Chevy Volt's price slashed by $5,000

Slow sales have other plug-in car makers also cutting prices, signaling lack of charging infrastructure

The 2014 Chevy Volt

General Motors said Tuesday it will slash the sticker price of the 2014 Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid vehicle, by 12.5 percent, following the lead of other automakers that have struggled to make alternative-power vehicles attractive to the public.

Increased sales of such vehicles are a priority of automakers and the Obama administration, which have jointly pledged to reduce the nation’s dependency on petroleum and curb harmful carbon emissions, but high costs and a lack of widespread availability of charging stations may be hampering progress.

When it hits showrooms later this summer the 2014 Volt will cost $34,995, a full $5,000 less than the 2013 model. Buyers are also eligible to receive up to $7,500 in government tax credits, an incentive designed to boost sales which could bring the price down as low as $27,495.

"We have made great strides in reducing costs as we gain experience with electric vehicles and their components," Don Johnson, Chevrolet's vice president of sales and service, said in a statement.

GM says the Volt is the best-selling plug-in hybrid in the country, but only 11,643 have been sold this year, as of July 2013. That represents a 9.2 percent increase from the same time period in 2012, but doesn't point to a huge improvement over the 23,461 it sold in 2012 as a whole, says John O’Dell, senior editor for car-review website In comparison, Chevrolet sold 237,758 of the 2012 Cruze, a gasoline-powered model that’s similar in design to the Volt.

O’Dell attributes slow sales of the Volt to the limited availability of battery-charging stations – where such vehicles are typically plugged in. There are roughly 6,300 charging stations in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy, up from 5,200 at the end of last year.

“The infrastructure is really the huge problem,” O’Dell says. “We spent 100 years developing gasoline infrastructure, so to expect us to develop that overnight is silly."

The Toyota Prius was the first hybrid vehicle to enter the U.S. auto market in 2000. It became the best-selling alternative-fuel vehicle ever, with more than 3 million sold worldwide, as of June. The original Prius combined the use of an electric motor with a separate, traditional internal-combustion engine and gasoline tank, without the need to plug the battery in to charge it.

Plug-in hybrids can kick into traditional gasoline mode when electric batteries are tapped out, but go 100 to 200 miles at a stretch before needing to refuel. 

In 2013, Nissan forwent hybrid technology with its all-electric plug-in Leaf. Powered entirely by battery, it can travel about 70 miles on a single electric charge – a range that exceeds the Volt’s 40 miles on a single electric charge.

The auto industry’s introduction of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles can bring the United States closer to its goal of reducing harmful, carbon-based fuels and using 80 percent clean energy by the year 2035, but not if more people don’t buy them.

O’Dell says while there will continue to be "huge improvements" in the traditional, gas-powered engine, at least a moderate adoption of alternative-power vehicles is imperative to meet those national goals. In 2012, the Obama administration rolled out new fuel-economy requirements for automakers mandating that all new car models must nearly double their average fuel efficiency to reach 54.5 gallons per mile by 2025.

California also enacted the Zero-Emissions Vehicle Mandate, which requires automakers to sell zero-emission vehicles -- such as  electric, hydrogen fuel cell and plug-in hybrid cars -- in increasing quantities, though there is a cap on the percentage of plug-in hybrids that qualify. By 2018, 4.5 percent of an automaker’s sales in the state must be ZEVs or a combination of ZEVs and plug-in hybrids; by the year 2025, sales must be 22 percent ZEVs.

Perhaps as a result of such mandates, California sells the most hybrids and electric cars in the nation, and is home to nine of the top 15 metropolitan markets for hybrid car sales, according to Forbes.

California-based Tesla Motors has bucked the trend of tepid electric car sales with its all-electric Model S, which sold more than 4,750 units in the first quarter of 2013, more than similar luxury models of Mercedes, BMW and Audi, according to the blog GreenCarReports.

While it took a full decade for traditional hybrids to reach their present level of 3 percent of the auto-market share, O'Dell says it’s a misconception that plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles simply need more time to catch on.

"You're not going to sell a lot of these in Idaho or Montana," states with lots of wide-open space that require longer drives between locations, he says. Most buyers of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles are drivers in states such as California and Oregon who use them as a second vehicle for short, everyday commutes and local drives, and use their fuel-powered cars for long trips.

"Most of us in this country have several times a year to drive more than 60 or 70 miles at time," O'Dell said, "and we want a car that won’t take us six hours to charge."

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