LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co. hopes its plug-in Chevrolet Volt, stung by safety concerns, can get a sales boost from a version due next month that lets solo California drivers use carpool lanes and a Super Bowl ad touting its technology.
A modified version for California, the biggest market for alternative power autos, should be selling there "by early March," according to Alan Batey, vice president of Chevrolet sales and service. "Our biggest opportunity is seats in seats," Batey said in a Feb. 3 interview in Las Vegas. "When people drive the car, they're wowed by it."
Sales of the Volt, which can go more than 30 miles on its lithium-ion battery pack before a gasoline engine powers it, totaled 603 last month, fewer than half the 1,529 GM sold in December. The drop came after U.S. regulators late last year said they were reviewing the car after a fire caused by a Volt battery pack damaged in a government crash test.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in December it was satisfied with modifications GM made to strengthen the vehicle's frame that protects the Volt's battery in case of a collision. Scrutiny of the car caused "collateral damage," GM CEO Dan Akerson told reporters Jan. 25 in Washington.
To help U.S. customers understand plug-ins, GM aired a commercial before the Super Bowl on Sunday, in which a Volt owner explains how the car works to visiting aliens.
Explaining the Volt
"Our job is to make sure we explain the technology," Batey said. "A lot of American consumers really don't know how we're able to achieve the extended range."
GM last year said it hoped to sell 45,000 Volts in the U.S. this year. For now, "we're not making any predictions," Batey said. "We're going to balance supply and demand."
While the Volt has been sold since December 2010, its warranty and emissions rating initially didn't meet California's zero-emission vehicle rules. That prevented the car from winning the state's coveted "high-occupancy vehicle" sticker, allowing individual drivers of low-pollution cars into carpool lanes.
Production of Volts modified for California begins this month, Batey said.
It arrives as Toyota Motor Corp. also begins selling a plug-in version of its Prius hybrid in the state next month, which goes about 15 miles per charge. The Toyota model has a base price of about $32,000, before a $2,500 federal tax credit. The Volt starts at $39,195 and qualifies for a $7,500 credit, owing to a larger battery.