This week General Motors will reportedly launch an advertising campaign about a compact, quiet, efficient electric car that has a gasoline engine to extend traveling range if needed.

The company will document that this vehicle has already been well received by drivers, enthusiast magazines, and has been called a “game changer.”

It’s name is the Chevrolet Volt.



 

"It's really a relaunch," said Chris Perry, GM's vice president for U.S. marketing of the campaign to a Wall Street Journal writer otherwise focused on how the Chevy Cruze is dramatically usurping Volt sales. "It's still a technological marvel. We need to remind people of that."

But while the Journal documented GM's counterbalancing pro-Volt views on its Web site – that’s ranked by Alexa as the world's 231st most-visited – the writer made the case that GM is otherwise seriously working against itself.

Volt sales were only 603 units last month. Perry agreed the highly publicized federal battery investigation hurt the Volt, but in a more profound way, the WSJ contended, Chevrolet is pitting the Volt against its own Cruze.

Citing seven months of unsold Volt inventory on hand according to Autodata Corp., the Journal said the Volt is proving to be a tough sell against its cousin.

“It could take 20 years, or more, for a Volt buyer to earn back through fuel savings the roughly $20,000 extra cost compared with a Cruze,” wrote the Journal.

So while the WSJ let GM tell what it's doing to promote the Volt, the story undermines GM's intention to remind Americans that the Volt represents the vanguard of a new energy paradigm.

The Journal's math also contradicts the well-regarded personal finance publication, Kiplinger, which several months ago calculated that within five years a Volt would far more significantly whittle down a $19,000 higher price gap when compared to a Cruze LTZ.


OK, which is it? WSJ says it takes 20 years or more to recoup the Volt's extra cost. Kiplinger says in five years total ownership cost for a Volt (using premium at a near-future $4.65) is $7,747 higher than for a Cruze costing $18,305 less and using regular gas 30 cents per gallon cheaper. Disparity varies for this calculator depending on fuel prices.

But there is truth within the WSJ article, and it will be up to consumers – many of which do not know who to trust and too often are not sufficiently tech savvy – to discern the wheat from the chaff.

One truth that the WSJ mentioned is the Cruze is heavily cross shopped against the Volt – according to Edmunds, it’s fourth on the list behind the Nissan Leaf, and two versions of the Prius.

Last year the Cruze quickly gained sales momentum aided in part by weakness in the 9th generation Civic and more significantly, by the aftermath of the Japanese natural disaster in March.

“The Cruze is the most competitive compact Chevy GM has fielded in decades,” wrote the Journal, “last year outselling the Focus and the Honda Civic, once the king of the small-sedan segment.”

Another truth the Journal brings up is the trend toward much more efficient internal-combustion vehicles which is expected to continue in light of new federal and California efficiency laws.

“The most efficient Cruze model, the Eco, uses a 138-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine and a manual, six-speed transmission to achieve an EPA rating of 28 mpg city, 42 highway,” wrote the Journal.


In related news, GM is expanding the Cruze line, but this wagon is not headed to the U.S.: "The Chevrolet Cruze station wagon, the third variant of Chevrolet’s most-popular car, will make its global premiere at the 82nd International Geneva Motor Show early next month," Chevrolet said in a press release . "The station wagon complements the Cruze sedan and hatchback, which together have combined sales of more than 1 million vehicles globally since launch in 2009."

As for the Volt, GM is not taking the suggestion of many GM-Volt readers to chop the price. Instead, Perry told the Journal that in addition to new "Just the Facts" advertisements, GM will minimize price objections by focusing on leasing, such as an ongoing $350 per month, 36-month deal.

But then after opening its article talking about how the Cruze is one of GM's biggest competitors against the Volt, and noting GM’s efforts to relaunch it, the Journal then relaunched into yet more reasons why the Cruze makes so much more sense.

“For roughly half the price of the Volt, you can get the Cruze, a car that promises better gas mileage on long highway trips, when both are running on petroleum. And it takes regular gas,” wrote the Journal.”

GM might get a break from California laws set to mandate one in seven zero-emissions vehicles, the Journal noted, but its argument for the Cruze was pretty thorough.

What's the smartest thing GM could do?

Many months ago GM took to calling the Volt a "halo" car. While there's talk about GM advertising for the Volt, is the Volt actually most valuable as advertising for GM?

The company has already said as much and the Journal is only building on this using GM's own statements against it, so what is the best plan for Voltec?

GM has said it will launch an all-electric 2013 Spark small car, and high-end Voltec Cadillac at an undisclosed future date.

It has said it will focus on getting the Volt established in America and abroad, so perhaps only patience is needed?

Or would sacrificial price cuts be a wise move?

While GM has never quantified the Volt's dollar value as a halo to its bread and butter cars, Perry did tell the Journal that GM is already poised to trim its production.

“Mr. Perry also says GM is also going to more closely match production to demand and work down high inventories,” wrote the Journal. “That could mean more temporary layoffs at the Volt plant in Hamtramck, Mich.”

Whether this happens or not, would you say GM is managing the Voltec project as well as it could? Would it cost GM more to slash its MSRP and ambitiously roll out other variants sooner?



 

Or is the answer some other aggressive maneuver? Or is everything OK, and the facts will rise like cream to the top, and in a few months we'll be wondering what was all the commotion?

Not sure, but certainly the Volt could be a game changer – many would say it should be a game changer. It is highly regarded, cost effective, and more.

According to the Journal, GM’s next move is to "relaunch" its halo car, hoping this time it will be heard, but will this and complementary efforts be enough? Or is GM leaving money on the table?

WSJ