GM Volt's Nov. Sales Decline Masks Gains by Controversial Car

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Sales of the Chevrolet Volt slipped in November, the first month-to month decline in seven months, a result of inventory shortages that has California consumers eagerly awaiting more deliveries to dealers.

But one analyst said GM ( GM) should sell 50,000 Volts in 2013, meeting its 2012 sales goal a year late.

Volt sales in November totaled 1,519, up 33% from the same month a year earlier, but down from 2,961 in October, the car's best month ever. Volt sales had increased every month for six straight months, starting in May.

Inventory declined not only because Volt production was suspended for four weeks to allow for retooling so the GM Hamtramck plant could also build the 2013 Impala, but because "sales in the last two months were more robust than we anticipated," said Don Johnson, vice president of Chevrolet sales and service, on GM's November sales conference call on Monday.

California now accounts for about 34% of Volt sales, up about 5% from a year earlier. In the state, "dealers are clamoring for more (Volts)," Johnson said. "We were down to eight days' supply -- we've just gotten it up to 23 days' supply. Customers are waiting for them to come in."

Johnson said national inventory has been built back to the more standard 60-day levels, although the California level continues to lag.

Volt is beneftting from favorable lease pricing and from the loyalty of its owners, whose recommendations are helping fuel sales. GM dealers lease volts for about $250 to $300 monthly.

"I am always surprised that, since they started these lease programs, that people aren't lining up to get Volts," said analyst Jesse Toprak. "It's basically a free car."

Toprak said he test drove a Volt for several weeks. His commute in Santa Monica, Calif., is about 34 miles a day, nearly exactly the range of Volt's battery. "I did not use a drop of gas," Toprak said, while charging the battery cost about $1 a day for electricity. He estimated he saved about $270 a month on gas, enough to pay the lease cost.

Can Volt change the world? Its innovative technology uses electricity stored in a battery to power it for 35 miles, then switches to a gasoline engine that powers an electric generator to extend the vehicle's range by about 300 miles. Three days ago, a virtual odometer on the Volt Web site showed that Volt drivers had driven over 100 million miles powered by their electric batteries, saving over 5 million gallons of fuel.

Toprak anticipated that next year GM could sell 50,000 Volts. That would be a year later than the company expected to reach sales of 45,000. Through November, 2012 sales totaled 20,828.

A year late on a sales target. Is that great, or is it horrible? Your answer no doubt reflects your politics because Volt has been a controversial car, swept up in the debate over whether the U.S. should have bailed out two of its three automakers. But changing the world takes time.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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