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Volt is the top PHEV seller; GM is the global king of vehicle sales

Riding high on its best sales in 7 years, General Motors Comp. (GM) is investing deeply into research and development. The company is striving to deliver on its promise to put 500,000 hybrids, plug-in hybrids electric vehicle (PHEVs), and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) on the road by 2017.

I. GM Guns for 200 Mile EV

Doug Parks, VP of global product development at GM, on Monday reiterated GM's march promise to deliver an electrified vehicle that could travel 200 miles on a charge.  Moreover it wants to sell that car at $30,000 USD.

GM didn't clarify whether this figure included the $7,500 USD subsidy EVs currently obtain.  It also didn't mention what year it was hoping to release this in-development vehicle in, what form factor it would fall in (e.g. sedan or subcompact), and whether it would be all electric (although given the range, this seems a likely possibility).

GM Battery Lab
GM unveiled an expansion to its battery testing lab in Mich. this week. [Image Source: GM]

Still any way you slice it this would be a huge leap forward for GM; such an EV would have the potential to win over even some hardened critics.

Tom Libby, lead North American analyst for the Polk automotive research firm told the Associate Press, "That would be a huge step forward, no question."

II. World's Top Automaker is Seeing Record Sales

It's an ambitious goal for a company who still has the ugly image of its 2009 Chapter 11 bankruptcy in its rear view mirror.  Today, the U.S. government -- which took a 61 percent stake in GM in exchange for wiping out its outstanding debt and helping to reorganize it into a leaner company -- still holds 19 percent of the resulting firm, having sold roughly two thirds of its stock in a 2010 IPO and subsequent stock sales.  GM in 2008, 2009, and 2010 was the world's second best selling automaker, but since 2011 has taken hold of first place in sales.

GM is currently the top-selling automaker in the U.S., and posted terrific sales for the month of August 2013, selling 275,847 vehicles .  GM posted an impressive 14.7 percent sales growth although second place Toyota Motor Corp. (TYO:7203and Nissan Motor Comp., Ltd. (TYO:7201) posted even bigger percentage growths on a year-to-year basis.

The Chevrolet Volt is the world's top selling PHEV. [Image Source: GM]

On a year-to-year basis as of June 2013 GM sold 4.85 million vehicles overseas and 1.64 million vehicles in the U.S.  GM EVs -- the Chevy Volt sedan and Chevy Spark EV subcompact sold 24,467 units -- or roughly half a percent of global sales (~0.5 percent).

The Volt debuted in concept vehicle form back at the January 2007 North American International Auto Show and continued to roll towards the market in following years, surviving GM's bankruptcy, and hitting the streets in pre-production form in 2009.  In Dec. 2010 the 2011 Chevy Volt -- which features a battery pack assembled at a factory in Michigan -- officially went on sale, with a range of 38 miles on battery (after which the gasoline engine takes over).

Despite the Volt's promise it's been a bit of a bumpy ride since 2010.

III. Volt has Turned the Corner Sales-Wise, But Struggles With Losses

In late 2011 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) launched an investigation into fires with the Chevy Volt's lithium-ion battery pack.  GM was subsequently forced to testify before Congress about the potential fire risks.  A combination of factors -- the vehicle's slightly high price point, concerns about its electric range, and the fire controversy -- culminated in weak sales throughout 2011 and much of 2012.

Volt sales are up on a year-to-year basis, but GM continues to struggle with production costs. [Image Source: GM]

Since then sales have risen.  By June 2013 GM had achieve year-to-year sales of 24,400+ units.  But as much as bad sales were a blow to GM's brand image, stronger sales of the flagship EV were bad news for GM's pocketbook.

Where as Tesla Motor Inc. (TSLAhas achieved profitability on its electric vehicles by selling them at much higher price points to the luxury sports car market, GM has admitted in the past to swallowing an undisclosed loss on every Chevy Volt it sells.  The 2011 and 2012 Chevy Volt model years were priced at $39,999 -- or $32,249 USD after the $7,500 USD government tax credit.  Tesla's current all-electric Model S starts at $71,000 -- nearly twice the price of the Volt -- but delivers an industry-leading 265 miles on a charge.

While August's price from $40K down to $35K USD ($27.5K USD after tax credit) cut drove sales up to a record 3,351 units for the month, they also mean GM is losing $5,000 more on each vehicle.  Tesla meanwhile is shipping roughly 2,000 Model S units a month, while making a profit on every one (Tesla predicts selling 20,000 Model S luxury sedans in 2013).

GM's only all electric -- the 2013 Spark EV -- went on sale in June with a range of 82 miles.  Partially due to a very limited release it sold only 27 units (reportedly) that month, and July sales weren't much better at 103 units [source].  The subcompact features impressive acceleration and is priced at an aggressive $32, 495 USD ($24,995 USD after the tax credit).  

The Spark EV has sold poorly.

