brands under fire
Posted by Dale Buss on December 5, 2011 02:01 PM
After demonstrating initial sluggishness about the troubling potential connection between its Chevrolet Volt and battery fires, General Motors has shifted into high gear in its efforts to protect the cherished Volt franchise from consumer fears (as some owners ask the automaker to buy back their Volts) and eroding sales in the face of a federal safety probe.
GM CEO Dan Akerson told Reuters that the company may redesign the battery system for Volt to address issues that are being raised in a federal probe of wheter Volt's batteries pose a particular risk of fire even days after an accident might damage them. "We want to assure the safety of our customers, or our buyers, and so we're just going to take a time out, if you will, in terms of redsigning the battery possible," Akerson told the news service.
Akerson's remarks depict a GM brain trust that indeed now is taking seriously the possibility of significant, even fatal, erosion of the Volt brand. Busy responding to customer concerns on Facebook and Twitter, the company had done so well in positioning Volt with an American public that was curious about electrified vehicles and with federal policymakers who have been pushing the EV alternative.
Though GM sold only about 6,000 Volts through the first 11 months of this year and has admitted it will fall short of its initial goal of 10,000 Volts sold in 2011, the proposition for Volt was starting to make sense to people: a "plug-in" hybrid whose on-board gasoline engine served as a safety net that could dispell the "range anxiety" that makes some worry about all-electric models such as Nissan Leaf.
In fact, to amplify its commitment to taking the federal investigation seriously, GM this week also said that it would buy back Volts from any owner who is worried about the car being a fire risk. The company previously said that it would provide non-Volt loaner cars to any anxious Volt owners for the time being. GM also said that it won't deliver an Opel-branded version of Volt in Europe until its engineers and safety regulators have figured out how to deal with the 400-pound battery pack after any accidents.
Ironically perhaps, in the meantime, Volt has earned the top spot in the Consumer Reports survey of owner satisfaction. Its latest report showed that 93 percent of Volt owners woh responded said they would buy the car again. Part of the reason might be that GM assigns each of its precious Volt buyers a "white glove" adviser through the ownership experience.
Now, if GM could get a handle on this fire-risk issue, which may be tied to leaked coolant, that high regard of Volt owners is something to build on.