Insight: GM's Volt - The ugly math of low sales, high costs

Mon Sep 10, 2012 12:24am EDT
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Bernie Woodall and Paul Lienert and Ben Klayman

(Reuters) - General Motors Co GM.N sold a record number of Chevrolet Volt sedans in August — but that probably isn't a good thing for the automaker's bottom line.

Nearly two years after the introduction of the path-breaking plug-in hybrid, GM is still losing as much as $49,000 on each Volt it builds, according to estimates provided to Reuters by industry analysts and manufacturing experts.

Cheap Volt lease offers meant to drive more customers to Chevy showrooms this summer may have pushed that loss even higher. There are some Americans paying just $5,050 to drive around for two years in a vehicle that cost as much as $89,000 to produce.

And while the loss per vehicle will shrink as more are built and sold, GM is still years away from making money on the Volt, which will soon face new competitors from Ford, Honda and others.

GM's basic problem is that "the Volt is over-engineered and over-priced," said Dennis Virag, president of the Michigan-based Automotive Consulting Group.

And in a sign that there may be a wider market problem, Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi have been struggling to sell their electric and hybrid vehicles, though Toyota's Prius range has been in increasing demand.

GM's quandary is how to increase sales volume so that it can spread its estimated $1.2-billion investment in the Volt over more vehicles while reducing manufacturing and component costs - which will be difficult to bring down until sales increase.

But the Volt's steep $39,995 base price and its complex technology — the car uses expensive lithium-polymer batteries, sophisticated electronics and an electric motor combined with a gasoline engine — have kept many prospective buyers away from Chevy showrooms.   Continued...

 
A 2012 Chevy Volt electric car is seen at the sixth annual Alternative Transportation Expo and Conference (AltCar) in Santa Monica, California September 29, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson