GM’s Akerson Says He’s Open to Cutting Volt Output to Demand

GM Battles Volt Fires To Keep Its “Moon Shot” On Target
Line worker Bernie DeVold works on a Chevrolet Volt at General Motors Co.'s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan, on Nov. 30, 2010. Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

General Motors Co., the largest U.S. automaker, may cut its production plans for the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt if it can’t sell as many as it expects after missing U.S. sales targets last year, executives said.

“We’re going to match production with demand,” Akerson told reporters yesterday following an event in Detroit for the new Cadillac ATS compact car, before the start of the North American International Auto Show. “There’re new variables in the equation, so we’ll see.”

Akerson was commenting on whether the Detroit-based automaker could meet output targets for the Volt, which failed to meet U.S. sales goals last year. The company plans to expand production of its Volt plug-in hybrid to 60,000 this year, with 45,000 earmarked for the U.S. GM sold 7,671 Volts in the U.S. in 2011, missing a target of 10,000 deliveries.

GM said Jan. 5 in response to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation that it will improve the structure and battery-coolant system of the Volt sedan to protect it better against fires after crashes.

U.S. auto-safety regulators are pleased with GM’s plan to fix its Volt electric vehicle, National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland said.

The investigation lowered demand for the car, according to Bandon, Oregon-based CNW Marketing Research Inc.

Volt Demand

It’s going to be hard for GM to reach its Volt sales targets without the help of fleet customers, Rebecca Lindland, an industry analyst with IHS Automotive, said in an e-mail yesterday.

“I think fleet customers will help but it is going to be tough to reach that 60,000 mark without them,” she said. “These contracts can be lucrative when structured correctly. It is also a good way to get more consumers familiar and comfortable with the technology so it is worth the investment for GM.”

Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, echoed Akerson’s position.

“There’s no trend because we haven’t satisfied demand,” Reuss told reporters. “I told everybody that we’d be looking at satisfying demand right around second quarter. We’re not there yet, so I don’t know.”

The ATS, the first compact Cadillac in about 25 years, will join the XTS full-size sedan this year as part of Akerson’s plan to bolster the luxury brand’s sales and make it more competitive against rivals such as Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.

Top Model

Akerson in an interview last year with the Detroit News seemed to acknowledge that the competition will be tough, saying Cadillac’s new offerings won’t “blow the doors off” GM’s rivals.

The ATS will be the brand’s top-selling model, Don Butler, Cadillac’s vice president of marketing said, without giving a more-detailed forecast. The brand’s U.S. dealers sold about 57,000 SRX sport-utility vehicles last year, the most popular model in the lineup. U.S. sales totaled 152,389.

Butler said the car’s combination of power with an optional 270-horsepower turbo four-cylinder engine along with the car’s light weight will make it both fast and fun to drive. That will enable Cadillac to go head-to-head against the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class, he said.

“We can’t approach this meekly,” Butler said. “If you’re going to play, play to win.”

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