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Chevrolet Volt Sales Surge

Could this mean better days for electric vehicles?
April 3, 2012

After months of bad news, GM finally has a reason to be optimistic about its Chevrolet Volt. It delivered 2,289 Volts last month, the most it’s sold in a month since the vehicle became available a little over a year ago. March sales were more than double what they were in February, and close to the rate needed for GM to accommodate its previously stated production goal of 30,000 cars, though not the higher figure of 45,000 it had once targeted.

So, what can be made of these sales figures? 

It should be kept in mind that the increase in sales could be temporary. As we predicted in earlier posts, buyers had some good reasons to put off buying the Volt until March, since at that point it would qualify for special rebates and other benefits in California, and the cars would come with a safer battery pack design. So March sales figures may have been inflated by sales that would otherwise have happened earlier this year.

Many people have been keeping an eye on the Volt to get a sense of whether electric vehicles will succeed this time around, or whether they will fade away as they have in the past. The first electric vehicles were introduced a century ago, but they lost out to gas-powered cars. About a decade ago, they failed again—that’s when GM spent a billion dollars developing the EV-1 only to stop producing it a few years after it was introduced.

Now every major automaker has announced plans for electric vehicles, in large part to meet tough fuel economy regulations. But it’s not clear whether consumers will go for electric vehicles, which are often twice as expensive as comparably sized gas-powered cars because of their costly batteries; or whether automakers will need to meet their fuel economy goals with other technologies.   

Here is some more grist for the mill. Nissan also released sales figures for its electric Leaf today. It only sold 579 in March, for a total of 1,733 this year. Toyota, meanwhile, posted record sales of the Prius today: it sold 28,711 of the cars, a figure that includes the new Prius v and Prius c variants. The Prius c sells for about $19,000 and gets 50 miles per gallon. The Volt sells for roughly twice that (although a tax rebate brings the cost to $32,000).

Do the sales of the Volt indicate anything about the broader question of whether electric vehicles will succeed? I’m interested in your thoughts.

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