Chevy Volt sets monthly sales record in weeks before plant shutdown

Chevy-VoltIn the midst of General Motors’ decision to suspend production at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant, the Chevrolet Volt had its best month so far. Chevy sold 2,500 of the plug-in hybrids in August, eclipsing the previous monthly record by a few hundred units.

The 2,500 Volts sold in August breaks the previous record of 2,289 cars sold in March 2012. Ironically, GM chose to shut down Detroit-Hamtramck from March 19 to April 16 because slow sales in January and February 2012 had left dealers with a bloated inventory of Volts.

Chevy delivered 10,666 Volts through July 2012, or over 13,000 if August’s sales are included. That’s still well off the pace needed to meet GM’s original goal of 60,000 sales by the end of the year, but at least it doesn’t make the Volt a commercial flop.

Volume only tells part of the story. One-third of Volts sold went to California, an area that has been a tough nut to crack for GM. With a more comprehensive network of charging stations than other states, California is a more viable place for all-electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf.

One thing that makes the Volt attractive to California customers is the fact that it can be driven in carpool lanes regardless of the number of passengers.

The Volt is also leading its main rivals in sales. Nissan only sold 3,543 Leaf electric hatchbacks in the first seven months of 2012. Toyota has sold less than 1,000 Prius plug-in hybrids.

GM denied that the Detroit-Hamtramck shutdown was related to Volt sales. The plant, located on the outskirts of the Motor City, built 13,770 Volts in the first seven months of 2012, but there may some cars produced in 2011 still in the inventory.

GM says the four week shutdown (September 17 to October 15) will give it time to retool the plant for the 2014 Chevy Impala.

Detroit-Hamtramck also builds the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera, a near carbon-copy of the Volt that is sold in Europe, as well as small batches of the Chevy Malibu.

The Volt’s steady sales increase is not surprising given that Chevy has been diligently tweaking the car for better performance. For 2013, all Volts got a larger battery pack, which extended their electric-only range from 35 miles to 38. EPA MPGe also increased, to 98. Chevy is reportedly working on a 2.0-liter, turbocharged gasoline engine to replace the current 1.4 as well.

Increased sales may also indicate that people are warming up to the car some called GM’s Moon Shot. It may have been unreasonable to expect customers to accept such a radically different car right away. After all, before the Volt entered production, Detroit-Hamtramck was making the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne.