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GM Puts Volt Into 'Neutral' To Let Sales Catch Up

General Motors will suspend production of its Chevrolet Volt electric car for five weeks amid disappointing sales.

A GM spokesman said Friday that the company will shut down production of the Volt from March 19 until April 23, idling 1,300 workers at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant.

"We're taking a temporary shutdown," said GM spokesman Chris Lee. "We're doing it to maintain our proper inventory levels as we align production with demand."

GM sold 7,671 Volts last year, below its original goal of 10,000 cars. The company stopped publicly announcing sales targets last year. It sold 1,023 Volts in February and 603 in January.

"The fact that GM is now facing an oversupply of Volts suggests that consumer demand is just not that strong for these vehicles," said Lacey Plache, chief economist for auto information site Edmunds.com.

Lee said a decision to allow Volt drivers to use carpool lanes in California should help demand. "We're just looking to increase sales, and we see a positive trend going forward," he said.

Although the Volt has not been a big seller, the low-emission vehicle has improved GM's reputation for innovation.

The Volt is powered by a 400-pound battery pack, which allows the car to travel about 35 miles. After that, a gasoline-powered generator drives the electric motor. The Volt has a base price of about $40,000.

Battery fires broke out in three Volts after crash-safety testing last year, but National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigators determined the car was no more risky than vehicles with conventional gasoline engines.

That conclusion put the Volt in the middle of a political fight. Republicans accused federal safety regulators of going easy on the Volt because the government owns a stake in GM after giving it a $50 billion bailout.

The director of the highway safety agency denied giving GM favorable treatment.

Last year, GM offered to buy back Volts from any customers worried about safety. In January, it advised Volt owners to take the cars to the dealer for free repairs — steel was added to plates that protect the batteries.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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