General Motors told 1,300 employees at its Detroit-Hamtramck factory that they were being “temporarily laid off” for five weeks as the company halts production of the Chevrolet Volt, the Detroit Free Press reports.
“Even with sales up in February over January, we are still seeking to align our production with demand,” said GM spokesman Chris Lee.
"We needed to maintain proper inventory and make sure that we continued to meet market demand," he told The Hill in a phone interview.
Employees were told Thursday that production would be halted from March 19 to April 23.
"The Chevrolet Volt, an extended-range electric car, is both a political lightning rod and a symbol of the company’s technological capability,” the Detroit Free Press writes.
"Technological capability" or not, the fact of the matter is Chevrolet sold only 1,023 Volts in the U.S. in February and 1,626 so far this year. Moreover, GM fell short of its initial goal of 10,000 for 2011 and only sold 7,671 Volts.
“GM had planned to expand production of its Volt plug-in hybrid to 60,000 this year, with 45,000 earmarked for the U.S.,” according to the report.
However, this may have been sidetracked when "GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] spent several weeks trying to explain why two Volts whose batteries were punctured caught on fire after sitting around for at least a week.”
In response to this obvious concern, GM said on Jan. 5 that it would "improve the [Volt's] structure and battery-coolant system" to protect it better against post-collision fires. With that, NHTSA concluded that the Volt was “as safe” as any regular, gasoline-powered vehicle.
Apparently, consumers weren't convinced and the "exploding battery issue" became the topic of a congressional hearing in January.
"Is the commitment to the American public or is the commitment to clean energy that we are going to get there any way we can?” Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) said in a hearing in the House in January about the Volt's reported battery fires. “When the market is ready...it won’t have to be subsidized."
GM believes the federal investigations, repeated criticism from prominent conservatives, and “exaggerated media reports" concerning the battery fires have contributed to the Volt's poor sales, according to Mlive.
“We did not design the Volt to become a political punching bag and that’s what it’s become,” Akerson told Congress on Jan. 25.