GM Says New Volt Is Coming, But It’s ‘Not A Mass-Market’ Vehicle Anymore – Forbes
Chevrolet Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney told the industry seminars in Traverse City, Mich., that General Motors will show the next-generation Chevrolet Volt at the Detroit auto show in January. But he also told me that GM considers Volt “not a mass-market” vehicle any longer.
The next generation of GM’s groundbreaking plug-in hybrid is expected to arrive in showrooms sometime late next year. It will sport a third seat in the rear and feature a downsized 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine compared with the current 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine, Automotive News reported. Mahoney promised the industry audience improvements from technology to design.
But actual sales of Volt don’t matter much anymore. Through July, sales were down 9 percent compared with a year earlier. When GM introduced the car with much fanfare in 2010, former CEO Dan Akerson projected production of 60,000 Volts in 2012 alone. Instead, GM has sold a grand total of only 65,000 Volts in nearly four years.
At the same time, there is no more enthusiastic group of car owners than Volt drivers. The car has got the most satisfied owners in the industry, and GM says 69 percent of Volt buyers previously drove a non-GM product.
Mahoney acknowledged both realities in a recent interview with me and also explained how GM’s acceptance of Volt’s true role in the U.S. market will influence its future sales and marketing strategy.
“It’s an impressive product in its design, performance and technology,” he said. “It’s a real halo for the brand. It’s done a tremendous amount to conquest new buyers, and they have [high] incomes like Corvette buyers. Customer satisfaction is through the roof.
“But the reality is that there’s a finite market for Volt, and it’s geographical. California is the epicenter; it’s not about selling Volt in Oklahoma. And we’ve gotten smarter about deploying resources for the vehicle.
“There’s a Northeast and West Coast market for Volt, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Mahoney continued. “That’s the beauty of having a broad portfolio of products. But it’s not a mass-market” vehicle.
Yet as Nick Bunkley pointed out in Automotive News, taking the long view in regard to Volt sales may prove savvy for GM. Developing, introducing and promoting the plug-in hybrid ahead of competitors already served great political purposes for GM in demonstrating that the company was making huge efforts to improve fuel economy and enter the electrified-vehicle age.
And while overall sales of plug-in hybrids and full EVs remain tepid except for Teslas, and U.S. oil supplies look more secure than ever, the future of propulsion always has a way of surprising us. Note, Bunkley wrote, how most people wrote off the future of large SUVs several years ago — and now sales are going back through the roof.
In marketing Volt with the new approach, Mahoney told the seminars, Chevy plans to focus on testimonials to advocate for the car, especially in social media. That’s a vast switch from the early days of Volt marketing in which GM attempted to convince mainstream America that the car was for them.
Volt may be preaching to the choir from now on.