GM to miss Volt sales goal. Should we care?

DETROIT -- General Motors today raised the white flag on its goal of selling 10,000 Chevy Volts this year.

GM said it tallied 1,139 Volt sales in November. That brings the year-to-date total to 6,142. There’s no chance of a 4,000-unit sales boom this month, so GM cried uncle.

The question now is: Should anyone care?

In reality, the shortfall has less to do with the true demand for the Volt than it does two factors that worked against GM getting to 10,000:

1. Production constraints. For much of the year, GM only made a few hundred Volts a month because its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant was still churning out the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS. The Volts didn’t truly crank up until August, after a plant overhaul tripled capacity.

2. National rollout. GM chose to sell the Volt in all 50 states, covering 2,600 of its 3,000 dealers, rather than piping them to the hottest markets. That differs from the approach of Nissan, which was delivering its electric Leaf in only seven states as recently as last month.

Why sell Volts in Oklahoma or Montana? Because GM wants to create a buzz and showcase its innovation. Judging by comments from dealers, it has done that.

So, given those factors, was it foolish for GM to not only set that 10,000-unit target many months ago, but stick by it until the bitter end? Perhaps.

But I’d argue that the far more important target is 2012, when GM hopes to make 60,000 Volts, three-quarters of which would be sold in the United States.

We should see a clean supply-demand equation by then. The EV zealots will already have bought one. Production will be at full bore. Cars will be funneled to the dealers who can best turn them.

That’s when we’ll learn just how broad the Volt’s appeal really is.

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