General Motors is pushing hard to hit its U.S. sales target of 10,000 Volts this year. The sales staff at Mangino Chevrolet outside of Albany, N.Y.? Not so much.
The plug-in hybrid still provides "a wow factor" even six months after the store got its first one, says general manager Dave Groesbeck. But translating "wow" into a sale is, well, a tough sell.
"A commissioned sales guy is always going to follow the path of least resistance," Groesbeck says. "The salesman isn't going to aim them for a $42,000 Volt when an $18,000 Cruze sells itself."
Sales-floor apathy is just one of the challenges GM faces as it rolls out the Volt to dealers nationwide and looks to expand the car's appeal beyond early adopters.
Many dealers in metro markets who have been selling Volts for a year now say they no longer have buyers waiting for every one in the pipeline.
Some dealers in smaller markets who have just gotten their first Volts report plenty of buzz -- but few sales.
Steve Austin received his first Volt about a month ago at his store in Bellefontaine, Ohio. It already has logged 800 demo miles.
"People love checking it out and driving it," Austin says. "But when you start telling them about the sticker price, it's a short conversation."
Through the first 10 months of the year, GM sold 5,003 Volts. Don Johnson, GM's U.S. sales chief, is standing by the 10,000 target. GM reports November sales on Thursday, Dec. 1.
GM believes it can meet its target in part because it's cranking up production. A July overhaul of the Detroit-Hamtramck plant that builds the Volt has more than tripled production capacity, paving the way for the national rollout.
Soon, about 2,600 Chevy dealers in 50 states will have at least one Volt for sale. From the November 2010 launch through August, just 550 dealers in seven key markets had been selling the car.
Tight supplies kept a lid on Volt sales for much of the year, GM spokesman Rob Peterson says.
GM survey data show that 72 percent of customers who walked into a showroom intending to buy a Volt left empty-handed because the store either didn't have one to sell or didn't have the right trim level or color.
"We're finally giving dealers some choice to go on," Peterson says.
That's good news for Dug Dugger, general manager at Ourisman Rockmont Chevrolet near Washington, D.C. The store sold 18 Volts this year through mid-November. Nearly every one had a buyer waiting.
That's not the case for the nine Volts he has on order. Many of those aren't spoken for yet. But Dugger isn't worried. "It will be nice to have some on the ground," he says. "We'll sell all of 'em."
Dealers in small markets aren't as bullish. Some say their GM reps have suggested dealers aren't pushing the Volt hard enough and have reminded them about the importance of training.
Martin NeSmith, owner of two Chevrolet-Buick-GMC stores in Georgia, got his first Volt in the summer and has sold two so far. He doesn't think the Volt will ever be a big seller in his rural area.
GM's Peterson acknowledges that the Volt "doesn't necessarily work for all markets." But he said GM wanted a nationwide footprint "to demonstrate the technology in Chevy's lineup."