In the old days, building cars was simple. When you needed more capacity, you just added an additional shift or two, or maybe (in extreme cases) opened a new production facility. Suppliers were more than happy to ramp up production of parts to meet automaker demand, since it ultimately meant more money in their pocket as well. Besides, if supplier A couldn’t deliver the components you needed, there was always supplier B just waiting to pounce on an automaker’s purchase order.
As cars get more complex, the number of suppliers qualified to produce components diminishes. In the case of the Chevy Volt, ramping up production to meet anticipated demand isn’t as simple as adding more shifts or hiring more workers; the real hold up comes from obtaining sufficient quantities of lithium ion battery cells. Battery cell suppliers can provide enough inventory for Chevy to build 10,000 Volts for 2011; by 2012, Chevy estimates that suppliers can provide enough inventory to build 45,000 Volts. Chevy claims that 240,000 customers have expressed interest in the Volt, but that number has left a few people scratching their heads.
Even if the number of potential buyer is only 10% of what Chevy claims, customers may still be waiting for 12 months or more to get their hands on a Volt. The real question is, will American consumers be willing to wait that long, or will they take their eco-conscious dollars elsewhere?