Chevy Volt – Just PR or Real Green Deal?

This past weekend I stopped by Larry H Miller Chevrolet in Provo, Utah. I thought it time for this green tech guy to see what the hype was about with the Chevy Volt electric vehicle. So, I bravely climbed the dealer showroom stairs, flanked by salespeople looking more like sharks circling a life raft. I stated my intention. “I’m here to check out the Volt.” My jaw dropped slightly with the reply, “that’s the electric one, right?”

Yow! I thought. Didn’t you watch the video of eco-friendly President Obama driving the Volt for a cool 20 feet off the factory line? “Yea, the electric one,” I said, somewhat unimpressed. The young salesman trotted off, bringing back a more seasoned young salesman, as I stood by the 16mpg (city) Camaro, admiring it’s craftsmanship, though not its EPA rating.

“I’m looking for the Chevy Volt,” I re-stated to the next victim of my evergreen inquiry.

“Well,”  he said, smiling broadly. “We don’t have one. You’ll need to talk to my sales manager.” Woah! I thought. Already handing me off  to the sales manager.  2 minutes and 2 clueless salespersons later, I was before the slightly elevated and expansive sales manager’s desk, which was bristling with computer monitors and other technology. The mighty man was flanked by 2 enforcers, I suppose, and I now felt like Dorothy brought before the might Oz.  The salesperson approach the divine desk. “This guy is interested in seeing a Volt.”

The sales manager barely looked up from his monitor where he seemed engrossed in some highly important work–I wasn’t it. “Well, the Volt is really a Halo product.” That’s what he said. Now, marketing geeks know a halo product is a limited run product to show off future technology that is so cool, it reflects positively on all company products. In other words, you’ll feel better about driving that cool Camaro, although it’s a gas hog.

I got the guy to quantify his answer, saying this dealership would likely get one Volt in 2011 and three in 2012. Wow! Now that’s a commitment to the environment that a person can sink their teeth into. He also confessed to a $41,000 prices tag, which he offered as a huge barrier to really selling/buying the thing. Unstated message–I’m not interested in selling the Volt, or talking to you about GM’s environmental message. I guess he didn’t get the company’s green public relations memo.

Let’s contrast that with the Toyota Prius. Selling 1 million units since 2000, the U.S. accounts for half of current Prius sales. Well, that puts Chevy only about a a decade behind. Maybe it’s time to stroll back over to my local Toyota dealer.

(Jerry Seiner Chevrolet in Salt Lake City didn’t even return my voicemail regarding the Volt.)

Is the Chevy Volt a public relations play more than a viable green product?

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About the Author:

As founder of PilmerPR, John Pilmer, APR serves as a PR and marketing communications advisor for both emerging and established companies. He offers customers more than 20 years of results-driven business PR and marketing experience. John and the firm have provided PR consultation and campaigns for clients such as Mozy, Novell, AdvancedMD, Certiport, NextPage, ElectraTherm, Altiris, Avamar, EmergeCore Networks, FSLogic, INVISUS, 10x Marketing, MWI, Project Insight, REIC, Seastone, US Synthetic and Funding Universe (now Lendio), among others.
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  1. Doug  August 30, 2011

    Well written, John. How disappointing. They have advertised the Volt a fair amount. It seemed pretty cool. All smoke and mirrors….seems to be coming from the “very” top down…

  2. THansen  August 1, 2011

    Great post John. Very nicely written, you got a few chuckles out of me. “To be honest with you”…. I think the truth is in the numbers. Toyota is being good before talking about being good.

  3. @bobbleheadguru  August 1, 2011

    Sounds like a clueless dealer. I am sure that Chevy would be disappointed. However, I firmly believe that this experience should not be projected to Chevy as a whole.

    A few points:
    1. The car is just getting ramped up. They have sold less than 4000 so far in only 6 states (plus DC). They expect to sell 60,000 in 2012 (all states).

    You came at the “calm before the storm”.

    No excuses for that dealer though. They should have tried to talk about the car and if they did not have one… tried to show you a 41MPG Chevy Cruze. (Cruze is currently the #1 small car, outselling Toyota, Honda and Hyandai).

    As a GM customer, this story disappoints me. All I can say is please try another dealer and report back to us.

    I had a completely opposite experience with dealing with Bill Crispin Chevy in Saline MI. They had the car up front, had a special salesperson to talk to me about every detail, gave me 2 special test drives (including a 60 mile one), talked with me about charging, environmental impact, etc and was very diligent in placing my ordered efficiently.

    When I first started talking with the Chevy dealer, I was most interested in a Camaro. I ended up ordering the Volt. (Ironic?)

    Since ordering the Volt, I have been given a special Customer Service single point of contact, instructions on installing my home charger, information about getting the free smartphone app that I will use to monitor my car and 800 number open until midnight to answer any question etc.

    Chevy and the dealer have spent more time and effort on selling me this car, than any of my previous car purchases.

    2. The demand for the car still is larger than supply. I ordered a Volt in June and I do not expect to get it until Late Sept.

    They shut down the entire plant for a full month to re-tool for larger production. They fully expect this car to sell 60K (a very large number for a car of this time) in 2012.

    3. The price for 2012 is $40K (reduced from $41K in 2011 Model Year). After the government incentive, it is less than $33K. As a lease I can pay only $5 more than my current 2008 Impala when factoring in fuel savings.

    Here is all of my math:

    This is a great deal… that Chevy does not seem to want to promote. What I can infer is that they want to play the value card only after they have gotten past the initial demand (mostly people for whom money is no object).

    I do not fault them for that. I simply have found the hidden value in this car before others have caught on. My guess is that national auto writer will write and article in a few months that has very similar talking points to my blog posts.

    4. I wonder what your experience would have been like if you had strolled into a Prius dealer 2 months before the a Prius was widely available many years ago. Perhaps you may have gotten a similar response?

    Please test drive a Volt (different dealer) and a Prius…and report back to us. Very curious to know more about the side-by-side experience.

    5. Volt Picture
    Of course, you did not actually see the Volt, so you could not have known… but the picture you have is not of the Volt that is for sale. It is the original Auto Show Car from a few years ago. You may want to update that.

    • John Pilmer  January 23, 2012

      Hello bobbleheadguru. 🙂 Great response and well put together. I went into that Volt dealer as part of my effort to promote my Cleantech public relations expertise. We have facilitated 4 clients growing into the INC500 and are focused on cleantech and green. Know any firms looking for that kind of world-class promotion?
      John Pilmer 801-369-7535


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