Is the Chevrolet Volt coming back off the mat, or isn't it?
That was the question this week after General Motors reported that a stunning 2,289 Volts were sold in March — the controversial nameplate's best single month of U.S. sales, more than double the number sold in February, and nearly 300 percent more than the 600 or so Volts sold a year ago March and also this January, when the car arguably was at its reputational nadir.
The sales bonanza in March probably isn't repeatable this month, Alan Batey, Chevy's VP of sales, told brandchannel, because it resulted from some unique factors including a strong surge in demand from dealers in California, where new lower-emissions version of Volt could be eligible for single-occupancy access in carpool lanes and up to $1,500 in state rebates.
"You'll see [Volt sales] moderate somewhat this month," Batey said, "and as the supply builds again, you'll see it take off again. It's hard to gauge the exact number, but if we were to hit that [2,289] number again in April, it'd be an unbelievable achievement based on how many are [available] in the market."
Batey said that new Volt advertising featuring owner testimonials was proving popular with viewers. The ads are "designed to build confidence," he said. "We're still challenged to explain the [Volt powertrain] technology so people understand it. There has been some confusion. It will take time. There's no silver bullet for that."
The new ads — focusing on the merits of the vehicle and ownership — are a decided shift from the main Volt TV commercial that ran until a few weeks ago, emphasizing the car's manufacture in Detroit and its broader meaning for America. "We've really switched gears from that," Batey said.
The Chevy exec said that a handful of dealers have become especially effective at selling Volt, boosting March's numbers. And while General Electric began purchasing Volts for its employees last month — part of its commitment to take on 12,000 Volts by 2015 — Batey said GE's order wasn't a factor in March. Only 160 units of the 2,289 total were sold to fleets last month.
Volt could be regaining some sales traction as it recovers from its rocky status as a political football. A federal investigation of some after-crash-test fires depressed sales late last year. In January, after the Obama administration had cleared the car of any safety concerns, conservative opponents of the president began tying Volt rhetorically to green-energy boondoggles such as Solyndra.
The bottom line seems to be that when production of Volt resumes late this month after a few weeks' hiatus at GM's Detroit assembly plant, the car will be enjoying a bit of a new lease on life. But as long as Volt is sold, it won't be able to escape the big picture.