Chevrolet is taking the Volt plug-in hybrid to the masses with a big marketing campaign that includes World Series commercials this month.
Trouble is, the supply of the cars will be anything but big in the first year of production. General Motors Co. is making only 10,000 through 2011.
That worries some Chevrolet dealers who will face customers excited about the Volt but will be unable to get one until 2012.
"We expect a lot of people will be inquiring and that they're going to be disappointed," said Mark Janowiecki, general manager of Vic Canever Chevrolet in Fenton, Mich.
The dealership, which has a waiting list for the Volt, has been informed by Chevrolet that it will get only one Volt in 2011, in the second quarter, and a demonstration car that it can buy and keep on hand, Janowiecki said.
That will be the case for many of the 650 Chevrolet dealerships that will sell the Volt in seven markets during the first year of production, said Tony DiSalle, Volt product marketing director. How fast the Volt comes out of the gate--given its pricey $33,500 sticker after a tax credit--will determine how many of the vehicles GM will produce in the second year
Many ads, few cars
When the Volt is launched in November, it will be sold initially only in California, New York City, Washington and Austin, Texas, DiSalle said. In March, the selling market will expand to include Michigan, the rest of Texas and the tri-state market of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, he said.
Chevrolet is rolling out a mass-marketing campaign now, even with short availability, to promote the Volt and tell consumers about electric vehicles, DiSalle said.
GM calls the Volt an extended-range electric, although it's a plug-in hybrid, according to SAE's definition.
Chevrolet starts TV commercials this month during World Series broadcasts. At the same time, a social media blitz will begin on Facebook and elsewhere, DiSalle said.
Chevrolet says the Volt is a game-changer because it is free of the 25- to 100-mile range between charges that limits most electric cars.
The Volt, DiSalle said, can go 25 to 50 miles powered solely by batteries before switching to a 1.4-liter gasoline engine to power the electric drive for an additional 310 miles on a full tank.
DiSalle said Chevrolet will promote that range in World Series ads. Buyers, he said, can get the gasoline savings and green benefits of an electric car without worrying that they could become stranded by depleted batteries.
That range, DiSalle said, will give the Volt mass appeal beyond fleets and electric- and green-car enthusiasts.
In the ads, Chevrolet avoided the phrase "range anxiety"--a description recently used by other GM officials, including Chairman Ed Whitacre. DiSalle said he preferred to call the Volt's extended-range and green benefits "newfound freedoms."
But he confirmed that GM has applied to get a trademark on "range anxiety" in the event Chevrolet wants to use it in marketing.
Meanwhile, an emphasis on quality control is the reason GM is producing only 10,000 Volts in the first year, DiSalle said. Production will not be constrained by short supplies of batteries or components, he said.
Participating Chevrolet dealers are going through rigorous training to prepare for the Volt launch, said Janowiecki. DiSalle called it the most dealer training for any vehicle in GM history.
Janowiecki said his employees are getting required special training in sales, service and the technical aspects of the Volt. More than two dozen Web-based courses are available, he said.
Other dealership requirements include the $600 purchase of special Volt tools, the installation of two charging stations at $500 apiece, plus installation and participation in a program to have a demonstrator Volt at the dealership, Janowiecki said.
Despite its one-car allocation in 2011, the dealership is participating because the Volt has potential, he said.
GM recently announced it is bumping up production to 45,000 in 2012, or half again what it earlier had projected. GM officials said the company could produce as many as 60,000 Volts in 2012.
DiSalle said he hopes that in the first year dealers can convert traffic generated by the Volt to sales and leases of other Chevrolet vehicles. Even with a tax credit of up to $7,500, a base-model $41,000 Volt is among the highest price tags for Chevrolet cars.
Meanwhile, eight people on a Volt waiting list at Vic Canever Chevrolet are going to have to wait at least a year for a shot at their cars, Janowiecki said.
"We're not taking orders," he said. "The one car we are getting has been spoken for since July."
(Source: Automotive News)