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Chevy Volt picks up award, but not enough buyers

Stephen Beard Mar 6, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: The Chevy Volt has won one of the car industry’s most prestigious awards. The electric hybrid has been voted Car of the Year at the Geneva Motor Show, which opened today. The Volt’s not winning any prizes where it counts most, though — at dealerships. Sales have been feeble. And adding insult to inury, GM announced the other day it’s temporarily stopping production to work off a backlog.

From the European Desk in London, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard has the story.

Master of ceremonies at the Geneva Motor Show: We’ve reached the moment everyone has been waiting for. Do you feel the tension in the air?

Stephen Beard: OK,  it’s not the Oscars,  but the European Car of the Year award is a big deal for the  auto industry. And for the second year in a row, says analyst David Bailey, a battery-operated vehicle has swept the board.

David Bailey: People making the awards love electric cars. It was the Nissan Leaf last year. It’s the Chevy Volt this year. Technologically of course, they’re a fantastic achievement.

Chevy Volt ad: A car that can go up to 40 miles before it uses any gas at all. That’s an American revolution.

Trouble is, the Volt is not sparking much fervor among car buyers on either side of the pond. Fewer than 8,000 sold last year. Bailey says it’s the sticker price that’s put a brake on sales: more than $30,000.

Bailey: You can buy a Chevy Cruze that’s the same size and half the price, so you see why people aren’t buying it. It’s too expensive. 

GM has now got such a surplus of Chevy Volts, it’s halting production for five weeks. The company says it’ll know by May whether the car will survive. It should, says  Peter Wells of the Center for Auto Industry Research.

Peter Wells: It’s a very good product. They’ll benefit enormously from the learning in terms of using this product and improving it. And they will have established at least a presence in this market, which will probably serve them well in the longer term.

And he says the accolade “European Car of the Year” may just persuade GM not to pull the plug on the Volt.

In London, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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