If GM Volt is in such low demand why is it so hard for people to get one?

By now most people who follow green technology developments know that GM has temporarily suspended production of its Volt plug-in hybrid.  Specifically, production will be shut down for five weeks so that GM can “align production with demand.” A post-crash-test battery fire with the Volt last year (which was overblown, but nonetheless probably turned off many consumers) and the vehicle’s high price have been cited as main reasons for slower-than-expected sales and the resulting production re-alignment.

As Lacey Plache, chief economist for the auto information site Edmunds.com said, “The fact that GM is now facing an oversupply of Volts suggests that consumer demand is just not that strong for these vehicle.” Electric-vehicle haters have eaten up the news, and are actively blogging away about how the Volt is a failure.

Gimme a break.

The biggest mistake here is that GM — and Nissan for that matter — was far too aggressive with its sales projections. The Volt’s success, given its initial price point, was always going to be limited to early adopters during its first few years of availability. It’s doing no worse than the Toyota Prius did during its first couple of years in the U.S. market, and the Prius had the advantage of already being available in Japan three years earlier.

So no, the Volt is not a market failure or a failure of technology. The temporary production stoppage is a problem with GM and its inability out of the gate to manage consumer (and market) expectations.

But what really boggles the mind about this story is the claim that there’s not enough demand to meet supply. Anton Wahlman of The Street seems to be confused about this as well. He writes that the average number of Volts at dealerships is quite low (often just two) compared to other vehicle models, and this appears to be the case across the United States — New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco included.

Oh, and Canada as well. I received an e-mail today from Milfred Hammerbacher, CEO and president of solar panel maker and installer Canadian Solar Solutions. The Toyota Prius he has driven for many years is getting old and he explained that he was interested in replacing the Prius with a Volt. He inquired about availability at his local dealership in Waterloo, Ontario, and was told he’d have to wait 18 months to get the car! They told him demand in Canada is quite strong.

“If truly the market is hot in Canada, why can’t they figure out how to ship these cars into Canada?” Hammerbacher asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.” But the solar executive isn’t willing to wait 18 months. “I’ve gone ahead and ordered a new Prius.”

I relayed this story to a spokesperson at GM Canada and this was the response I got: “He should not have been told he would have to wait 18 months. If he placed an order today we would expect the Volt to be delivered in mid-summer.”

That works out to early August — so about six months.

Okay, fine, even if that dealership in Waterloo had the wrong information, why does a customer have to wait six months? That’s how long you’d wait to get an MRI scan in Ontario. Perhaps long wait times is part of GM’s problem, at least in the Canadian market. But given the limited inventory that appears in U.S. dealerships as well, it would seem GM’s problem isn’t necessarily poor demand as much as an inability to deliver a product when a customer wants it — i.e. as soon as possible.

Forced to wait, perhaps potential purchasers are opting for something else.

14 thoughts on “If GM Volt is in such low demand why is it so hard for people to get one?”

  1. Many thanks for this article.

    My wife and I are early adopters … or in this case would like to be. Unfortunately, yes we had to opt for something else.

    My wife needed to replace a leased car last fall. … Specifically we wanted to replace it with a GM Volt … A local dealer (Mississauga) claimed on their website to have 6 cars in stock. … So we agreed to a test drive. The test drive was great. We were prepared to pay for the car with cash that day. … To our surprise and disappointment, not only were there no cars in stock, but we would not likely get one until June 2012, and then only if we put our names on a list that day and provided a deposit. … Interestingly, a search on the internet located Volts that were immediately available in the USA. We were even contacted by a very helpful dealer who would have happily supplied the car to us, if we were in Kentucky.

    There is something inconsistent about the GM explanation. Sadly GM is damaging both the GM brand and the adoption of this technology in Canada.

    I would love to hear a follow=up article as you learn more.

  2. How many shares of GM are owned by Exxon, by Texaco and other petroleun explorers? This question helps to find an answer?

