Now that General Motors has made its big splash with the 2016 Volt currently on display at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, questions remain, including what the all-new 50-mile-range plug-in car with gas backup will sell for.
When the 2011 Volt was first launched, GM had high costs baked into the advanced vehicle it hastily put together and priced it for around $40,000 and up – and it heard from many who said this was a lot to ask for a Chevy compact.
In 2013, following the lead of other plug-in makers, GM cut its base price to $34,995 to make it more competitive, but sales never really have gone to the moon, even if GM has now taken to re-using Motor Trend’s descriptor of a “moonshot” to describe its vehicle.
The new model with 25-percent more EV range (unofficially 40 miles raised to 50), ostensible five-passenger seating, and several improvements besides, offers more. So, could or should GM price the improved Volt for more?
In an interview with GM’s top engineers for this project, Pam Fletcher and Andrew Farah, Fletcher said GM knows “price is important” and will make the new Volt a good value.
Other well-respected Volt observers say things like GM knows it hit resistance above its present price point, so it needs to keep pricing in line with what it is now, or less.
But look at the promotional photos GM released. Look at the features. The 2016 Volt, already the top-EV range plug-in gas-electric car (not counting BMW’s i3 REx) now beats every gas-electric car in all-electric range by at least double.
Although lacking power seats to save weight, the new Volt is one nice Chevy and offers heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, GM’s full suite of connectivity including 4G LTE WiFi, advanced safety, and industry leading powertrain technology.
GM has meanwhile dropped the “U” and “P” word (upscale and premium) into its marketing copy, and Vice President, Chevrolet Marketing, Steve Majoros says aspects like photos next to upscale Colonial-style townhouses and targeted verbiage are his idea in positioning the new Volt.
“Like the exterior, the Volt’s cabin flows with sculpted cues, visual jewelry and a greater emphasis on form,” says GM in a press release, which touts a “premium” product with an “inviting upscale aura” inside and out.
“The upscale look and feel of the Volt is reinforced with three interior color choices: jet black, light and dark ash gray and jet black and brandy,” says GM.
One might guess GM could be setting the car up to stay priced where it was or higher to start recouping profit, while catering to an upper-level demographic who will not blink at a few thousand over, say, a strategic $29,995 or low-30s base level.
But, the sales question is an open one. The Volt never did come close to original 2012 projections of 60,000 global sales in one year, and GM is now not making any predictions.
The Volt remains the highest selling plug-in car in the U.S. by total volume since launch – and GM repeatedly stated this in Detroit – but GM did not volunteer that the Nissan Leaf is due to pass it by January or February at the present rate of sales.
Fletcher said GM does not want to let that top-selling title go but by the time the 2016 goes on sale in the second half of the year it may need to play catch up.
GM also hopes it may break into more of a “mainstream” level, but ultimately it is taking a wait-and-see approach.
So – what should the new Volt sell for? $29,995? $32,000? $35,000? $38,000? $41,000? Less? More?
Of course marketing is the other factor. It’s long been said price is less important than how the car is perceived and GM acknowledges it has had serious difficulty communicating the Volt’s true value proposition to John and Jane Q Public.
We’ll have more on that aspect in another story.