Will GM Replace the Chevy Volt With A Plug-in Crossover?

Word has it that General Motors is mulling whether to discontinue the Chevrolet Volt in 2020 and replace it in 2022 with a crossover-style variant, but would this be desirable?

According to Reuters, which cited “people familiar with the plans,” the Volt is one of six presumably under-selling vehicles the automaker is thinking about canceling. Speaking to United Auto Workers Union President Dennis Williams, Reuters said the union and GM are discussing ways to increase production in the under-utilized Detroit-Hamtramck plant where the Volt is made by replacing them. Several of the “at risk” vehicles are sedans, and more popular vehicles such as crossovers which are hot sellers these days could be their eventual replacements.

GM has not confirmed the report, saying it does not comment on future product, but what could otherwise be a dispassionate business decision also stands to touch the Volt. This extended-range electric car has been a symbolic pioneer in the electrified car movement, with very outspoken fans, and some detractors.

The Volt has the highest all-electric range of any plug-in hybrid, but being compact it’s smaller than mid-sized competitors so it has a more-cramped back-seat. With a $7,500 federal tax credit assumed, and potential state incentives, the car that starts around $34,000 can net out in the middle, even lower 20s with discounting, but it has never broken into mainstream sales volume as was once hoped.

Originally launched for model year 2011, the Volt was simultaneously controversial, fascinating, and widely misunderstood from the start. It had been pushed through to production by a pre-bankruptcy GM after former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz was compelled by the Tesla Roadster in 2006.

A 2011 Volt. From 2011-2012 the Volt had 35 miles EV range. In 2013-2015 it was 38. The original car still has more range than competitors with 20-some miles e-range. Today generation-two is rated for 53 miles range with 42 mpg, now on regular, not premium gas.

GM wanted to build an electric car too, Lutz has said, but settled on the “extended-range electric” idea with no “range anxiety” providing 35 miles of EV range for 75 percent of drivers’ daily needs, with 37 mpg in gas hybrid mode.

The Volt was thus the first major manufacturer plug in hybrid, launched alongside the first major manufacturer EV, the Nissan Leaf. Whether it’s been a success or failure is still an open question by those dazzled by all the rhetoric spun over the electrified car, as one commenter observed:

“And today GM announced it will discontinue the failure..Chevy Volt! Let me find my shocked face! Do you think BO purchased his already? ;),” wrote a reader over the weekend under an article saying Barack Obama had once promised to buy one when he left office.

To be clear, nothing has been “announced” by GM, but this unflattering commentary is one voice among others, and the Volt was also a victim of politicization during the 2012 election season and memories may die hard.

This said, even Volt fans, though torn by a need to support and cheerlead the car, have suggested a larger body – or simply more back seat space on a longer-than-Cruze-size platform – would be better.

Unquestioned among supporters is the Volt is a unique and even inspiring car. It’s fun to drive, peppy, corners well, is quiet, smooth, and has been relatively reliable. It also, until Honda’s 40-mile Clarity PHEV gets here next year, has more than double the EV range of competitive “blended” plug-in hybrids.

GM treats it with “halo” status, and talks in glowing terms of its technology as seed stock or a learning experience that’s enabled it to build current and pending hybrids, plug-in-hybrids, and even all-electric offerings like the similarly named Bolt EV.

The Volt’s public relations image however was attacked out of the gate, as noted, and many never got their mind wrapped around it. As one example of how automakers view the mainstream American public’s comprehension of PHEVs, Chrysler went so far as to distance its new Pacifica Hybrid minivan from the fact that is actually a plug-in hybrid.

Did Chrysler see all the frustration GM went through trying to explain the Volt? It has said people in minivan demographics might jump to conclusions it’s an EV and be afraid of being stranded.

Beyond that, it’s commonly said the Volt is under-advertised, and this publication broke a story in 2014 that it was relegated to niche status, but to be fair, GM has tried, as commercials from as long as eight years ago show.

Couple this with the trend that consumers are grooving on widely defined “crossover” vehicles, and maybe it would be good to let this one evolve to something else?

Plans Forgotten

The Volt went through a staged rollout in 2011, and GM made the mistake of projecting for 2012 45,000 U.S. sales and 15,000 exported sales of Open/Vauxhall Amperas, Holden Volts, and European Volts before that brand subsequently all-but exited Europe.

By the end of 2011, the official statement became it will not project any sales number, but will match supply with demand.

MPV5 shown in Shanghai in 2010 but it was never built when the Volt did not prove a runaway success. For generation one, the Volt never sold more than 23,000-some units in a single year, and last year’s generation two inched the all-time best up to a bit under 25,000. .

Also changed along the way was hope the Volt would be the first of other “Voltec” spinoffs.

SEE ALSO: Will GM Expand the 2016 Volt’s Market, or Will it Remain a ‘Geographical’ Niche?

The latest news that GM may make it a crossover is really an old idea, and in 2010 it had shown the MPV5 crossover in China but the thought then was it could be a stablemate.

Since then Volt fans have tirelessly petitioned GM in forums like GM-Volt.com for more variants, but that request has largely gone unheeded.

One Voltec car that was made, and then soon killed, was the 2014-2016 Cadillac ELR – a gorgeous but small coupe that cost more than an entry level Tesla Model S.

SEE ALSO: GM Securing ‘CrossVolt’ Trademark Possibly For Future Plug-in

Meanwhile mainstream sellers were never introduced by a company that seemed to have inherited a sacred cow of a car to the alternative-energy minority, and not wishing to play a starring role in a film that could be called “Who Killed the Electric Car – Again.”

GM was the culprit in the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car” and to its credit thanks to the Volt, became a star in “Revenge of the Electric Car,” and so it is working on “electrified” vehicles which meanwhile are a niche product all around.

In fact, the Volt this year is selling almost neck and neck with the admittedly more expensive, but much more popular Tesla Model S. Through the first half of the year, Chevrolet reported 10,932 Volt sales, and Tesla has an estimated 11,100.

For those who want to call it a “failure,” the Volt is the second best-selling plug-in car in the U.S.

Crossover Better?

Agreed on even by some fans is a more roomy Volt would be better. If the Malibu Hybrid, for example, had a plug-in powertrain with sufficient e-range, some needing to carry larger passengers in the back seat have said that would be so much better.

But while GM plays its hand much closer to its chest than automakers like VW Group, Mercedes, BMW, Nissan, Volvo, Hyundai/Kia, and others who’ve announced sweeping plug-in agendas, it is clear the automaker will be building more.

And thanks largely to the Volt, GM is on track behind Tesla to hit 200,000 plug-ins produced in the U.S. during 2018 and thus hit its cap for the federal tax credits – which then fade away over four successive quarters.

SEE ALSO: 18 Hurdles Electrified Vehicles Are Having To Overcome

GM is not talking about a stable of Voltecs, however, so we shall see what comes about.

Whether the Volt in present form factor remains is a decision not yet officially made, but reportedly its cancellation is in consideration.

Whatever is decided, plug-in supporters can only hope better cars come along if this original grandfather of a plug-in is indeed retired in the next couple of years.

Reuters


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