Jolt of Europe lifeline for Chevrolet Volt?

DETROIT, March 14 — The blows continue to rain down on the Chevrolet Volt in the US, even as the extended-range electric car gains ground in Europe.

General Motors will suspend production of the Volt in Detroit from next week amid disappointing sales, idling its factory for five weeks to allow demand to catch up with production.

The Opel Ampera (left) and Chevrolet Volt. — Pictures courtesy of GMThe Opel Ampera (left) and Chevrolet Volt. — Pictures courtesy of GMAmerican demand for the Volt has been far below what was expected for the first two months of the year, with senior General Motors executives most recently blaming “trash talk” from Republicans for damaging sales in recent weeks.

In one particularly well-reported example, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich noted “You can’t put a gun rack in a Volt”, prompting senior GM executive Selim Bingol to respond “Actually, you can. But the real question is ‘Why would you?’”

A slew of headlines regarding potential battery fires in January last year didn’t help matters, and neither did the Volt’s high sticker price of about US$39,000 (RM118,000).

Despite the sales problems, many have spoken out strongly in favour of the Volt. President Barack Obama’s strong support for the car has earned it the nickname “Obamamobile” among some conservative groups, and the vehicle has been awarded a slew of automotive prizes.

Bob Lutz, the conservative, cigar-chomping Detroit car industry legend whose sceptical views on global warming are well known, has also rounded on critics, describing discussions of the Volt’s safety as “insanity”.

But as Lutz’s Forbes articles points out, the Volt may still be a winner on more distant shores. Last week, it shared the European Car of the Year prize with its Opel-produced cousin, the Ampera, becoming the first American-engineered and produced car to take the title.

In a market with considerably higher fuel prices, the Ampera could yet be General Motors’ success, tapping into a well-developed European concern about eco-friendliness and sidestepping worries over range that dog competitors such as the Nissan Leaf.

In Germany, sales of the Ampera had already surpassed those of the Toyota Prius, a GM representative told reporters at the Geneva Motor Show.

It’s still expensive, but the enthusiasm of Europe’s weathered automotive journalists will provide a fillip for the Volt, which may be down, but is certainly not yet out. — Relaxnews


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