Chevy Volt comeback: gas prices spur best-ever monthly sales

GM had temporarily closed a Chevy Volt plant because of slack demand. But that changed in March with a record 2,289 units sold. GM's new target: 3,000 a month. 

Rebecca Cook/REUTERS/File
A 2012 Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle is parked at the solar-powered electric charging station at General Motors Co's assembly plant in Hamtramck, Mich., in this file photo.

Driven by $4 a gallon gasoline, new car buyers snapped up 2,289 copies of GM's new electricity-and-gasoline powered Chevrolet Volt last month, a record monthly high that more than doubled its February sales.

As a result, officials at the big automaker last week announced production would resume a week sooner than expected at its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant after an announced five-week shutdown due to slack demand.

Last year, the Volt morphed from "technological wonder" to "political punching bag," GM CEO Daniel Akerson told a Senate committee last month. Conservatives have questioned whether GM produced the Volt to curry favor with green-tech-loving President Obama, who was a champion of the auto bailout.

 Now, however, the March sales boost has brought a measure of relief – and Mr. Akerson is expecting more.

“It seems like we’ve sustained ourselves through this difficult period,” Akerson told Bloomberg Radio recently. “We hope to get up to 3,000-plus in the coming months, and are certainly positioning it.”

Some owners are offering rave reviews of the hybrid, which includes a tiny gasoline engine that, if needed, recharges its big battery on the fly. In online reviews, however, the key issue is that the car can travel about 40 miles just on electricity – and for a large number of Americans that's usually enough. 

On the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that touts environmental solutions, one Volt owner, Jeff, noted that he has used just 23 gallons of gas in 13 months since purchasing his Volt. In that time, he's driven 13,500 miles – about 566 miles per gallon.

"Just terrific," adds Danny Parker on a Good web page focusing on the electric car experience. "Two thousand miles driven and less than a gallon of gas. Go figure. Sporty, fun to drive. It is getting weird not going to gas stations though... Oh never mind."

Despite the new sales figures, critics say questions about the Volt remain. They have pointed to federal crash tests that resulted in fires, though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has concluded its investigations, saying that there is no known safety defect in the Volt. “Obama-mandated death traps,” opined the American Tradition Partnership, an anti-environmental group, on its website.

It's also an election year, so conservative pundits could use the Volt, like bankrupt solar-panel maker Solyndra, to hammer the greener aspects of Mr. Obama's energy policy.

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