GM raising Volt production as race with Nissan heats up

By David Welch
Bloomberg News / July 28, 2011

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SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - General Motors Co., trailing Nissan Motor Co. in electric-car sales, plans to boost output of its Chevrolet Volt to 5,000 a month as the automaker seeks to seize the lead and test consumers’ hunger for plug-in vehicles.

Nissan is winning this year, selling 3,875 of the Leaf in the United States to GM’s 2,745 Volts. While Nissan accelerated production faster than GM, the Detroit automaker will outstrip its Japanese rival and make 5,000 of the Volt a month as soon as January, said Tony Posawatz, the director of the vehicle line.

Both vehicles are in short supply, and the automakers have thousands of consumers on waiting lists. It’s still unknown whether customers ultimately prefer a pure electric car like the Leaf or a plug-in hybrid like the Volt that can travel longer distances, and how many people are willing to pay for the gas-saving technology.

“This is very much about supply constraints as opposed to a sales race,’’ Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS Automotive, in Lexington, Mass. “Next year will really show true demand for these kinds of cars and which one wins.’’

GM will quickly expand output as its pushes toward a goal of selling 10,000 Volts in the United States this year, Posawatz said. GM plans to assemble 60,000 next year at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant, with 45,000 of them earmarked for US buyers.

Nissan builds the Leaf in Oppama, Japan, and has annual capacity to make 50,000 of the car next year. The company has sold 9,687 of them globally through the first week of July, about 4,000 of them in the United States, said Brian Brockman, a spokesman. Nissan expects monthly US Leaf deliveries to be at about the same rate as in June, when dealers sold 1,708, he said.