December was a very good month in the history of Chevrolet's plug-in electrified cars.
The last month of the year witnessed release of the first 579 Bolt EVs in Oregon and California and the extended-range electric Volt's 3,691 sales smashed its all-time 3,351-unit sales record and set a calendar year record of 24,739 sales.
Previously, the Volt's best years on record were 2012 and 2013 in which it finished within a few hundred units of each other with 23,000 and some.
As for the Bolt, the car is all new, and demand was pre-pressurized in the hottest plug-in market of the country, California. Chevrolet did not break out sales for Oregon and California, but 579 units did beat expectations and a subjective feeling among forum posters that GM was dragging its heels in getting Bolts into owners hands.
Back to the Volt story, this year its sales from January through November amounted to 21,048 units and given it has hovered around the 2,000 monthly unit mark for several months, odds were not great it would beat the 23,461 record from 2012.
According to analyst Alan Baum, Chevrolet most likely goosed sales as much as it could so it would end the year with a positive bang. On the flip-side, the carmaker may not have wanted to face stories that its all-new redesigned Volt could not even beat the sales performance of the first-generation in the midst of anti-Volt sentiment in 2012 politics.
How Chevrolet stimulated sales however is not exactly clear as its published incentives are not exceptional at $1,000 back or 0-5.9-percent APR, but manufacturers have other ways to incentivize their dealers when they want to move inventory.
GM otherwise reported a terrific month for the Chevrolet brand, and the Volt (and Bolt) rode that wave, plus December is the biggest month for plug-in sales. In January, tax season begins, allowing those eligible for federal credits to recoup their expense.
As such, December sales are always stimulated just by that fact, and Chevrolet was otherwise motivated to build synergies to push the Volt to a new sales high.
And that it did. Its 3,691 sales far eclipses any precedent to date. The next-best 3,351 units sold in August 2013 were a veritable outlier, the only other time it sold over 3,000 units.
Next best on record was October 2012 with 2,961 sales, followed by September 2012 and 2,851 sales, and August 2012 with 2,831.
This year?s best was November's 2,531 Volt sales, but regardless how it got there, a win is a win.
The Volt thus came from behind and made for a happy new year for its maker and getting a healthy dollop of Bolts out the door was a cherry on top.
For its part, Chevrolet attributed sales to natural demand, and sufficient supply - as Baum also noted was available.
"2016 was the first year of nationwide availability for the second generation Volt," said Kathy Beslic, advertising and marketing manager, Chevrolet Electric Vehicle, "and Chevrolet stores had December inventory appropriate to meet strong demand for Volt, a car whose innovation, technologically-advanced powertrain and great design along with the growing acceptance of EVs make it an alluring choice for customers."
The Volt and Bolt will now compete for consumer mindshare this year, as the Bolt's 238 miles range on battery alone far surpasses the present leader, the Nissan's Leaf, and its 107 miles.
The Bolt's range also means a lot less EV "range anxiety" for whom this may be a concern, and it answers one of the reasons why the Volt has a gas engine to take it beyond the 53 miles range it has.
This said, there is a market for each, and while opinions will vary, each are the leaders in their respective segment. The Bolt has the highest range for the dollar, and the Volt is the sales-leading plug-in hybrid with far more range than blended plug-in hybrids from Ford, Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota who provide EV range in the low to high 20s.
How the Volt and Bolt will fare sales-wise this year is however an open question. The Bolt is yet early in its lifecycle, thus not up to full speed, though Chevy dealers likely will fill many pre-orders for some time. It is to roll out through the first half of the year to the rest of the U.S., and Baum has projected 23,000 or so sales for 2017.
But could there be an upset? There was one last month, perhaps more will follow and the cars might break past previous highs?
The bottom line answer as always is time will tell.
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