By Keith Laing - 03/02/12 08:39 PM EST
General Motors has temporarily suspended production of its Volt electric car, the company announced Friday.
GM, which is based in Detroit, announced to employees at one of its facilities that it was halting production of the beleaguered electric car for five weeks and temporarily laying off 1,300 employees.
"We needed to maintain proper inventory and make sure that we continued to meet market demand," GM spokesman Chris Lee said in a telephone interview.
Lee noted that sales of the Volt were higher in February than they were in January, and added that California recently decided to allow the electric car to qualify for High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes in the state.
"We see positive trends, but we needed to make this market adjustment," he said.
The Chevy Volt has come under criticism from Republicans in Congress because of reports of its batteries catching on fire during testing. President Obama gave the electric vehicle a vote of confidence in a speech to the United Auto Workers union this week, promising he would buy a Volt "five years from now, when I'm not president anymore."
But Republicans have argued that the Volt was being pushed by the Obama administration for political reasons instead of consumer demand.
“Is the commitment to the American public or is the commitment to clean energy, that we are going to get there any way we can?” Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) asked in a hearing in the House in January about the Volt's reported battery fires.
“When the market is ready … it won’t have to be subsidized,” Kelly said.
Chevy has argued the debate about the Volt has become too political.
"We did not develop the Chevy Volt to be a political punching bag," General Motors CEO Daniel Akerson testified before Congress in the same January hearing. "We engineered the Volt to be a technological wonder."
Chevy has sought to give a boost to the public image of the Volt, releasing a commercial in January tying the Volt to the effort to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
"This isn’t just the car we wanted to build,” a narrator says in the commercial over footage of Volts being manufactured in Hamtramck, Mich. “This is the car America had to build.”
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