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Monday, September 10, 2012

Insight: GM's Volt: The ugly math of low sales, high costs

(Reuters) - General Motors Co sold a record number of Chevrolet Volt sedans in August — but that probably isn't a good thing for the automaker's bottom line.

Nearly two years after the introduction of the path-breaking plug-in hybrid, GM is still losing as much as $49,000 on each Volt it builds, according to estimates provided to Reuters by industry analysts and manufacturing experts.

Cheap Volt lease offers meant to drive more customers to Chevy showrooms this summer may have pushed that loss even higher. There are some Americans paying just $5,050 to drive around for two years in a vehicle that cost as much as $89,000 to produce.

And while the loss per vehicle will shrink as more are built and sold, GM is still years away from making money on the Volt, which will soon face new competitors from Ford, Honda and others.

GM's basic problem is that "the Volt is over-engineered and over-priced," said Dennis Virag, president of the Michigan-based Automotive Consulting Group.

And in a sign that there may be a wider market problem, Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi have been struggling to sell their electric and hybrid vehicles, though Toyota's Prius models have been in increasing demand.

GM's quandary is how to increase sales volume so that it can spread its estimated $1.2-billion investment in the Volt over more vehicles while reducing manufacturing and component costs - which will be difficult to bring down until sales increase.

But the Volt's steep $39,995 base price and its complex technology — the car uses expensive lithium-polymer batteries, sophisticated electronics and an electric motor combined with a gasoline engine — have kept many prospective buyers away from Chevy showrooms.

Some are put off by the technical challenges of ownership, mainly related to charging the battery. Plug-in hybrids such as the Volt still take hours to fully charge the batteries - a process that can be speeded up a bit with the installation of a $2,000 commercial-grade charger in the garage.

PLANT SHUTDOWN

Read the full article

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