General Motors (GM) announced today that they have missed their target of selling 10,000 Chevy Volts by the end of 2011. According to the company, they were 2,329 cars short of their goal.
A federal safety investigation that was launched in late November is sure to have hampered December sales of the plug-in hybrid. Still, GM reports it managed to sell just over 1,500 of them in December.
As we reported at the time, a Chevy Volt caught on fire while being stored in a test facility’s parking lot, several weeks after a crash test.
After the fire, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) replicated the conditions of the test. Of the three tests, one battery ignited a week after the crash test, and a second sparked and smoked, but did not ignite. Though they were able to replicate the crash with a resultant fire, the NHTSA said they were not aware of any fires being started by actual crashes.
When news of the investigation spread, GM reacted quickly. Their first step was to offer free loaner cars to Volt owners. In a statement at that time, they said “A vehicle loan program of this nature is well beyond the norm for a preliminary investigation, and it underlines our commitment to the vehicle and its owners. These steps are the right ones to take regardless of any immediate impact on our operations.” They also pointed out that the Chevy Volt has won over 30 safety awards worldwide, and had an NCAP five star overall vehicle score for safety.
Just days after the loaner program was announced, GM went a big step further and announced they would buy back any Chevy Volt if the car owner was dissatisfied or concerned about safety issues. GM has not said if any owners took them up on the offer. We expect not many have, for two reasons. One is that, prior to the investigation, Consumer Reports conducted a survey and found that the Chevy Volt was the top-ranked car for customer satisfaction – 93% of Volt owners said they would purchase the same car again. The second reason is that the fires started a week or more after serious crashes – and GM has stated that if their post crash procedures had been followed, the batteries would not have ignited. If that is true, it would appear any risk is low and if shoppers are otherwise happy with their cars, not many are likely to ask for the buy-back option. However, if the results of the investigation turn out badly, all bets are off.