It might seem like an odd concept, but dealerships are not obligated to sell every model an automaker produces—if a model isn’t popular or profitable, dealers can decide to drop it altogether. This phenomenon, first reported by Automotive News and confirmed to us by a Chevrolet spokesperson, currently is being acted out in more than 400 Chevy dealerships nationwide where the Volt plug-in hybrid is being dropped from showrooms. The reason? Chevrolet is requiring that Volt-certified dealers equip their service departments with $5100 worth of new tools this year, and some stores just don’t feel like coughing up the dough.
Each year, Chevrolet allows its dealers to opt out of selling certain vehicles, so this year, when Chevy raised the service-tool costs for the Volt from $2800 to $5100, some stores decided the Volt wasn’t worth it. (Chevy annually updates its service requirements for its models—the Volt included—and so even though the newly required tools this year cost more, dealers only have to buy them once.) Now before you go ballyhooing the Volt as some kind of failure, a Chevy spokesperson told us that the dealerships that dropped the Volt accounted for less than one percent of the car’s annual sales. Imagine, if you will, that you sell Volts. If you sell 100 Volts a year, spending $5100 on equipment specifically for servicing that particular vehicle doesn’t cut into profit margins too greatly; if you sell only a handful, well, your per-car profit is more deeply affected.
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So why the huge year-over-year increase in service tool costs? According to Chevrolet, a large chunk of the increase comes from a new battery-depowering tool that allows service departments to power down the Volt’s battery pack so that pieces of the pack may be sent back to Chevy for maintenance rather than the entire unit. Such equipment likely would have prevented the NHTSA’s famous Volt crash-test fires, we’re told by outside sources.