  3. Dealers are not motivated to sell a vehicle that won’t be back for repairs of all those bits that gas cars need because they have dirty oily engines grinding round and round while an electric car just turns on?

  4. I think Susan is bang-on; it’s always gonna be the equivalent whenever capitalism/entrepreneurship is involved due to “SHORT TERM BRAIN LOCK” – unable to see beyond the quarter; timidity bowing to short term fears and annual reports!

    Fear & Greed – the two (2) must destructive forces of civilization, no matter from which perspective you
    look! This short-term manipulation by those who fear for their stipends of survival, as well as by those “fat-cat syndrome” sufferers who feel the annual bonuses and stock options to be the “holy grail” that stands as their reason for Life!

    The revolution of rational thinking & planning is soon to come, however! Despair not! (-_-)

  5. Almost all vehicle manufacturers appear to be wallowing in a Rip Van Winkle dream : Just modify these obsolete gas guzzlers by attaching a battery and a motor and calling it ‘ hybrid’ and sell it to stupid folks. Why not modify a Tin Lizzie and call it Electric Lizzie? Instead of pouring money into building electric cars, vehicle makers should concentrate on developing efficient public vehicles that carry many like electric buses and trucks.

  6. 1- Priced to high for the current economy. 2-Should have been combined with a solar company offering a PV charger as a package deal. Infinity MPG. 3- GM killed the electric car once, why would they not try and do it again? Too many monopolies (Auto, Utility, Bank, Oil) rely on an oil, gas and coal stoked congress to push their agenda. Sorry America, other countries will be riding on the clean free energy of the sun long before you!!

  7. I don’t understand any delivery delays beyond a week or two. When I wanted my volt with particular features, I had the local dealer do a search and subsequent dealer transfer. Even if a dealer only has a couple, they can get what you want and close the deal in a week or so, easy. I’m not so sure of delay to get one of the “surplus” that GM has not yed shipped, but there’s no good reason why that should be more than a couple of weeks… I wish GM would answer this issue head-on. This situation is just “fishy” enough for the conspiracy-theorists to begin to feed on it, and I don’t think that will do anything but get us “off message”. I can easily believe that the dealers don’t want to invest in more than one or two at a time, given how slow sales have been. I wouldn’t want to be “stuck” with inventory I couldn’t move or was forced to “mark down”…

  8. Have any of you folks bought a Chevy VOLT ??

    …. neither have I. That is why they are not selling …. plus the fact that it takes up to 500 pounds of battery to equal the energy in one gallon of gasoline ….. plus the fact that most of us realize that electricity is not some “magically clean” form of energy …. it requires a lot of coal-fired smokestacks to power the overnight battery charger ….. plus the fact that most of the clear thinking world became suspicious when we were told that if purchase carbon credits and send them to third world dictators the planet will be saved…. plus the fact that most areas of the country have barely enough electrical capacity to run homes and industry …. let alone have everybody plug in a car-charger.

    Our biggest problem is that we drive too much …. and we do not want to change ….. I sometimes drive 10 miles for a coffee with my friends. …. I know a lot of people who drive hundreds of miles to go skiing in the beautiful outdoors ….. I know people who fly thousands of miles to go skiing or sit on a beach ….. the Boeing 747 takes 225,000 liters of fuel to fill the tank …..

    Electric and part-electric vehicles and equipment are excellent in certain applications , golf cars warehouse forklifts , short commute cars , etc ….. but most of us want gasoline to get us to the airport so we can sit on the beach.

    And none of us want to walk ten blocks to have coffee with our friends ….. and none of us want to give up our gym membership and walk to work for exercise.

    By the way ….. since 1980 I have driven only VW diesels …. up to 60 mpg ….. I save $300 a month on fuel X 12 months = $3600 X 40 years = $144,000 .

