Low Voltage

Last summer, after the rollout of the Chevy Volt, I decided to sit down and figure out how much each of these fantastically expensive little electric cars actually cost.  The sticker price was $41,000.  Some media reports knocked off federal and state subsidies to declare it cost as little as $33,500. 

Neither of these numbers represented the true cost of the Volt, because enormous taxpayer subsidies were involved in bringing it to market.  Those costs don’t disappear just because someone else (or everyone else) pays them.  Subsidies obscure the true cost of a product, but they don’t erase the underlying economic reality.

Dividing those subsidies between the initial production run of 10,000 cars, and adding them to the sticker price, I came up with a true cost of $81,000 per unit.  I allowed that, if sales were good and Chevy went ahead with the planned production of 45,000 more Volts in 2012, it might become reasonable to divide the subsidies by the higher grand total of 55,000 units and come up with a lower (but still appallingly high) cost.

How are those Volt sales working out?  Not well.  Not well at all.

Sebastian Blanco at AutoBlog Green grabbed Chevy’s sales release for February, scanned for those Volt figures, and found… nothing.  The company was actually hiding the number inside a separate PDF file listing detailed sales by model. Ripping through that chart, Blanco found the number of Volts sold in February was… 281.

That brings total Volt sales since release up to 928 units.  Monthly sales are actually down since 321 units were sold in January.

It’s not the worst-selling electric car – that honor would appear to belong to the Nissan Leaf, which weighs in at just 173 total units sold in the United States.  However, that run of 45,000 new Volts in 2012 is starting to look a bit… optimistic.  At the current rate of sales, the initial run of 10,000 Volts will tide consumers over until sometime in 2013. 

Adding 45,000 more cars would cover demand for the next fifteen years, assuming the car buyers of 2027 were willing to purchase a vehicle that had been sitting in storage for a decade and a half.  Maybe dealers could advertise them as “a retro classic of inconvenience and arrogance.”

Blanco notes that some dealers are selling Volts far above the sticker price, citing a Florida dealership that’s listing them for $65,590.  That’s actually quite close to what their true price would be, if the pipe dream of another 45,000 units was realized.  Of course, the Florida dealer won’t be remitting everything past the sticker price to taxpayers, to compensate them for the money seized out of their wallets to make the Volt possible.  He’s probably looking at units he knows he will never sell, and trying to make a killing by moving a few cars at a premium to trendy liberals with deep pockets.

The Volt is what happens when ideology combines with oceans of taxpayer cash to over-ride business sense.  Back when I first calculated their true price, I got emails from people angrily insisting that I was wrong to say “nobody wants to buy a Volt.”  Well, nobody wants to buy one for $81,000, that’s for damn sure.  Even when taxpayers are coerced into massive subsidies on every purchase, not very many people want to buy them for $41,000 or $33,500, either. 

Those who do purchase one of these electric turkeys are indulging in a fantasy, and buying a product that doesn’t really exist.  There is no such thing as a $41,000 electric car, but the people of the United States were compelled to pay billions to pretend otherwise.  Apparently very few of us are prepared to plunk down the bottom half of the Volt’s true price at a dealership, and live the rest of that daydream.