Despite a weak December sales month, General Motor’s year-end numbers, posted strong gains as all four of its nameplates posted an overall yearly increase in 2013 vs. 2012. GM sold a total of 2,786,078 vehicles in 2013, up 7.3 percent over last year’s total.
The Chevrolet Volt sold 2,392 vehicles in December, down 9.2 vs. December of 2012. For 2013, the Volt sold 23,094 down 367 units or 2% vs. 2012 despite a decrease in price at the end of the year and large incentives. This of course is not good news for GM which already loses money on every Volt sold although there is no indication GM will reverse course as there are plans to update the Volt in 2016 to increase the all-electric range by 20%. In addition, with the introduction of the Cadillac ELR, largely based on the Volt technology, and similarly priced to the Tesla, GM is fully committed to the technology.
The Volt (EVs in general) have three main challenges facing them in 2014 and beyond, 1) the battery life, 2) the infrastructure and 3) the cost. All three are affecting sales. While the technology is impressive, if GM and all of the other car manufacturers can’t get these cars to sell to the mass market, they will not survive. In terms of the battery life, while 35-50 miles on a single charge is enough for many people living on both coasts, it simple isn’t a long enough range for people living between the coasts. The cost of the car is not offset by the reduction in gas use. Even a 20% increase in EV mileage that would bring the average for the Volt up to 42 miles, is still not enough. The minimum distance on a charge will need to be at least 100 miles(160km) on a single charge for it to make sense. Tesla is achieving those numbers and beyond but is only available to the very wealthy at this point although the company has hinted that it plans on introducing a lower cost vehicle by 2015.
The infrastructure that was promised, has not materialized. There are some garages and other places where an EV owner can plug in and charge while he/she is eating, shopping or sightseeing, but not nearly widespread enough to make a difference.
And finally, the cost of the Volt is still over $30,000 even with incentives. That puts the car outside the reach of the average American. When the incentives are removed, the car will be closer to $40,000. Without government incentives however, the car would not make financial sense and production would cease. There is no doubt that with American ingenuity, GM can take the Volt and ELR to new heights but it will require a continued investment in the technology and improved mileage and infrastructure working in unison. It’s simply a matter of whether EV technology will be given the time and attention it needs to make it a truly viable alternative to gas and diesel-powered automobiles.