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The buzz around the Volt was huge. In the build-up to its launch in 2010 after its reveal a year or so earlier, there was a constant drip-feed of information on it, and an excitement surrounding its arrival.
It was the car to not only save General Motors at a time when it was being bailed out by the US government, but also to save Detroit. It was proof the city’s Big Three could still lead the world in new technology and relevant products. It should have been a Toyota Prius or Tesla moment for GM.
Yet clearly GM got the execution wrong with the Volt. While efficient, the drivetrain, and the range-extender concept, now feels like a bit of a halfway house in carrying so much ‘old’ technology. So while the ethos is great, the execution is what’s lacking; the drivetrain lacked refinement when the battery power ran out (and it quickly did), leaving an engine whirring away noisily.
Plug-in hybrids do it better in not needing the engine to allow the batteries to work, and full, big-range electric cars better yet still – which is why GM is keeping its own big-range electric car in the Chevrolet Bolt.
GM wasn’t global enough in its thinking on the Volt. While sold in Europe as a Volt, and also as a rebadged Vauxhall/Opel Ampera, it was the US where it was aimed. But the US wasn’t really ready for such a car as it didn’t yet want one, with gas prices still cheap and the Volt too small for most buyers at the start of the boom away from saloons of any size to SUVs. The Volt wasn’t different enough, in the way a Tesla was.
The badge on the bonnet didn’t have the cachet to carry it around the world, too, even if GM had gone on the offensive with the Volt elsewhere.
The surprise in the decision on the Volt is less that it has been taken, but more that it has been taken now. The new, second-generation model is only a couple of years old, and has not been a sales success.
GM could have switched the Volt from being a range-extender to a more conventional plug—in hybrid, or better yet a full electric car of its own for the second-generation when it saw that the market simply wasn’t going the way of range-extenders.
But now the Volt will be consigned to history, something that’s likely to be viewed as a footnote in the development of the electrified car, rather than the pioneer we all thought it would be.