But it's not really fair to analyze it that way. GM plans to sell a lot more than 20,000 Volts. Moreover, the Volt's technologies -- battery cells, battery packs, controls, electric motors -- will be used in other GM programs, from the Spark to other electrified vehicles. "No one should expect a quick payback on this kind of vehicle," David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, told us in an email. "My guess is that it will become five-plus years before the costs become competitive."
That's not to say there aren't reasons for concern. The Volt hasn't hit its sales projections, and the poor showing of other electrified vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i, don't bode well. What's more, the Volt's near-term outlook is troubling. It still costs twice as much as a Chevy Cruze, and it runs $15,000 more than some competitors, such as the Prius c.
"If you compare it to other high-mileage vehicles, some of which come fully loaded for $25,000, it's hard to get a return on the extra investment," Dennis Virag, president of Automotive Consulting Group Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich., told us. "You can't save enough on gas to justify the higher price."
So, yes, there are reasons for concern. And, yes, GM needs to cut the Volt's pricetag... a lot.
Still, it's too early to be making a per-vehicle assessment on the Volt. GM knew it would be playing in a new market. Its engineers knew that the up-front costs would be high. Yet the company jumped in anyway. That suggests it plans on sticking around for a while. "They had to develop the technology," Cole said. "And you can't delay engineering until all the costs are in line, because you'll be left out of the game."