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When General Motors launched the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid last December, it aimed to sell not just a car but a new image of the company as a tech leader. The technology has proven itself; many owners report going 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline, and no major defects have emerged. The trouble for GM is there's far fewer Volt owners than it expected.
GM said today it sold 1,108 Volts in October, its best month to date, raising total sales for 2011 to 5,003. That's still well short of GM's goal of delivering 10,000 Volts to U.S. buyers this year, and brings into question GM's long-range plan of boosting Volt output to 60,000 in 2012. To meet its target, GM would need to double Volt sales in November, and add another 50% in December -- a rapid ramp for a car with a sticker price around $40,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit and other state incentives.
GM officials had said in previous months that they were still stocking the pipeline of Volt supply after shutting the Detroit plant for upgrades this summer; most of the Volt's buyers are expected to come from California and the East Coast. But online searches suggest there's now a healthy pool of Volts available for sale nationwide.
Meanwhile, Nissan has suffered no such lag for its all-electric Leaf, handily outselling the Volt two-to-one, even though the Leaf has a limited range and some owners have found themselves stranded after running out of energy unexpectedly. GM was counting on the Volt's combination of an electric motor and gas engine to ease worries about the range anxiety of electric vehicles, even though the technology was more expensive. So far, consumers are siding with their wallets rather than their fears.