GM may halt Chevy Volt production for the second time in September

Chevy VoltGeneral Motors will reportedly shut down production at its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly for the second time this year. The plant builds the Chevrolet Volt (and its European twin, the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera) and small batches of the Malibu sedan.

According to Automotive News, Detroit-Hamtramck will be idled from September 17 to October 15. GM has reportedly informed the plant’s 1,500 employees, as well as suppliers, of the shutdown, although the company will not confirm anything publicly.

“We don’t comment on production schedules,” a GM spokesman said in response to the Automotive News report. “We continue to match supply and demand.”

This will be the second time that GM has halted production at Detroit-Hamtramck this year; the plant was closed from March 19 to April 16 because of sluggish sales. GM laid off 1,300 workers while dealers tried to unload a five-month supply of the plug-in hybrid Volts.

At the time, sales of the Volt were dismal; Chevy had only sold 1,626 cars in the two months leading up to the March shutdown.

Things have changed since then. Ironically, as the Detroit-Hamtramck line sat still, GM sold 2,289 Volts in March, making it the car’s best month to date.

Volt sales remained strong through June 2012: 8,817 of them were sold in the first half of this year. The Volt blew away the Toyota Prius plug-in (695 sold) and Nissan Leaf (3,148) in January-to-June sales.

Sales continued to climb in July, with 1,849 Volts sold. That marked a significant increase over June’s 1,760, and was a definite sign of improvement considering Chevy dealers only shifted 125 Volts in July 2011.

Through July, a total of 10,666 Volts were sold. That’s far behind the pace needed to meet GM’s original goal of 60,000 sales in 2012, but it’s still a healthy amount. Detroit-Hamtramck produced 13,770 Volts between January and July 2012.Chevy-Volt

Despite the recent surge, many factors have kept Volt sales below the General’s original expectations. Chief among them is the price: The Volt starts at $39,995, which is a lot of money for a small hatchback based on the Chevy Cruze, revolutionary gasoline-electric powertrain or not.

Chevy’s early advertising also confused customers with technical babble, instead of concentrating on the Volt’s fuel-saving abilities.

Whether Detroit-Hamtramck closes or not, GM seems committed to the Volt. The Chevrolet Division engineers gave the Volt a larger battery pack for 2013, increasing its electric-only range to 38 miles and its EPA MPGe rating to 98. Chevy is reportedly contemplating a larger, 2.0-liter gasoline engine as well, possibly for 2014 models.

The Volt’s European cousin, the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera, has also seen strong sales, even as GM’s European operations have foundered. The Ampera is built alongside the Volt at Detroit-Hamtramck.