When It Comes to Sales, Is Chevy Volt a "Game Changer?"

By · August 14, 2012

Chevy Volt

In the hybrid vehicle segment, the Chevy Volt ranks number 7 in sales out of 38 vehicles.

Last week, the CEO of General Motors said his company had an even chance of using new battery technology to make a car that could go 200 miles on a charge. "That," said Dan Akerson, "would be a game changer." Rewind three years nearly to the day. The CEO of General Motors said its techno-marvel new car, the Chevy Volt, could achieve 230 miles per gallon. That level of fuel economy, said Fritz Henderson, "is a game-changer.”

What's the point of this comparison? Simple. To be skeptical of any car company who claims to have a game-changer on its hands. At the end of the day, what matters is how many of these so-called game-changing cars actually get produced and sold. Let's take a snap-shot look at Chevy Volt sales so far this year.

There are signs of success. The Chevy Volt is the top selling plug-in vehicle—with more than 10,666 sales so far this year. Also, the Volt easily outsells 30-plus conventional hybrid vehicles on the market. But when does a decent seller become a game-changer? Despite outrageously good lease deals on the Volt—intended to clear out the stock of 2012 models—G.M.'s star green car ranks number seven in sales among all hybrids, and sales also lag behind the two most popular clean diesel vehicles. That would make the Volt, powered by its extended-range electric car technology, the ninth most popular alternative technology high-efficiency car.

Compared to the Volt's 10,666 sales so far this year, Toyota has sold 93,741 units of its conventional hybrid Prius liftback; 26,747 of the Camry Hybrid; and 25,234 of the Prius V wagon. The Prius C, Sonata Hybrid, and Lexus CT200h also outsell the Volt. Volkswagen has sold 28,255 units of the Jetta TDI, and 13,538 of the Passat TDI.

Yes, it takes a while for expensive new technology to permeate the market. But shouldn't the meaning of "game-changer" in the automotive world be measured by how much it changes what we drive. How should we respond when the past game-changer hasn't yet changed the game, but a new game-changer is promised as just around the corner?

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