Posted by Dale Buss on December 8, 2011 03:55 PM
Give General Motors credit so far for this: Its handling of fire concerns about the batteries in the Chevrolet Volt has been a far cry from Toyota's mishandling of its unintended-acceleration fiasco of nearly a couple of years ago.
And it's possible that, by getting ahead of consumer concerns about Volt's safety over the last couple of weeks with one action after another, GM's braintrust may have garnered enough time and goodwill for the company's engineers to come up with a fix capable of vanquishing these worries once and for all, so that the entire episode ends up enhancing the crucial Volt nameplate and brand instead of permanently damaging it.
GM already is closing in on a package of repairs that, for a mere $1,000, could be completed quickly for Volt owners at GM dealerships and spare the automaker the cost and damage to its reputation of a more involved safety recall, Reuters reports. In the meantime, the company has continued to market Volt as if nothing has happened.
And only a handful of individuals in Volt's devoted cadre of more than 6,000 owners has taken GM CEO Dan Akerson's offer of a loaner in exchange for their Volt. "We are keeping the keys to our Volts," said an open letter from a group of Volt owners including former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. "We love our Volts and we feel safe driving our Volts." The federal government is still intensifying its investigation of why a couple of Volts caught fire long after the vehicles were intensively crash-tested by the U.S. traffic-safety agency.
In any event, GM's Volt strategy already has proven effective to a great degree, in large part because it was enacted decisively within several days after concerns were heightened around the battery fires being investigated by the federal government. Already, the company's execution has contrasted sharply with how Toyota appeared to stonewall and resist culpability in early 2010 in the wake of reports about accidents connected with unintended acceleration of its vehicles. Ultimately, Toyota was vindicated to a large degree, but much of the resulting damage to its brand was self-inflicted.
Among other factors, GM executives know that Volt is not just another car. Given the government bailout of General Motors, and the heavy investment by the Obama administration in promoting highly electrified vehicles such as Volt — as well as the fact that they haven't sold well so far — there is huge opposition to Volt almost as a matter of principle. If GM were to stumble with this safety issue, Volt and the entire EV "movement" might be badly damaged over the long term as well as the short term.
But the way GM seems to be handling things so far, it may be able to keep the Volt bandwagon rolling.