Criswell Chevrolet in suburban Washington has been selling Chevrolet Volts as fast as dealer Harry Criswell can lay his hands on them.
The Gaithersburg, Md., store on the capital's northern edge has been one of the two top-selling dealerships in the plug-in hybrid's first 14 months on the market.
"We have affluent buyers looking to make a statement," Criswell says. "They can buy a Bentley but they buy a Volt instead."
Criswell Chevrolet has sold 80 Volts since December 2010, which Chevrolet says is the second-highest for any dealership. Of course, 80 Volts aren't much for a store that averages 200 new-vehicle sales a month. But Chevrolet's total Volt volume for 2010 and 2011 was 7,997 units spread among about 3,200 U.S. dealerships.
Criswell credits his success with the Volt in part to a sales region filled with high-income, highly educated and environmentally aware consumers. But he also cites a motivated sales staff, certified on the Volt, and a marketing push to stimulate demand for the car.
The 54-year-old dealer, who manages his 14-franchise, six-rooftop group out of the same Chevrolet building his grandfather Harry Criswell Sr. built in 1972, says local Volt demand was generated by an unconventional, multimedia campaign.
Neil Kopit, the group marketing manager who devised the campaign, says, "We embraced the Volt."
Starting in late 2010 when the first production Volts were shipped, Criswell Chevrolet launched marketing.
"We ran events and lots of ride-and-drives," Kopit says. "We made sure local disc jockeys and their staffs had Volts to test drive and we worked social media."
Kopit also ran a heavy schedule of traditional newspaper advertising and direct mail. The mailers went to both "hand-raisers" -- consumers who registered online with Chevrolet -- and purchased lists tailored to Kopit's "psychographic" criteria: early adopters, green-leaning consumers and the techno-savvy.
Kopit says the campaign works because the Volt's two-stage performance -- about 40 miles of electric-only running and hundreds more miles as a gasoline-electric hybrid -- gives commuters flexibility in a sprawling metropolis.
"This is Volt country. It's the perfect car," he says. "It's a lot easier to interest buyers if they're going to be interested anyhow."
During the first 11 months the car was on sale, Criswell says he could not meet demand because of limited Volt production.
"But about Thanksgiving for the first time we could order what we wanted, so I ordered a dozen," he says.
With improved availability of the Volt has come the first factory sales program.
"I've got to sell 18 in two months, but I only have four Volts on the lot," Criswell frets. "I think I can do it, but I need units."
Chevrolet also just sweetened a 36-month Volt leasing offer. Criswell says about half his Volt customers took the lease when it was $399 a month with $2,899 due at signing. This month's new offer is for $349 a month with $2,499 due at signing.
"Half leasing is a pretty high take rate in this town," Criswell says. "Most people have a long commute, which discourages leases with 12,000-mile allowances."
Criswell thinks the Volt is a terrific halo car for the rest of the brand because it demonstrates the automaker's technical prowess.
"Volt put Chevy on the map on technology," he says. "It flows into the other cars in different ways."