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GM Wants to Boost Plug-In Production By 20%

But soft market may be a disconnect.

by on Feb.28, 2013

GM is hoping the addition of the new Cadillac ELR will help boost demand for its plug-in models.

With its new Cadillac ELR soon to come online, with new markets opening abroad and with its Chevrolet Volt now eligible for access to California’s coveted commuter lanes, General Motors hopes to substantially increase production of its plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles this year.

But after missing its ambitious sales goals for the first two years the Volt was on the market, it’s questionable whether market forces will support this year’s goal — especially with initial indications that the overall battery-electric market, which includes plug-in hybrids and pure battery-electric vehicles – stumbled again in February.

(Electric) Power to the People!

A report by the Bloomberg news service says GM is targeting a 20% increase in plug-in production for 2013, which would mean something on the order of 36,000 of the vehicles. “That’s close,” said one of several sources reached by TheDetroitBureau.com, especially “with the ELR coming” and other factors that could boost demand for the high-mileage technology.

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EV Sales Show Positive Trends Despite Volt Cutback

Fuel price hikes could boost demand.

by on Mar.05, 2012

The Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf.

Despite GM’s decision to shut down Volt production for five weeks, starting later this month, capping a raft of adverse publicity, sales of electric vehicles are actually running well ahead of last year’s pace.

Sales of both the Volt and the Nissan Leaf both increased in February. Between them, GM and Nissan sold more than 1,500 battery-based vehicles during February, making it one of the best monthly sales totals ever for the emerging technology. Leaf sales increased 617%, year-over-year, while sales of the Volt increased 264%, according to the latest sales number from February.

(Despite its recent problems, the Chevy plug-in also reported a 60% gain from January, when demand plunged as federal regulators probed potential problems with the Volt battery pack.)

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EV sales are still running short of the targets set by Nissan and GM but are expanding and the combination of higher pump prices for gasoline and a stronger economy will lift EV sales, according to a number of industry analysts. In addition, more models are coming to market in the months ahead, and that should boost momentum.

Chrysler Group, for example, has confirmed the Fiat 500 EV will go on sales later this year, as will the Ford Focus Electric, Toyota’s Prius plug-in and RAV4-EV and Honda’s Fit EV. Overall, battery vehicle sales could easily double in 2012, by general consensus.

Of course, the question is whether that will be enough to sustain momentum. Until recently, GM had been planning to produce 60,000 plug-in hybrids in 2012, up from about 10,000 last year – with 45,000 of them aimed at the American market.  The maker has not said how the coming shutdown will impact its plans for the full year. But a spokesperson insisted momentum is building despite what GM sees as a temporary setback – in part because an updated version of the Chevrolet Volt will now qualify for the coveted California HOV lane sticker.

(For more on the latest Chevy Volt news, Click Here.)

Meanwhile, carmakers right across the board are growing more comfortable with the forecasts they’ve made for the overall U.S. market, which show sales growing by double digits across the board. Every major automaker reported sales increases — and while GM lagged with a very modest 1.1% gain, it actually exceeded expectations.

Several companies, such as Nissan — with a sales increase of 15.5% — as well as the Korean twins, Kia and Hyundai  — set sales record last month .

“Nissan’s momentum throughout the lineup continues to drive our growth,” said Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division. “Another strong month for Nissan Altima demonstrates that consumers are increasingly turning to Nissan for quality and reliability in the midsize car segment.”

Even brands such as Mitsubishi and Suzuki , which saw sales dwindle during the recession, posted double-digit sales increases in February which, overall, exceeded even the more optimistic forecasts for the month.

Meanwhile, brands with significant new product launches, such BMW and Mercedes-Benz, reported sales increases of more than 30% as more new vehicles made it into dealer showrooms.

Toyota also increased sales in February. For Toyota, not only did the Camry score big, but so did the new Yaris minicar.

“Fuel economy remains top of mind for consumers, and they’re responding to Toyota’s lineup, which is the most fuel efficient in the industry,” said Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. “Camry sales continue to surge, and Prius, Yaris and Scion all posted double digit gains in February. We expect that high gas prices will continue to be a top purchase consideration for consumers, which bodes well for Toyota’s continued growth in 2012.”

It should also bode well for battery-based models, according to Carter, whether relatively conventional hybrids such as the new Prius C – the lowest-priced 4-seat gas-electric model on the market – or more advanced offerings such as the RAV-4 EV Toyota plans to bring to market this year.

