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No Channel Stuffing Evident for Chevy Volt

On Friday, General Motors (GM) announced its third pause in the production of the Chevrolet Volt since manufacturing begun in late November 2010. The two previous breaks were in June-July 2011 and most recently in an extended holiday break ending February 6, 2012. This time, the pause will last five weeks, from March 19 to April 23.

Unlike in the two previous breaks, in this latest move GM is saying that sales are slow, so that manufacturing needs to slow down accordingly. A prominent and well-publicized article late last week alleged that GM is engaging in channel stuffing with the Chevrolet Volt.

As in turns out, widely available evidence hiding in plain sight totally disproves the thesis that there is too much Chevrolet Volt inventory at Chevy dealerships. To the contrary, the evidence clearly shows that Volt inventory is at an almost insanely low level, far lower than essentially all other cars.

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According to, where anyone can look at every car sitting unsold in a U.S. dealership, there are 4,323 Volts unsold at 1,951 Chevrolet dealerships nationwide as of Sunday, March 4. The math here is pretty simple, folks: There are just over two Volts per Chevy dealership, on average, in inventory available for sale.

For anyone who has been visiting U.S. car dealerships with any frequency in the recent decades, you will know that having only two cars on hand for a given model range is an insanely low number. Dealerships normally have many hundreds of cars on the lot, with much more than two cars of each model.

At a minimum, every dealership has at least one demonstration unit of each model, which is especially important in the case of the Volt, where the differentiated driving experience is so important. In addition to that one demo unit, you will probably want to have on hand a combination of most colors available, as well as variants that are sold at base equipment level, as well as fully loaded with all options. One would think that each Volt dealer should have somewhere in the neighborhood of at least ten Volts on hand in order for it to constitute a healthy inventory level.

Just to take a quick look and confirm at least a small sample of the numbers for the Chevrolet Volt inventory numbers, I visited some of these dealerships over the weekend. The Chevy dealers I visited had so many Cruzes, Malibus, Sonics, Camaros, Tahoes, etc., on hand that it wasn't even meaningful to count them. Rows after rows; a sea of cars in stock. But only one Volt. Not two. Not three. One.

GM may be stuffing the channel with all of those other Chevrolet models -- I didn't bother counting them -- but the evidence is crystal clear that there are way too few Volts at most of the Chevy dealerships. Obviously you will find a few Chevy dealerships scattered around the country that have many more than the average of two Volts, but as the evidence shows from, those dealerships are very few.

Missing in New York

Let's take New York City, for example. The inventory system indicates there is only one Chevrolet Volt available on Manhattan. One car for a place where 1.6 million people live, and many more work. If you include the other boroughs, add 16 of them -- for an area where over eight million people live, and many more work. This isn't channel stuffing; it's more like water in the Sahara desert.

This insanely light level of Volt inventories isn't limited to New York City. My investigation into Volt inventories in the San Francisco area yielded 17 cars and the greater Washington DC area 15. I wouldn't be surprised if plenty an exotic car company can muster more than 16 new cars for sale in NYC, 17 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and 15 in the greater Washington DC area.

With inventories this low, GM must be extremely pessimistic about the prospects for Volt sales in the coming months, given the upcoming March 19 to April 23 work stoppage. One wonders why?

Two things should be in order to understand:

1. The Open, Vauxhall, and Holden-badged Volts recently (Feb. 6?) started production, and the backlog from Europe and other geographies were said to be in the many thousands of units. What is going on with this?

2. The Volts manufactured Feb. 6 and onward are eligible for the new California carpool lane sticker, valid 2012 to 2015. Many people in California held off buying Volts manufactured before Feb. 6 for this reason. In the coming days and weeks, thousands of Volts should be arriving at California dealerships, where they will quickly be put into the hands of eager carpool lane drivers.

With these two positive things going on, combined with the already super-thin Volt inventories, one wonders why GM is halting production at this particular time, even for only five weeks. We are all eager for GM to clarify how they envision their Volt math for the upcoming year.

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