April 4 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co., resuming Chevrolet Volt production a week earlier than planned, seeks to boost sales of the $39,000 electric car more than 30 percent in coming months.
U.S. sales of the Volt rose to 2,289 in March, beating the model’s previous best month in December when 1,529 cars were delivered. Sales fell from that high as the Volt underwent a congressional hearing after a federal safety investigation.
“It seems like we’ve sustained ourselves through this difficult period,” Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson said in an interview on Bloomberg Radio’s “A Closer Look With Arthur Levitt” scheduled to air in May. “We hope to get up to 3,000-plus in the coming months and are certainly positioning it.” Akerson, 63, spoke yesterday.
Volt sales were hurt after a U.S. investigation into the safety of the car was announced in November, GM executives have said. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed the probe in January, saying the Volt or other electric vehicles pose no more of a fire risk than other cars. The Volt figures into political debates whether the U.S. should have bailed out GM in 2009. The U.S. still owns 32 percent of GM.
Production on the Volt will resume April 16 at the automaker’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, Chris Lee, a GM spokesman, said today in an e-mail. The Detroit-based automaker had planned to halt production from March 19 through April 23.
“Employees are being called back one week earlier than previously announced due to increased Volt sales since January and the need to meet demand in our strong markets, including California,” Lee said.
GM announced its plans to halt production in early March after selling 1,023 Volts in February and 603 in January, below the rate needed to meet Akerson’s goal of 45,000 deliveries in the U.S. this year.
Customers are returning to Chevrolet dealerships to get the Volt after GM addressed earlier safety concerns, Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, told Bloomberg Television today.
“The car is now becoming well known, people are beginning to understand how the car works,” Reuss said in an interview on “InsideTrack.” “We’re matching production with demand.”
Separately, in an interview at the New York auto show, Reuss said GM hasn’t extended plans for summer downtime for the Volt production. “Production is really agile, so we can do anything we want there,” he said.
GM fell 1.7 percent to $25.10 at the close in New York.
GM has said it will improve the structure and battery-coolant system of the Volt to protect it better against fire after crashes. The automaker started a Volt marketing campaign in January. GM said it planned a modified version of the car in California that permits solo drivers to use carpool lanes.
Also in January, GM returned to the same lease offers it had when originally introducing the vehicle, Alan Batey, vice president of Chevrolet U.S. sales, said.
In March, GM sold 2,129 Volts to retail customers and 160 to fleet customers, Batey said yesterday during a conference call. Volt has a starting price of $39,145, not include a tax credit of $7,500, GM’s website said. The automaker is advertising monthly lease prices as low as $349 for 36 months.
“We’re doing well on the purchase side and the lease side,” Batey said. The automaker has 61 days’ supply of Volt, he said.
The Volt can travel more than 30 miles (48 kilometers) on electric power before a gasoline engine powers the car.
The production halt allowed GM to clear away inventory of older Volts to make way for cars made with the changes for the California market and to the battery, said Alan Baum, principal of Baum & Associates, a provider of auto-industry analysis in West Bloomfield, Michigan.
“There was some reticence of some of the dealers around the country to be ordering the Volt when it was viewed as negatively as it was,” he said. GM is “hoping between the PR campaign and last month’s sales” that it can “sell the vehicles they are building.”
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With assistance from Jamie Butters in New York City. Editors: Bill Koenig, John Lear
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