Significantly, that vehicle was developed in cooperation with California start-up Tesla Motors, which also hopes to go mainstream in mid-2012 with the launch of its own Model S sedan.  Competitor Fisker Motors, is now ramping up production of its own Karma plug-in hybrid sports car, with a more mainstream vehicle, codenamed Project Nina, on the books for a 2013 launch.

Fisker is struggling to renegotiate a $529 million DoE loan, however, leading many observers to wonder if it will make it until then.  A number of other battery-car start-ups have folded after failing to line up necessary financial support, most notably Bright, which pulled the plug last week – (Click Here for more) – and Aptera, which powered down late last year.

With a few exceptions it is beginning to look like any real boom in battery power will benefit the traditional automakers rather than the start-ups some proponents had been counting on.

Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.

GM Delaying Volt’s 2nd Shift – But Maker Claims Sales Still on Target

“We’re on target,” but the definition may be shifting.

by on Oct.07, 2011

Chevy will have to triple sales in the final quarter to meet sales targets for the Volt.

General Motors will delay until sometime during the second half of 2012 its plan to add a second shift at the Detroit plant producing its much-ballyhooed Chevrolet Volt.

The maker insists that even on a single shift it can meet the sales goals it has set for the plug-in hybrid for 2011 and the even more ambitious numbers it has targeted for next year.  But with retail sales still running slow, it appears GM may be leaving a bit of wiggle room in those figures as it races to triple sales of the Volt during the final three months of the year.

The Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, known locally as Poletown, went down for an extensive changeover during the summer.  The factory, which produces vehicles for several GM brands, as well as the Volt, was to add a second shift this autumn and continue ramping up production of all those various models.

The Final Word!

But most of the attention has focused on the Volt.  The maker has said the Poletown plant would turn out 16,000 battery cars this year, including some sold abroad as the Opel Ampera.  The total also was to include at least one demonstrator vehicle for each of the 2,600 Chevy dealers in the U.S.  But the goal was to complete retail sales of 10,000 Volts in the States by year-end.

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Nissan Ramping Up Production of Leaf

Maker struggling to meet orders, while competitor Chevy also boosting Volt production.

by on Feb.08, 2011

As many as 20,000 customers are waiting for their Leaf battery cars.

With an estimated 20,000 orders waiting, Nissan is desperately struggling to catch up on demand for its new Leaf battery-electric vehicle and will increase production as quickly as possible, company officials have revealed.

So far, less than 1,000 of the so-called BEVs have been delivered since the nation’s first mass-market electric vehicle went on sale at the end of 2010, with the maker saying it has been consciously taking its time to ensure it gets things right with the first cars off the assembly line.

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But production should jump into the “thousands” starting in March, according to Nissan’s senior U.S. manager of sales and marketing, Brian Carolin.

“I’m confident during April, May you’re going to see a significant number of deliveries,” the executive told reporters.

GM's new global marketing czar, Joel Ewanick, shown with the Chevrolet Volt.

Nissan will not release its specific 2011 Leaf sales forecast, but last autumn it cut off early a preliminary order bank after 20,000 potential customers placed advanced orders – backed by $99 deposits – for the battery vehicle.  Company officials have said relatively few of those orders have been rescinded despite delays in getting Leaf into showrooms.

Many observers have dubbed 2011 the year of the electric vehicle, and a variety of small makers, such as Tesla, Amp and Fisker are seeing the coming months as critical in their efforts to penetrate a market long dominated by big brands, such as Nissan and General Motors.

The latter is struggling to ramp up production of its own battery-based vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt.  While Nissan’s Leaf relies solely on battery power to get an estimated 100 miles range per charge, Chevy took a very different approach, using a plug-in hybrid powertrain for Volt that gets 25 to 50 miles on a charge before a small internal combustion engine kicks in for extended drives.

Both Leaf and Volt have garnered a number of awards since their launch, the Volt most recently being named North American Car of the Year, while Leaf is the only Asian finalist in the World Car of the Year balloting.  (Volt missed the cut.)

Chevy has produced only a few 100 more battery vehicles than Nissan, so far this year, and appears to have more modest aspirations, with a stated goal of selling just 10,000 Volts in 2010.  But CEO Dan Akerson has said he also wants to ramp up production, and the target for Volt in 2011 is 45,000.

Nissan has, meanwhile, said it expects to have worldwide production capacity in place, by 2014, to produce 250,000 battery cars.  That would include both Leaf and several other Nissan and Infiniti models now under development.