hybrid, diesel and natural gas varieties.
As noted on the HybridCars.com August sales Dashboard, if the Volt’s 2,831 units sold were compared against hybrid automobile and SUV numbers, it would have been beaten by only four other hybrids out of 39 sold in North America.
The Toyota Prii variants and Camry Hybrid did outsell the Volt, with three of these vehicles beating it by around just 1,000 units or less. Specifically, the Camry Hybrid sold, 3,840, beating Volt by 1,009 units sold; Prius c sold 3,428, beating Volt by 597 units; Prius v sold 3,325, beating Volt by 494 units.
The Volt, being a more-or-less $40,000-plus car, even though it is potentially subsidized, does cost more, and higher prices usually hurts sales. GM has made headway this year in having the car qualify for solo access to HOV lanes in California and other states, and by running attractive lease deals, tweaking the 2013 model’s battery, among other inducements.
Ultimately, for the Volt to come so close to hybrid cars priced for the most part in the 20s is not bad, particularly as it sheds misconceptions prompted by loud negative headlines casting doubt on it last year into this.
The Volt even outsold Chevrolet’s much lower priced Malibu Hybrid, which delivered 2,414 units, although this car’s sales are expected to rise in months ahead.
But comparing the Volt to hybrids at this point is not strictly an apples-to-apples comparison.
Stacking the Volt against cars in its own category – plug-in electric – it was no contest in a field of 11 (nine of which are tracked). The Volt was on its way to tripling the Toyota Prius PHV’s 1,047 sales, which was followed by the Nissan Leaf’s 685 sales, trailed in turn by maybe 71 Tesla Model S 85-kwh versions, although Tesla does not officially report monthly numbers, so this is a rough estimate.
The rest of the plug-in vehicles tracked sold less than 40 units each in August (though we do not know whether Fisker (not listed) did better than sub-100, as it might have, but that company is also keeping mum).
To finish the Volt’s comparison to other alternative energy car sales, the Volt was beaten by only one other diesel car out of a list of 15 diesels for sale. That was the Jetta TDI, which outsold the Volt with 4,421 units. Next down on the diesel chart was the Passat with 2,563 units sold.
In sum, the Volt may still be pooh-poohed by critics, but its 2,831 sales placed it sixth overall out of 67 alternative energy cars and SUVs comprised of 39 hybrids, 11 plug-in cars (including Tesla, Coda and Fisker) 16 diesels (one discontinued), and one natural gas car (the Civic, 579 sold).
No doubt also well-before its December 2010 launch, initial talk had been to sell the Volt for maybe $10,000 less than GM finally decided upon, and GM has also had to revise optimistic sales goals set early on. It originally said the goal was to sell 45,000 Volts in the U.S. during 2012, and current year to date it is at 13,497, but seems to be gaining momentum.
GM also will close the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant for about a month for retooling for its pending Impala line, and critics have pointed to that as a bad sign for Volt. This one plant produces all Volt/Ampera variants for worldwide export, and GM actually over-built the Volt to keep inventories to acceptable levels during the shutdown later this month through mid October.
These factors are more recent additions to reasons why some have portrayed the Volt as a failure, or at best a near-miss.
For its part, GM has said it is biding its time with a car faced by a public that is still partially confused as to how it works and partially resistant to new technology. It meanwhile continues to work on other electric car and plug-in hybrid projects as it is still launching the Volt and Ampera siblings around the globe.
This is a work in progress, and the story is not over. It has just taken some twists and turns adding to the drama. It’s thus premature to say the Volt saga can’t still end on the note of “happily ever after,” and as usual, this means we can do little more than wait and see.