This week General Motors put out a press release full of corporate euphemisms that boiled down to this: several car models that aren’t selling well enough are getting axed. The press release was careful not to use the word “layoff” but it’s hard to imagine that workers will continue to be paid if there are no cars to be made. Obviously this got a lot of people upset, especially in light of the 2008 government bailout and more recent corporate big tax breaks. But here I’m going to focus on one specific car: the Chevrolet Volt.
The Volt was still in development when financial markets melted down in 2008. It expressed a potential high-tech future for General Motors. I saw it as one of the most convincing arguments against the “let GM die” school of thought. It was a much more interesting piece of engineering than what was found in a Toyota Prius and a sensible stepping stone on the transition to an electrified future for cars. And putting my money where my mouth was, I signed for a 2012 Chevrolet Volt on a three year lease. I took this picture when I took delivery, a day after Christmas 2011.
For three years it served as an efficient commuter vehicle taking me to and from work and everyday errands. The gasoline-fueled electric generator meant I could take it out on a few road trips and not worry about being stranded by lack of charging. 75% of its 30,000 leased miles were powered by electricity, a hearty endorsement of the “Voltec” architecture that maximized advantages of an electric power train using a minimally sized battery pack.
When my lease expired in December 2014, a Volt was at the top of the list if I needed another commuter car. But circumstances never motivated me to get another, and now it is likely I never will.
But I think that’s perfectly OK. Why?
First: the Volt was always designed to be a transition from gasoline to electric propulsion. It more than met its objectives, exceeding my expectation in many ways. But time moves on and that electric future is here. If I were to get a commuter car in the final days of Volt production, it would be evaluated against all-electric vehicles. Including the Chevrolet Bolt, which incorporated many of the lessons GM learned from making the Volt.
Second: the Volt was a sensible efficient commuter vehicle, not one to stir emotion or attachment. It handled far better than any Toyota Prius I’ve rented, but nowhere near the fun of my Mazda RX-8. When I returned the car at the end of my lease, I set down the keys, signed the paperwork, and walked away without looking back.
It was a good car that made sense for its time. It did its job reliably and efficiently, and I couldn’t ask for more from a commute appliance. But its niche is shrinking. So despite how bad the decision might look to history, GM made their business decision to look forward.