The Chevy Volt is dead; long live the Chevy Volt

Back in the 1990s, GM killed the electric car. But in 2011, it brought it back again with the Chevy Volt, selling more than 150,000 units over the past seven years, making it one of the best-selling plug-in hybrids on the market. The Volt perhaps doesn’t get enough credit for its political and technological significance.

Now, the Volt is sentenced to death in March 2019 as part of GM’s massive restructuring that will cut more than 14,000 salaried staff and factory workers and close seven factories worldwide by the end of next year. In addition to the Volt, the company also plans to jettison the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala, and Cadillac CT6 sedans. President Trump lashed out at GM over the closures and threatened to impose new car tariffs on imports from China.

The Volt has always been a political football. In 2012, President Obama promised to buy one when he left office, and talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh repeatedly bashed both Obama and GM for the Volt, saying that “nobody wants it” and criticizing the $7,500 federal EV tax credit.

Though the Volt’s sales numbers fell short of the original projections, it was hardly a failure. In 2011, its sales goal was 10,000, but Chevy only sold 7,671. Deliveries eventually grew to more than 20,000 units per year in both 2016 and 2017, putting the Volt on par with what Porsche has predicted for sales of its upcoming Taycan electric car. For the Volt, which received so much attention when it launched, it’s natural that its boosters would claim every sale as a victory, while nothing would satisfy those who think of it as a “Government Motors” boondoggle.

I bought a second-generation Volt in 2016, and before it was totaled in a crash (there were no serious injuries), my then-wife and I put more than 18,000 all-electric miles on the car, with just shy of 2,000 gasoline miles on the clock. The technology in the car is astonishing. We hardly noticed the switchover between electric and gasoline propulsion. Unlike Teslas, which run on electricity alone, the Volt is a “plug-in hybrid” that has a smaller battery pack, but it also packs a gasoline engine that starts up when the battery runs out of juice.

The Volt does this really, really well. And, unlike full-electric vehicles, it’s easy to loan to people who are unfamiliar with the quirks of electric cars. If you like, you can drive it like a normal car and never plug it in at all. But with some minor behavior changes — like plugging it in at night to charge up the battery — you can save money and the environment.

The rated range of 53 miles for a full charge of electricity held up, allowing my wife to drive her 50-mile round trip commute entirely on electricity. But even if the range had been shorter, the Volt’s hybrid status eliminates that electric car range anxiety because she could have stopped at a gas station in a pinch.

So why kill it? The Volt is a sedan, and demand for four-door cars has been falling marketwide. This is probably the primary driver of the Volt’s cancellation. Earlier this year, Ford said it would be discontinuing most of its car lineup in favor of trucks and crossovers, and GM is doing something similar.

But my experience with the Volt convinced me that plug-in hybrids are the major stepping stone for owners between traditional gas-powered cars and full EVs like the Tesla Model 3. Most major carmakers have released plug-in hybrids like the Volt (or soon will), showing what a trailblazer it really was. It’s been rumored for more than a year that Chevrolet is working on a plug-in crossover replacement for the Volt, which is more in line with market trends than a four-seater sedan.

But there was one other big hitch with the Volt: the way they were sold. When my wife and I were planning to buy one, we started at our local Chevrolet dealer, which had several on the lot. When we arrived, the first thing our salesperson tried to do after we told him we wanted to test it out was... try to talk us out of it.

Why deter us from buying a car we knew we wanted? This puzzled me for months, but eventually, I figured it out: for a salesperson (commissioned or not), time is money. He could tell us everything we needed to know about the Chevy Equinox or the Malibu in under 10 minutes. The Volt (and the Bolt EV, which launched later), are much more complicated to explain, taking up more time. And other than Tesla, which eschews the dealer model in favor of its own if-Apple-sold-cars-this-is-how-it-would-look retail stores, no carmaker has been able to crack the code on how to sell the damn things.

The Volt getting canceled isn’t great news for electric car enthusiasts. But, with 150,000 on the road, most of them owned by EV evangelicals who are happy to explain how great they are, the Volt will continue to push the market forward for years to come. And for GM, it provided an invaluable R&D test-bed for its future electric car efforts.

The Volt is dead. Long live the Volt.

Comments

Had a gen 1 2011 and currently drive a 2017. Will keep this thing forever.

I think people are reading too much into the killing of the Volt. IMHO, its cancellation is collateral damage to GM wanting to close the Hamtrack plant in Detroit where the Volt is made, but where GM mostly makes other cars that they’re cancelling.

Had the Volt been made in the plant where the truly ugly Bolt is made in, it would almost certainly have kept on going since both use the same platform, it routinely outsells the Bolt on a month to month basis and with its much smaller and cheaper battery (than the Bolt) was probably the more profitable of the two (definitely for service at dealerships which the dealers want).

"Evangelical" is the operative word…."fanatic" would fit better.
21,000 fanatics in a year…average. Of course they are discontinuing the VOLT. It has lost more money than any previous GM product. $BILLIONS$

The history of VOLT type propulsion began with the Owen Magnetic…it failed also. It wasn’t ugly, cheaply finished, underpowered etc…but it was a very complicaated expensive auto in THE 1920s!

