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.
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.
According to Rob Peterson, the GM spokesperson representing the Volt program, the delay in adding a second shift should not impact the production of battery cars at the Detroit plant. During the changeover, he told TheDetroitBureau.com, the maker recognized ways to become “much more efficient,” and can meet the 16,000 production total by “adding 350 jobs to the first shift.”
Meanwhile, “Our (production) targets for next year haven’t changed, either,” Peterson added, in reference to previous GM statements that total 2012 output would be 60,000 units – 15,000 for export and the rest for the American market.
What is not clear, however, is how GM will define success for 2011. Last month, as TheDetroitBureau.com reported, sales of the Volt totaled just 723, bringing volume for the first nine months of the year to 3,895. (Click Here for that story.) The maker would have to nearly triple sales during the final three months of 2011 – to just over 2,000 per month – to make the 10,000 target. (That figure does not include dealer demo models.)
According to Peterson, there will absolutely be at least 10,000 vehicles sold by December 31, or “they will be on dealership lots.”
Technically, a manufacturer like GM gets its money the money a vehicle is shipped from the factory, but a vehicle is generally not considered sold at a retail level until a consumer signs the necessary paperwork. So, that would suggest that the maker might stretch its definition of success.
Pressed, Peterson said it would be acceptable to consider Volt on target if the sale of perhaps “500” or so vehicles hadn’t yet been completed, and insisted that dealers remain “enthusiastic” about the demand they’re seeing from potential buyers.
Part of the challenge is that Volt was initially available only in a handful of so-called launch markets, including California, Michigan and Washington, D.C. It is only now being delivered to retailers in the rest of the country as production continues ramping up.
While some observers might fault GM if even 9,000 to 9,500 of the plug-in hybrids were sold by December 31, others might be assuaged seeing a steady monthly climb in the sales figures. The real challenge for GM will be to maintain momentum going into 2012 – especially if it continues to foresee the huge production bump it has called for next year.