By Charles Griffith, Climate and Energy Program Director, Ecology Center
I think most of us in Michigan are still in a bit of shock about GM’s recent plant closure announcements Yes, we know car sales are expected to continue to slide as the market shifts toward larger cross-overs and truck-based vehicles. And we know the automotive market overall is expected to contract in the coming years as well. But this isn’t the kind of thing that is supposed to be happen when things are going well, and the company is making record profits.
The loss of the Chevy Volt weighs the heaviest here in Michigan, not because the job impacts are any worse than the other vehicles slated for the dust-heap, but because the Volt represents the new GM–the one that is about the future and competing in the race to design the most advanced, environmentally-friendly cars. GM says it must now let go of the currently unprofitable Volt to be able to invest in better all-electric vehicles--"20 new models by 2023” according to CEO Mary Barra. GM already produces the first affordable, long-range all-electric Chevy Bolt at its nearby Lake Orion Assembly plant.
While the Volt’s 8-year run has been a commendable one, it's still somehow unsatisfying to have to let go of the vehicle that got it all started, especially when the Volt continues to be a great car. In full disclosure, the Volt has been my family’s electric vehicle of choice, and we love it.
Without a replacement for the Volt, there will be a big gap in GM's electrification product lineup. Whether you call it an extended range electric or a plug-in hybrid, the Volt has been an essential in-between vehicle for those not quite ready to make the jump to an all-electric like the Bolt. Yes, the Bolt solves much of the range-anxiety problem with its impressive 240-mile range, but without a robust network of fast chargers yet in place on our nation’s highways, most Bolt drivers will still be confined mainly to their home turf or specific trips where charging opportunities are reliably available. While that network is coming in the not-too-distant future, unfortunately it's not here yet, and that’s the problem.
While GM appears to be giving up the plug-in hybrid segment, plenty of other automakers have introduced PHEV's in the last couple of years—vehicles like the Honda Clarity EV, Hyundai’s Ionic EV, and of course the new Prius Prime (the current market co-leader with the Volt). Perhaps loyal GM customers more inclined to buy a PHEV will put off their purchases, or go ahead and make the jump to a Bolt EV knowing that more charging stations are coming. But perhaps they won’t.
Taking the longer view, I hope the Volt’s demise will only represent a brief gap in product portfolio as we move toward an all-electric future. The Bolt EV is undoubtedly a great sequel--another great car with even better green credentials and hopefully more profitable for the company as well. And GM’s next crop of yet-to-be-named EVs (and autonomous vehicles) will hopefully be even better.
But, I still can’t help but wish that the Volt lived on for another few years, to help support the market transition over to all-electrics. The Volt, indeed, is going to be missed.
Published on December 17, 2018