Remember how much time and energy was spent focusing on Detroit and the auto bailouts during the 2012 presidential election?
More specifically, do you remember all the attention that was paid to the Chevy Volt, the hybrid electric vehicle that was supposed to mark the rebirth of General Motors?
Now think back. Have you heard that much about it recently? No? Neither have we. So we started looking into the issue to figure out what happened.
First, let’s take a look at what appears to be a general decline in interest in the Volt. Here is a chart of Google search trends showing the difference between interest in the Volt and the apparently more popular Toyota Prius (charts 2012 to present day, with the blue line representing the Volt):
And then, of course, there’s the media’s apparent disinterest in the Volt. Just look at the decline in Volt-related headlines from 2011 to today:
- A Google News search for “chevy volt” between Jan. 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2011, turns up roughly 852 results
- A Google News search for “chevy volt” between Jan. 1, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2012, still produces about 207 results
- A Google News search for “chevy volt” between Jan. 1, 2013 and July, 2013 brings up only nine results
Perhaps interest has declined because the 2012 presidential election is over, taking with it all the talk of President Barack Obama supposedly saving "Detroit.”
Or maybe interest in the Volt has waned because GM's public relations department has failed to keep the public excited. It could be that they are doing a poor job of marketing what was supposed to be the next big thing in automotive trends.
But perhaps the Volt has lost the interest of the public and the media because (outside of politics) people just aren't interested in the car. Perhaps the Volt is simply a failure.
“The Chevy Volt is a dolt. GM had no choice but to produce a product that was heavily influenced by the Obama administration,” nationally recognized auto expert Lauren Fix, who's appeared on numerous cable programs and is the Weather Channel's auto expert, told TheBlaze.
“With so many new cars producing better fuel economy at a better price -- the Volt has been left behind,” she added.
And when you consider GM’s roll coaster sales and production estimates, the decline in Volt chatter may go much deeper than a PR and marketing failure.
Recall the ups and downs of GM’s annual sales and production estimates:
- GM estimated 25,000 Volts produced in 2011, up from 10,000 originally projected, according to a 2011 Bloomberg report
- The company was then going to aim for 60,000 Volts in 2012, but then someone leaked that the company was looking to produce around 120,000 units
- GM declined to comment on the 120K figure
- GM then announced its intention to produce approximately 45,000 units in 2012
- A Treehugger report based on a now-missing Washington Post article then claimed GM would produce 36,000 Volts in 2013 -- but GM itself has “declined to give a target for this year.”
Production estimates only make so much sense out of the context of overall sales. So let’s take a look at Volt sales:
- GM sold 7,671 Volts in 2011
- GM sold 23,461 Volts in 2012 (not too shabby!)
- GM has sold approximately 6,300 Volts so far in 2013
“Consumers liked the look of the car but sales were flat,” Fix said. “The plug-in portion put it at a disadvantage to other cars in the class.”
“The bulk of the sales of the Chevy Volt is to municipalities, GE and other Obama-connected companies,” she added.
Also, it's worth noting the Volt now comes with a $5,000 manufacturer rebate (no doubt to help dealerships clear their lots of the electric hybrid vehicles in order to make room for the new units) as well as a $7,500 tax federal tax credit.
And on top of all of that, it was announced last week that the price of the Volt will be slashed by $5,000.
So between the feds, the rebate, and the price reduction, the $41,000 Volt has now been almost cut in half ($5k rebate plus the $5k price slash plus the $7.5k tax credit).
Many consumers who received a government tax rebate and bought this car probably "won't buy again," Fix said.
To be fair, rebates and sales incentives are not uncommon in the auto industry. But the Volt's heavy incentives -- coupled with what appears to be a general decline in public and media interest -- seem out of place for a car that was supposed to be the next big thing.
Remember the high hopes people had for the Volt?
The question is whether the car CEO Rick Wagoner calls a “moon shot” can recharge GM overall. GM executives like Wagoner and Chevrolet chief Ed Peper invoked John F. Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon in the 1960s to describe the impact the company feels the Volt’s technology will have on transportation.
“The world is watching … who will lead the reinvention of the automobile,” said Wagoner.
"Yes, it was a 'moon shot,' but we landed it," a GM spokesperson said in 2011 PBS report.
"It’s also been called our industry’s 'moon shot' because that’s exactly what it is," GM spokespersons claimed in 2011.
But even with underperforming sales, there are still a good deal of people who are quite proud of the Volt.
A spokesperson with GM did not immediately return TheBlaze’s request for comment, but we were able to get Adam Yamada-Hanff, founder of Adam's Auto Advice, provide a little insight on the “pro” side of the issue.
"People at GM would not tell you the Chevy Volt is a failure since they are using the technology and what they learned from the program and incorporating it into other vehicles,” he told TheBlaze. “Even if the Chevy Volt hasn't made money for GM it is still successful in GM's eyes."
He continued, explaining the ups and downs of the aforementioned sales estimates: "All automakers will overstate how many vehicle units they think they will sell. That really is just business."
As of this writing, the Volt’s future is uncertain.
"It's hard to say [about the Volt's future] as Bob Lutz, who was the man behind the Chevy Volt, left GM,” Yamada-Hanff told TheBlaze. “I would imagine they want to use the technology on a larger vehicle in the near future."
Fix was a little more blunt in her final assessment of the issue.
"Government had a huge amount of pressure on GM to turn a new leaf at all costs. The Volt is their Edsel," she said, referring to what is commonly known as one of the "worst cars of all time."
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Featured image Getty Images.