    I was very disappointed a few years ago …. Al Gore was speaking in Regina telling everybody how he was going to save the planet …. it took me 5 gallons of diesel to get there from Manitoba …… he was furious when I asked him how much fuel his 747 burned on the trip , and why his entourage required 7 limousines to get them to the convention center …. and why they left the limos running the whole time …..

    best regards

  9. I love electric powered vehicles , they are quiet , no fumes , easy to operate ….. but not practical for all situations . Here is a bit of my experience with all electrics.

    For many years I was the manager of a Large Campbell soup (frozen food) warehouse. We used all electric fork lift trucks because of the food cleanliness requirements (no exhaust fumes).

    The battery was about 4 feet X 4 feet X 4 feet, and it weighed as much as a 1959 Buick , and would work great for one hour , medium for the next two hours , and by four hours it had to be exchanged for a fresh battery , and by the end of an 8 hour shift we had 2 dead batteries that required 12 hours of charging ….. the chargers were the size of industrial welders ….. and were so loud you could not carry on a conversation next to them …..

    In summary we have the following….
    ….. two batteries , each weighing 3000 pounds , venting off sulfuric acid …. so we could get maybe 6 hours of warehouse work done ….. not to mention the coal power to charge them …. not to mention the smokestacks and lead mines required to make the batteries …. and on and on.

    To drive an all-electric across country would require a fresh 1300 pound battery every 100 miles (can you imagine the infrastructure) and a hybrid would not be an advantage because the gas engine would be providing all the power …. yet you would still be lugging the heavy battery along.

    Hybrids like the Volt and Leaf are great in stop and go city driving , and if nuclear or hydro power is used for charging , then we have an advantage …. but (so far) hybrids are a bit more costly and we have yet to see if they hold any value as used vehicles at trade in time …. where likely the battery needs replacing.

    “Electric cars” are not a magical solution …. but have an excellent niche application. Gasoline is still the best source of energy , one gallon of gas can move 4000 pounds 30 miles …. it is readily available worldwide , reasonably safe …. and at $2 a gallon it is cheap. (the other $2 is tax)

    500 pounds of battery is required to equal the energy of one gallon of gasoline. Modern battery manufacture has reduced it a bit to about 400 pounds. For me to drive from Winnipeg to Regina to hear Al Gore speak would require :

    ….6 gallons of diesel in a VW…. or …
    ….12 gallons of gasoline in a sedan ….. or ….
    …. 4800 pounds of batteries.

    To get back home again I would require a total of 10,000 pounds of batteries …. and they would all be dead once home ….. if I wanted to go out for coffee …. I would have to walk (smile)

    Best regards

  10. The Owen Sound dealership has never had one in stock, and has never sold one, but they claim to have one on order that I may be able to test drive before delivery to a customer “in a few weeks”. It certainly doesn’t seem to be readily available.

  11. I agree I have contacted several dealers and they have promised me a test ride for several months but still no one has come back to me in this matter.

    The price here in Sweden is USD 63.000 still I am interested in buying one even if the US price 32.000 would be more attractive.

  12. Waiting six months to drive a vehicle that is in oversupply? That is nuts. Unless there is some custom request or some last-minute tune-up involved, the customer should be driving it off the lot.

  13. Wendall, I didn’t say they were young women, but they are various ages. It says right on the car “Volt” so nobody has asked about a Cruise or Cruze or whatever. Guys like the styling too.

    The car is by far the most technically complex production car ever built. That’s one reason I wanted one. Admitted techno geek- EV pmromoter-evangilist.

    I also sincerely appreciate Leaf owners for adding to the total number of EVs running around. I cannot understand the unconventional styling with the bug eye headlights, I’m thinking that the design team from the Prius jumped ship and hired on to Nissan.

    When the Ford Focus comes out, that’s yet another EV needing charge stations. All are good things.

    And the pinnacle of them all are the new Teslas!

    When the Ford Focus comes out, that’s yet another EV needing charge stations. All are good things.

    And the pinnacle of them all are the new Teslas!

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