Had GM come out with a beautiful, sleek, 4 door, luxurious sedan like the TESLA Model 3 they would probably be on top of the world of BEV autos. But GM blew it and the BOLT is going to be another colassal failure.

Saturn lost GM Waaaay more money than the Volt and Bolt combined.

GM doesn’t have the chops to make a proper luxury car.

Also the Tesla Model 3 is no where close to being a luxury product

It’s a luxury to be able to buy one and actually have it arrive this decade.

You haven’t driven a Cadillac lately have you? There’s a reason why they were getting rave reviews over the European luxury models recently. Things change. Try to keep up.

Also, along with your point on Telsa Model 3, it’s at the bottom of the quality list right now among all cars.

You haven’t driven a Cadillac lately have you?

Nope, I’m not in North America. The models that have been available in other markets have had universally bad reviews.

Model 3 luxurious? LOLOLOL. oh, you were being serious?

It feels very luxurious to have the car drive itself and be quicker than pretty much any other vehicle on the road.

I couldn’t help but read this in Trump’s voice for some reason.

I was just in the market and ended up with a 2013 volt.

I had the exact same experience. I’m in OKC (an oil/gas town if there ever was one) and drove all around the metro area trying to find a salesman who knew anything about this volt I found. I talked to 7 salesmen before one could actually tell me how the car worked. Everyone else said "Oh you want a hybrid? The Prius is good" and then tried to sell me something else.

The salesman who sold it to me knew nothing about the car. He couldn’t be bothered with figuring out how to market this car when he’s been selling almost exclusively gas cars for years. I whole heartedly agree that salesmen are gonna be a major hurdle in the plug-in hybrid / electrical vehicle market.

It doesn’t help that Chevy put zero effort into advertising the Volt either.

I remember them running these ads for a while. It’s hard to describe exactly how the Volt works and the benefits in a 30-second ad, especially back in 2012. Might be a lot easier these days.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3iEQ9TIMhs

All they need to do is go to their local college campus and find their EV/emerging technologies club and poach the one kid who looks okay in a polo shirt. Call the position "EV evangelist". Have them explain all the technical mumbo jumbo and leave the sales guys to slot no-work commissions for actually writing up the sales and "talking to their manager" about the price.

It won’t cost much – $14 an hour and a pizza every few days should do it.

EVangelist – no need for three extra characters.

Agreed. The dealers killed this car. Dealers are afraid of electrics because the don’t require nearly as much maintenance, which is where dealers make most of their money.

This is a dealership protectionist laws issue more than anything, and Oklahoma has some of the worst. Laws that protect dealerships from invading products that they don’t want to sell. Or, even worse, might take over the market putting them out of business. The recently eye-wear thing in the elections a few weeks ago was similar move to try to remove protectionist laws, but those Okies couldn’t pass that law and now have to put up with less market competition there too. Sad.

Sales man work on commission. Typically 20-50% of the profit from the car sales. Cars like Volts don’t make any money and the high monthly note at the end makes it hard for people to say yes to. Car dealerships have a "Mini" commission for cars that don’t make money like the volt. So a salesman might get $100 for a hard sale. Yet if he sells you a cruze which is the same car for half the money, easier to get financed he will make $500 – $1000. Plus 8 years later when you come to trade the Volt in it won’t be worth anything, even worse is if you are underwater on the volt and you want to get larger car.

shopped both the second gen Volt and the latest Prius plug-in and ended up getting the Prius. I thought the second gen Volt looked worse than the first gen one. And I dig the complete package of the Prius. would’ve loved the 50 mile electric range of the Volt but the electric range of the Prius is good enough to get me to work and then I can finish charging before going home from work.

Definitely think the second gen design is worse than the first, which is saying something. While I wouldn’t call the first gen an ugly car, it is kinda funky.

The Prius, both non-plugin and prime looks awfully hideous, much worse then the 2nd gen Volt. I test drove both. The Prime drives like a golf cart, is scarily sluggish while the Volt has confident acceleration and is fun to drive. The Prius gives the Pontiac Aztek a run for the most hideous car ever built. The loyalty of Prius owners is admirable though, Toyota did a good job. Chevy was just not the right brand to attract buyers interested in EVs. GM should have started a separate EV brand.

The Chevy Volt effort is the epitome of the truism: "You need to spend money to make money.".

Also, hopefully Chevy keeps the parallel hybrid design around. It’s more efficient than the more common in-line hybrid design.

The ghost of the EV1 continues to haunt. They never should’ve crushed then buried them out in the desert.

I think you have it backwards. Volt is a "series" hybrid, and the others that do not plug in, are parallel since the gas motor drives the wheels.

The EV1 thing was bad, but it’s time to move on…

Would love to have one of these, with the ICE, perfect for the cold climate where electric struggles with heat and efficiency. It’ll be interesting to see if the Bolt lasts beyond 2019 as well since it is based off the Cruze platform (which the Volt is based on) and GM is phasing the Cruze out after next year and the Plug In Rebate will probably die this year or next for GM.

There is a limit of 200,000 (I think) on the plug in rebate and much guessing that GM will hit it this quarter or next and the execs probably figured sales will go down a big chunk after that goes away (so why move it to another factory). Bummer with battery costs really getting down now (and the electric leadership mantle beyond Tesla).

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