Still that's more expensive than Nissan's LEAF S EV, which retails for $28,800 USD ($21,300 USD after tax rebate).  The LEAF has seen rampant demand since its price cut last January (a $6,000 cut from the original price of $35,200 USD).  The 2013 LEAF has a slightly worse range at an EPA estimate 75 miles.
Nissan Leaf sales have soared since a price cut. [Image Source: Nissan]

To GM's credit its Volt sales do look especially impressive when compared to Toyota's 2012 Prius Plug-in sales of 12,750 units.  Toyota plans to launch a next generation Prius hybrid and Prius PHEV in 2015.
Prius plug-in
The Prius PHEV has been unable to keep up with the Volt in sales. [Image Source:]

Toyota's plug-in retails for $32,000 USD -- $3,000 USD cheaper than the Volt -- but gets a much weaker 11 mile range (less than a third the Volt's range) in EV mode.  Buyers clearly are mixed on this tradeoff.

IV. Tesla v. GM -- the Race is On

In order to reach its goal of an affordable 200 mile EV, GM is aggressively pursuing battery development.  It's added an additional 50,000 square feet to the previously 35,000 square foot Global Battery Systems Lab at its technical center in Warren, Mich.  Doug Parks remarks:

In the past four years, the competitive landscape in the electrification space has grown exponentially. This has required us to raise our game and draw a new line in the sand.  To maintain our battery leadership, this additional real estate is filled with new capability that will help us improve speed to market for our next generation of battery systems and help us improve the value equation to our customers around the world.

GM expansion
The expansion nearly doubles the pack testing sites at the facility. [Image Source: GM]

GM's efforts are already starting to pay off.  It bumped its Chevy Volt's range by 3 miles in 2013 solely by battery improvements.  The new facilities nearly double GM's full pack test channels from 64 to 112, while cell level channels are bumped from 96 to 120 units.

The world's biggest automaker will have to move fast, though.  Tesla is also eyeing its first try at an affordable mass-market EV.  Tesla in May promised a sub-$40,000 USD EV in 3 to 4 years with a range identical to GM's proposed one -- 200 miles.
Elon Musk
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also pledged affordable 200 mi. EVs. [Image Source: Sparked Minds]
Tesla's iconic CEO Elon Musk recently commented to the press, "With the Model S, you have a compelling car that’s too expensive for most people.  And you have the Leaf, which is cheap, but it’s not great.  What the world really needs is a great, affordable electric car.  I’m not going to let anything go, no matter what people offer, until I complete that mission."

Sources: GM, AP on Yahoo! News

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Word of the day
By Mitch101 on 9/17/2013 3:12:19 PM , Rating: 0
I love how you emphasized "Affordable" especially since GM is associated with this.

RE: Word of the day
By Ammohunt on 9/17/2013 3:31:01 PM , Rating: 4
Because they can't use the term "high quality" and GM in the same sentence.

RE: Word of the day
By NeoReaper on 9/17/2013 5:04:12 PM , Rating: 3
yeah because theres no such thing as a corvette or cadillac

RE: Word of the day
By flyingpants1 on 9/17/2013 6:03:49 PM , Rating: 3
Yeah, I'm sure GM will build a $30k 200-mile Cadillac EV and render the entire rest of their lineup obsolete forever.

RE: Word of the day
By Samus on 9/17/13, Rating: -1
RE: Word of the day
By Alexvrb on 9/17/2013 11:17:01 PM , Rating: 2
Wow C5, really? Gee here I thought we were in 2013. C6 was very good, C7 is even better. Samus claims to see loads of burning Cadillacs... what, in the 70s? What was the cause of the fire? I can't recall seeing a modern vehicle catch fire spontaneously unless it was damaged or tampered with. Usually amateur stereo installs gone bad.

But yes, clearly Samus is the go-to source for quality analysis of vehicles he doesn't drive. :/

RE: Word of the day
By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2013 2:20:05 AM , Rating: 3
Okay you all know I'm not a GM supporter, but I have to call you on this one. The Corvette is a supercar that you actually CAN drive every day. It's reliability compared to similarly performing brands (Porsche, Ferrari, Audi etc etc) is well documented. It's also the most economical car in it's class, nothing is really even close.

Sure, sacrifices had to be made to give that much bang for the buck. But the suspension is certainly NOT 60 years old, it's state of the art actually.

But the Corvette you can just jump in and drive around every day, the same can't really be said for it's competitors. They're garage queens.

RE: Word of the day
By EricMartello on 9/18/13, Rating: 0
RE: Word of the day
By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2013 8:43:46 AM , Rating: 2
Semantics much?

Obviously I'm referring to the ZR1. I don't know many mid-sized sedans that you can compare that to.

Call it what you have want, naming conventions wasn't my point.

RE: Word of the day
By EricMartello on 9/20/2013 1:28:38 AM , Rating: 2
Semantics much?

Obviously I'm referring to the ZR1. I don't know many mid-sized sedans that you can compare that to.

Call it what you have want, naming conventions wasn't my point.

Not semantics. Sports cars are fun cars to own and drive, but they're not supercars. Supercars would be anything from Lamborghini, Ferarri or Bugatti. Certain brands offer supercars like the SRT Viper, Porshe 911, Lexus LFA and even the Nissan GTR even if their other cars would not qualify for supercar status.

