Chevy Volt: GM's green-guzzling green car?

Despite the Volt's popularity, the electric car could be costing GM $49,000 for each Volt it makes, Reuters reports.

By , Guest blogger

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    United Auto Workers union member Carrie Attwood works on a Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle at General Motors plant in Hamtramck, Mich., in this file photo taken July 2011. 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.
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Compared to its electric contemporaries, Chevrolet's range-extended Volt is currently proving the most popular plug-in, posting its best-ever sales figures during August.

It's out-punching the Leaf consistently, and other electric cars aren't even getting a look-in. It's even outselling Toyota's Plug-In Prius.

But overall, Chevy is still a long way from meeting its projected 45,000 target for this year, with year-to-date figures around the 13,500 mark.

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And, says Reuters, GM could be losing as much as $49,000 on every Volt it makes.

Packed with technology, the Volt is an expensive car to make, and GM isn't making a great deal of money back on each one, despite the $39,995 base price. With some lease deals allowing customers to drive around in a Volt for as little as $5,050 over two years, GM's return looks insignificant.

High production costs, low sales

Some industry analysts predict that each Volt costs at least $75,000 to manufacture, though some suggest this figure could be as high as $88,000.

The numbers are compiled by industry experts like Michigan-based Automotive Consulting Group and Munro & Associates, and factor in the Volt's total development and tooling costs to date, divided among the 21,500 Volts sold to date.

So far, it puts average costs at just shy of $56,000 per car--though it's worth remembering that this figure will go down with every Volt sold, and unit production cost can only truly be calculated over the course of a full production run.

On top of the current unit cost, it's estimated that manufacturing cost for each car is between $20,000-$32,000 per vehicle, resulting in the final figures.

By contrast, the standard gasoline Chevrolet Cruze is estimated to cost between $12,000-$15,000 to build. To bring the Volt down to around $10,000 per car to build, GM would have to sell around 120,000 per year--but in an effort to push up sales, the low-cost lease deals are part of the problem while volumes remain low.

Another part of the problem is thought to be the Volt's relatively low production volumes, resulting in some parts suppliers pushing up component costs. A high quantity of unique parts over other cars on GM's Delta II platform--such as batteries, the electric motor and power electronics--also pushes up the unit cost.

GM's Doug Parks confirms that GM isn't yet making money on the Volt, but declined to comment to Reuters on any specific costs.

Other benefits

GM isn't yet fazed by the loss-making Volt--at least outwardly--citing other benefits to the Volt project.

Firstly, the Voltec system will attract greater economies of scale when it sees further service in other GM vehicles down the line, such as the 2014 Cadillac ELR luxury coupe.

GM is also learning technological lessons from the Volt project, some of which can be used even on vehicles that don't use the Voltec drivetrain.

"It wasn't conceived as a way to make tons of money. It was a big dip in the technology pool for GM. We've learned a boatload of stuff that we're deploying on other models," explains Parks.

A similar strategy has paid dividents for Toyota, whose multi-million selling Prius line now consists of four models, despite being a slow initial seller. And the Volt is attracting the same sort of customers as Toyota's hybrid--dealers say the Prius is the number one trade-in for Volt customers.

It isn't hard to imagine Volt sales steadily increasing just as the Prius did--though this does hinge on how many GM will sell when incentives end--but while the competitive lease deals are making the Volt fantastic value for consumers, it could be a long while before the car makes any money for GM.

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