Did This Guy Just Kill the Chevy Volt?

Dr. Lyle Dennis, who founded GM-Volt.com and was perhaps the single most influential fan of the Chevy Volt, is switching to a Ford (NYSE:F) C-Max Energi. Dr. Dennis earned a spot on GM’s Volt Consumer Advisory board in part thanks to his advocacy and the fact that he put together a buyer list of 54,632 people in 97 countries that helped convince General Motors (NYSE:GM) that the Volt was viable.

After just 14,000 miles — at 190 lifetime miles per gallon — Dr. Dennis cites the fact that the Volt only has 4 seats, whereas the C-Max Energi has 5. With a wife and three kids, the Volt is just not realistic for his family — an underwhelming reason to switch for such a strong advocate, and losing a vocal supporter could hurt GM.

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GM took some flak right in the Voltec powertrain when Reuters reported that the company lost as much as $49,000 for each Volt built. GM’s response was: “Reuters’ estimate of the current loss per unit for each Volt sold is grossly wrong.” But despite more accurate ways to allocate development costs and calculate the value of investment in communicable technology, the Volt has been struggling to catch on. It’s expensive, and the lack of ubiquitous plug-in infrastructure turns many buyers off.

Ford C MaxThe Volt sold more plug-ins than any other maker in the U.S. in September 2012, but saw close to the least amount of sales growth. GM sold 2,851 Volts, up only 0.7 percent from August. [Edit: Mistakenly noted sales gain as year to year, when percent gain reflects change since August.]

Toyota’s (NYSE:TM) Prius PHV came in at number two, selling 1,652 units, up 57.8 percent from last month. This is the first year the PHV has been on the market.

The Nissan Leaf sold 984 units, up 43.6 percent from last month, but declining on the year by 4.67 percent. The newest kid on the block is Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) with its Model S, which sold an estimated 150 units. Overall, there were 5,809 plug-in electric cars sold in the U.S. in September, a 231.2 percent increase from last year, mostly thanks to Volt.

In a blog post on GM-Volt.com covering Dr. Dennis’ transition, he is quoted as saying: “I am grateful to GM for launching the plug-in revolution, and I have enjoyed my two years of Volt driving. Change however is an inevitable fact of life.” He continues to mention that several key players who pushed for the Volt have since left GM, in some cases for competitors like Fisker.

To satisfy the curiosity: The Volt gets roughly 37 combined mpg, while the C-Max Energi gets 47. The Volt gets a real world EV-only driving range of 36 miles, the Energi gets 20. The Volt has a base price tag of $39,995, the Energi clocks in at $33,745.

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