The Chevy Volt and its European sister vehicle, the Opel Ampera, have been named the European Car of the Year at the Geneva Auto Show.
The plug-in hybrid electric vehicles beat out 35 other competitors, including the second place finisher, the Volkswagen Up. The judges said the Volt and Ampera represent a mature vehicle that is "better suited to consumers' needs than the conventional electric car." The judges predicted more plug-in hybrids will be on the road in the near future.
For General Motors that future cannot come fast enough. Two days ago the auto giant announced it was suspending production of the Volt for five weeks because of slow sales. Last month, 1.063 Volts were sold, up from 603 in January. These numbers, however, are well short of GM's goal to sell 45,000 Volts in 2012. The company also missed its sales target in 2011. The production halt is expected to lay off 1,600 workers.
Slow consumer uptake of the Volt is not directly connected to lower vehicle sales. Purchases of GM's other small and compact cars are up 43% between February 2011 and February 2012
Meanwhile across the ocean, in Europe, the Ampera has received 7,000 orders to date. This has surpassed Opel's most optimistic expectations -- the company set a goal to sell 10,000 vehicles this year. Opel claims it is selling more electric vehicles than any other manufacturer in Europe. This is welcome news for General Motors, which is trying to find a way to turn Ampera into a profitable business. In 2011, Opel lost $747 million.
GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky said, the Volt and Ampera may sell better in Europe than the United States: "There's a case to be made that it will do better in Europe than in the U.S. because fuel costs are so much higher and I think the governments are very committed to infrastructure here. We'll see." Newt Gingrich might agree with Girsky.
Image credit: General Motors
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