The ZR1 (not available yet in the C7 vette) is just a trim level of the same car whose "base model" can be had for $50K - less since most will sell near "invoice" price. It doesn't become a supercar just because you slap a supercharged V8 in there and give it a new badge any more than a Civic becomes a supercar because you buy a turbo kit on ebay and a loud fartcan exhaust.

That was my point. To be considered a supercar, it needs to be something that not only performs, but is also exclusive.

Who would consider the Lamborghini Aventador a "supercar" (which it is) if you could buy an 'Aventador Dozzinale' for $45K that looks 95% the same as the $400K version? The mere existence of a cheaper version of the same car model devalues the entire model line.

That, and you automatically lose cred and gain negative props for driving a Vette since it's a subsidized by the taxpayers. They should rename it from Corvette to Handoutte.

RE: Word of the day
By cruisin3style on 9/19/2013 10:51:01 PM , Rating: 2
I don't agree that all corvette competitors are garage queens, far from it.

HOWEVER, the modern Corvette is a helluva car, for an excellent price, and anybody that says otherwise is a joke that should never be listened to again for any reason.

RE: Word of the day
By FITCamaro on 9/18/2013 7:12:00 AM , Rating: 3
You realize that the whole "leaf spring" suspension crap is just that, crap. It has a torsion bar for traction, that's it. It has, and has had, independent rear suspension since the 60s. Same as many other high end vehicles still use today. So yeah I guess you can say the design is old but its hardly what the car had back then. You can get the same suspension on a Corvette that Cadillac invented and that Ferrari licensed from them.

The Corvette since the C5 has had one of the most technologically advanced frames out there. The entire frame is a single piece of metal with no welds. Yes it uses a largely fiberglass body, but it does not flap in the wind. Like any light car, high wind might blow it around a little. How do you think cars made of carbon fiber handle in high wind?

The Corvette gives you the performance of most high end exotics with the driveability of many passenger cars. It gets better mileage than many V6 sedans. And it doesn't break the bank.

RE: Word of the day
By Spuke on 9/18/2013 12:54:13 PM , Rating: 2
The Corvette gives you the performance of most high end exotics with the driveability of many passenger cars. It gets better mileage than many V6 sedans. And it doesn't break the bank.
I'm a former Corvette hater. But I've come to see the light. It's definitely the best bang for the buck no doubt. I will disagree on Porsche's being garage queens though. They're either #1 or 2 on JD Power's long term reliability survey for a number of years now. And they're not exactly high strung engines either being fairly large displacement 6 cylinders. I'd rock one as a daily. As a matter of fact, I'm looking at a used Cayman S for either a project car or a daily driver now/project car later.

RE: Word of the day
By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2013 4:15:39 PM , Rating: 2
Yes but a Cayman S is a good daily driver. To buy a Porsche that's on par with the ZR1 'Vette, you have to step up to a Twin Turbo 911 or 911 GT2.

RE: Word of the day
By Spuke on 9/18/2013 6:55:38 PM , Rating: 2
you have to step up to a Twin Turbo 911 or 911 GT2
True, but those are still quite driveable everyday, especially the Turbo. Ok, the Turbo would be a much better daily driver than the GT2. Personally, I could daily either car.

RE: Word of the day
By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2013 7:43:17 PM , Rating: 2
Sure but have you seen the maintenance schedule on a 911 Turbo? Which, unless you're a dumbass, will be done at the dealership. So, you know, bend over and spread those cheeks LOL.

Dude I love Porsche too, I'm not saying they aren't reliable :)

RE: Word of the day
By Spuke on 9/18/2013 11:13:06 PM , Rating: 2
Sure but have you seen the maintenance schedule on a 911 Turbo?
Yes, I happen to have the maintenance booklet and the interval schedule (BTW, all the models have the same maintenance schedule). :) And, yes, if you take it to the dealer, you will get dry humped. Fortunately, there's not as much as you think (except the 2008's for some reason). Of course, dealers always add their crap which is what really drives the price up. I never have their crap done. Only what's in the book. And I know you're not saying they're not reliable, I just wanted to talk about cool cars with one of the few people here that don't think they're evil. :)

RE: Word of the day
By Alexvrb on 9/17/2013 11:32:28 PM , Rating: 3
Actually their lineup as a whole is pretty good these days - especially since they've killed off the first gen Colorado. I'm not a fan of smaller cars, but even the Cruze is very nice, and they've got a very torquey diesel as an option now.

For their sake I hope the second gen (global platform) Colorado is considerably better than the previous generation. A domestic-emissions variant of the 2.8L diesel they're currently using overseas would be nice as an option. ~180HP and ~350 ft-lbs, though after emissions modifications it will probably more like ~170HP and ~340 ft-lbs - still quite respectable for a small truck.

RE: Word of the day
By CU on 9/18/2013 9:29:06 AM , Rating: 2
I really liked the Colorado. I have an 05 with the inline 5 and it has been great. Only problem so far has been a leaking third brake light that I fixed. Have you seen the new Colorado. It is awful in my opinion. The front looks more like a car instead of a truck. The old Colorado had an unique aggressive look that made it stand out. What didn't you like about the old one that you think they fixed in the new one?

Note: I am a die hard Chevy fan.

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