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GM is laying off thousands of workers, closing three plants, and ending production of the Chevy Volt

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14,000 factory workers and white-collar employees stand to lose their jobs

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Photo by Andrew Liptak / The Verge

Amid flagging sales, General Motors confirmed on Monday that it will no longer make the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, ceasing production on March 1st, 2019. The news comes as part of a wider plan by GM to slash car production in North America and halt production of several low-selling brands. Trading on GM shares was briefly halted on the stock exchange early on Monday in anticipation of “major operational changes,” according to CNBC.

GM plans to “unallocate” three assembly plants — in Oshawa, Ontario; Detroit, Michigan; and Warren, Ohio — putting the future of those plants in doubt, Reuters reports.

The move will necessitate layoffs of salaried executive employees. “Actions are being taken to reduce salaried and salaried contract staff by 15 percent, which includes 25 percent fewer executives to streamline decision making,” GM said in a statement. An estimated 14,000 factory workers and white-collar employees stand to lose their jobs, according to The Associated Press.

GM is making $3 billion to $3.8 billion in changes in order to generate $6 billion in positive cash flow by 2021, the company said. Workers at the Oshawa, Ontario plant are planning to walk out in protest, calling the announcement a “slap to the face,” according to The Globe and Mail.

The imminent death of the Volt is certainly a disappointment, especially for fans of early electric and hybrid vehicles. GM was lauded when the Volt came out in 2010 for its prescient bet on vehicles with electric powertrains. The first-generation model got 36 miles of electric range before the gas kicked in, while later versions would get 53 miles of electric range. That was enough for most people to cover their daily commute. Volt owners would often brag about not having to fill up their gas tanks in months or even years.

GM briefly ceased production of the Volt back in March 2012, but it restarted it just weeks later with a refreshed look. The release of the all-electric (and similar-sounding) Chevy Bolt in 2016 took some of the wind out of the Volt’s sales, but the Volt still retained a dedicated fan base.

Still, sales of both the Bolt and the Volt have been slumping in recent months. GM delivered 3,949 Bolt EVs during the last three months of 2018 versus 6,710 units during the same period in 2017. That’s a 41.1 percent decrease in sales in the US, which is the biggest market for GM’s flagship all-electric vehicle. Between March and July, the Chevy Volt edged out the Bolt EV in sales. InsideEVs estimates that 1,475 Chevy Volts and 1,175 Bolt EVs made their way to buyers. (Like Tesla, GM recently decided to stop giving monthly sale numbers and only release quarterly numbers.)

Unlike the Volt, though, the Bolt is the linchpin to GM’s plans for the future. The EV is used by its Cruise Automation division for autonomous testing, and a future version without steering wheel or pedals is getting ready to go into production.

The Chevy Cruze sedan is also reportedly ceasing production. SUVs and trucks continue to outperform sedans in the US, leading automakers to make tough decisions. Ford recently announced it would be ending production on all of its traditional sedans and hatchbacks for the North American market.

It’s unclear what effect, if any, President Trump’s trade war with China had on GM’s decision. But pundits expect Democrats to make an issue of it as the 2020 presidential election nears.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), who represents Detroit, released a statement expressing concern about the GM news and its implications for the economy.

“This is a warning and we all must be concerned about protecting jobs and keeping them in this country. I care deeply about working families hearing this news right now. If we want our auto industry to continue to be the global leader in transforming mobility, federal policy must ensure we keep them at the forefront of innovation and technology. Congress must work together on bipartisan policies that keep manufacturing jobs in this country, develops clean energy, and supports infrastructure to transform our mobility future.”