GM’s Chevy Volt goes flat in business and politics

General Motors predicted it would sell 10,000 Chevrolet Volt automobiles by the end of the year, but it is only on track to sell roughly 7,000 of these plug-in hybrids before 2012.

“We’ll probably hit that [10,000 target] early in 2012 … [but] we’re not going to get into specifics,” said Chevy spokesman Rob Peterson.

President Barack Obama’s support for the Volt is intended to be a vote-winning strategy in states where the auto industry is a large employer. The president, however, has sold his policies to only 41 percent of likely voters in Michigan, according to a November poll sponsored by the Detroit Free Press.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a possible GOP nominee to challenge Obama, has the support of 46 percent of likely Michigan voters. The state has 16 votes in the Electoral College.

Obama, however, outpolled former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 45 to 40 percent. The poll of 600 likely voters was conducted in mid-November by EPIC-MRA.

The president may also believe his support for the Volt and the auto industry will translate into blue-collar-worker votes.

But in November, only one-third of white blue-collar Democrats, and only 68 percent of non-white blue-collar Democrats, approved of his job performance, according to a CNN poll conducted by ORC International. The poll surveyed 504 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.

In numerous speeches and events, Obama and his deputies have touted the Volt as a pleasingly green symbol of government support for high-tech manufacturing. In early 2009, supporters were predicting 15,000 Volts could be built in 2011, and another 120,000 in 2012. (RELATED: More on the Chevy Volt)

Customers who buy the $41,000 gas–electric hybrid compact car get a federal tax rebate of $7,500.

The debate over the Volt has been shaped by politics, as well as by its performance, Peterson said.

“Many people want to say the Volt is a product of the Obama administration, although its origins go back to February 2006, before the Obama administration had even begun campaigning for the presidency,” he explained.

Peterson said the vast majority of Volt sales are going to ordinary customers, not government buyers or large corporations. A careful analysis of available Volt sales figures, however, reveals just how important sales of the electric vehicle to city and state governments and utility companies have been.

On Dec. 7, for example, New York City announced it had bought 50 Volts, 20 of which are being given to the city’s police department. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, touted the purchase as a civics lesson, not as an efficient transport mechanism.

“When provided with the facts, people become far more likely to choose an electric vehicle,” Bloomberg told reporters at a press conference held to showcase the Volt purchases.

“Our job is to ensure the public has the facts, ensure they can make their own decisions and ensure that if they want to drive an electric vehicle, we are providing the [refueling] infrastructure. … It’s all part of our PlaNYC agenda to create a greener, greater New York City,” he declared.