DETROIT -- Chevrolet Volt sales dropped steeply in January -- a sign that negative publicity from a government safety investigation might have doused demand for the plug-in hybrid.
General Motors sold 603 Volts in January. While that was 87 percent higher than in January 2011 -- the second month after the car’s launch -- it was the worst month since GM sold 302 Volts in August.
GM averaged 1,259 Volt sales a month during the fourth quarter of last year.
At the Washington Auto Show last week, GM North America President Mark Reuss said it will take time for Volt sales to recover from the fallout of the two-month investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
On Jan. 20, NHTSA closed its investigation into potential fire risk in the Volt’s battery pack, concluding that it doesn’t appear to outweigh the risk of fire in gasoline-powered cars.
The agency opened its probe in late November, after disclosing that three battery packs either caught fire or emitted sparks in the days or weeks following government test crashes.
GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant didn’t produce any Volts in January as the automaker awaited parts that will allow it to reinforce the steel surrounding the battery pack to prevent post-crash fires. Production should resume this month as those parts become available, GM spokesman Jim Cain said in an e-mail.
It is unclear how much the safety probe is to blame for the drop in January Volt sales. Some dealers have said that they aren’t taking as many Volts as GM has proposed shipping them because of concerns about consumer demand.
GM executives have said they will be unable to gauge demand for the Volt until May or June, because availability has been tight and some dealers have just received their first units. Last month, GM CEO Dan Akerson downplayed an earlier production forecast of 60,000 Volts this year, saying that GM will build to demand.
GM sold 7,671 Volts last year, short of its goal of 10,000.