MARK RECHTIN

120,000 Volts a year? Not so fast

UPDATED: 1/24/11 7:07 pm ET Editor's note: An earlier version of this blog incorrectly suggested that Akerson had publicly announced the goal. The goal was reported in a news story citing sources familiar with GM's plans.

LOS ANGELES -- General Motors Co. CEO Dan Akerson thinks he can make history. But it looks more like he's going to repeat it.

On Friday, Bloomberg, citing sources familiar with GM's plans, reported that the automaker intends to produce 120,000 Chevrolet Volts a year starting in 2012, after a ramp-up of about 25,000 units this year.

The optimistic 2012 figure doubles the original forecast of 60,000 units, while the 2011 figure jumped from an original forecast of 10,000 units.

In a world where Camrys and Accords do 400,000 units in a good year, 120,000 Volts should be easy, right?

Wrong.

I had the analysts at TrueCar create a Venn diagram. Pool A represented vehicles with a transaction price of more than $41,000, which includes the Volt. Pool B represented vehicles that sold more than 120,000 units last year.

Guess how many nameplates fit in the intersection?

None.

Full prices coming

Well, there's an asterisk there. The Ford F-series pickup squeaks over the $41,000 mark if you include its heavy-duty variants, and Ford sells loads of them.

Sure, the Volt gets a federal tax credit that knocks the price down about $7,500. But that's only for the first 200,000 units sold. Which means that, sometime in 2013, should GM hit the Volt's sales target, the car will revert to its full price of $41,000.

Look at how many Priuses Toyota sells a year. It has sold more than 120,000 units just three times, when the market was booming and gasoline prices were high. And it has taken 10 years for Toyota to make Prius the Kleenex of hybrids. How much brand equity does the Volt have? Zero. And Prius transacts in the mid-$20,000s.

Rare earth

Akerson hopes to bring the Volt's price down anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000, basically making up for the tax credit once it's exhausted. But in a vehicle dependent on rare-earth elements, whose price is likely only to increase, the quest seems quixotic.

GM's goal conjures up memories of the 2003 Detroit auto show, when GM said it would offer hybrid powertrains in 1 million vehicles a year by 2007. Whatever happened to that plan?

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