There is a buzz in the air this week about the Chevy Volt thanks to an announcement by General Motors on Friday that they’ll be shutting down production of the Volt at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant for five weeks. While the news media geared up to make this announcement look like the end for this highly-publicized plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, we bet that this decision to equalize supply with demand is just a Volt growing pain. So, we went straight to the horse’s mouth and asked Rob Peterson of Chevy Volt Communications about the Volt team’s take on this whole situation. It seems the feeling inside the company is decidedly positive — something you might not envision if you just listened to Google News and your television. Peterson started off the interview by telling assuring us what we already though was true, “this is just an opportunity to adjust our inventory levels, it is just temporary,” and then let us in on some insights from the Chevy crew.
As we explained in an article earlier today, and as many outlets have pointed out, the Republican primary contenders have been using the Volt as a scapegoat for assaults against the “radical left.” Peterson said that though their attacks might seem baffling, he can look at things from their perspective.
“President Obama has been out in front trying to create a national alternative energy policy and part of that is assisting in the diversification of fuel used for automobiles. He has put a target out for one million plug-in electric vehicles for 2015,” Peterson pointed out. “Then there is the action he took in assisting in the bailout of General Motors. What is happening right now is there are people out there that did not support the bailout and they did not support government incentives in trying to spur an industry such as this. [sic] The Volt fits in both of these categories. It makes it an easy target for these people to go after in order to differentiate themselves from the policy of the President.”
Even though Peterson alluded to the fact that he could grasp the reasoning behind the Republican stance, he made sure to note that he didn’t agree with the punches. He followed up that statement by noting that the Volt, “promotes energy security in the United States, it is manufactured here in the United States, it is about innovation, about an organization trying to do something bigger than just what the organization is. So, it is a little bit of a dichotomy for those people that oppose it.”
Peterson also made mention that perhaps the biggest problem in this hiccup is being the first line out to battle in the electric vehicle wars. “The key thing here is that the Volt is not that much different than all these other new technology vehicles but there is an adoption curve. The adoption rate can’t just take off but eventually it will reach a tipping point. But you have to be out there first, we’ve been out there for awhile,” Peterson told us. “We’ve stumbled here with the investigation of the battery fires, which put a little bit of a damper on sales but we are seeing a recovery in sales, there is positive momentum out there which is a great sign for us.” He reiterated to us that this small speed bump and temporary factory shut down was just a moment for Chevy to catch its breath, reassess the situation, and let sales catch up with production.
“Our objective is to build vehicles to meet demand rather than building vehicles and forcing a different type of demand curve. It is really important for people to understand that the Volt is a vanguard in the introduction of electric vehicles,” Peterson told us. With every new introduction of technology or a change in lifestyle, one has to expect bumps in the road. It can’t all be smooth sailing. One thing that has been smooth, however, is customer satisfaction with the Volt. Peterson told us that in a recent Consumer Reports survey 93% of Chevy Volt owners said they were “very satisfied” with their vehicle.
“It is a fun to drive car. There’s lots of technology in it. Everyone’s buying behavior is slightly different, some want performance some want technology,” Peterson explained. “Across the board they love this vehicle for a whole slew of different things. While there are people out there that want to see things happen faster, they say there are challenges that exist in the marketplace. What we have going for us is that we have a product that is outstanding and a customer base that is enthused with the vehicle.” When we asked him what he’d tell a person thinking about buying a Chevy Volt he said he’d, “tell someone to step up to a Volt owner and ask what they like about their car. It won’t be a quick conversation.”
He also explained that though the Volt is seen as already having been a failure, Chevrolet has only had Volt sales open in all fifty states for barely two and a half months. That’s not enough time to really test the waters and Peterson believes that after they right their inventory with demand, they’ll be off and running again. Interestingly though, they aren’t just banking on the Volt to carry them through this new fuel-efficient revolution. They’re actually using a lot of the technology that makes the Volt so special in their other models. “We are starting to see dividends from this advanced vehicle finding its way into other vehicles. While we are racing up the adoption curve in the market with the Volt, behind the scenes we are leveraging the technology in other vehicles to provide other customers with more fuel efficient options.”