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As GM Volt Sales Increase, That Doesn’t Mean It’s Successful

Sales of the car have improved, but not enough to turn the tide for advanced battery factories in the United States.
November 2, 2012

Sales figures for the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle are in for October, and once again sales figures have increased dramatically compared to last year. Chevrolet sold 2,961 of the cars, compared to just 1,108 last October.

The Chevrolet Volt is interesting in part because anticipated sales of the car helped justify a massive, more-than-$2-billion-dollar push by the U.S. government to help companies build advanced lithium ion battery factories in the United States. But the companies that built those plants are struggling, in part because of lower than expected sales of cars like the Volt. A123 Systems recently declared bankruptcy (see, “A123’s Technology Just Wasn’t Good Enough” and “What Happened to A123?”). Dow said it would take an accounting charge because of a drop in value of its advanced battery venture, Dow Kokam. And LG Chem—which currently supplies battery cells for the Volt from a factory in Korea–has furloughed workers and hasn’t yet started building battery cells at a new factory in Holland, Michigan (see, “Too Many Battery Factories, Too Few Electric Cars”).

By some measures, the car is now doing well. About half of Chevrolet’s models sold more than the Volt, and about half sold less. It outsold the Corvette (1,167), for example. Sales accelerated this year after GM started offering attractive lease rates ($199 a month).

But the Volt far undersold the Cruze (19,121), a sedan about the size of the Volt. And GM isn’t coming close to a goal, set at the end of last year, to sell 60,000 Volts this year.

And most crucially, the factory LG Chem built to make batteries for the Volt in Holland, Michigan, still isn’t making batteries.  

Yet it’s too early to write off plug-in hybrids and electric cars. Many automakers have just started to introduce battery-powered cars.  Toyota’s Prius also had a slow start, and now it’s become a centerpiece of Toyota’s strategy—and a profitable car. 

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