That's right, sports fans, GM has announced plans to halt production of the car that was once hailed as the savior of the American auto industry. Except no one wanted it.
Why? Price is often cited as a major factor. Who wants to pay over forty large for a compact Chevy sedan? Certainly not the upscale, well-educated urban dwellers to whom hybrids so naturally appeal. That demographic has an almost visceral dislike of American cars, and Chevys in particular. GM squandered their best opportunity to change that with their hamfisted handling of the Saturn brand. Yet they expected buyers used to high-quality (usually foreign) cars to suddenly trust them again.
The American auto industry is doing well again, but it is doing well because of some excellent traditional cars, not least of which the new Ford Focus and GM's superb new subcompact, the Chevy Sonic. The tremendous (and inexplicable) popularity of Buicks in China doesn't hurt, either. The Volt was overreach at best, a multimillion (if not multibillion) dollar boondoggle at worst. Maybe it still has a future, maybe not. If nothing else it served as a real-world test platform of the technology, and gave engineers a chance to work out the bugs. But that's the problem. Those problems should have been worked out before the vehicle saw the inside of a showroom. Foreign carmakers like Toyota have hardly been free of their own quality problems, but I don't recall first-generation Prius batteries catching fire.
Mon Mar 12, 2012 at 9:48 AM PT: Heh. I kind of expected a negative reaction when I posted this. I'm really not sure why Kossacks seem to love the Volt so much. Is it the idea of an American car forging new technological paths? If so, then why no love for Tesla Motors or some of the other electric start-ups?
Look, the fact is that the Volt has been a failure. It has not sold in anywhere close to the kinds of numbers GM hoped to see. It has not, in short, been the savior the company imagined. Instead, their fortunes have turned on cars like the Sonic and the Cruze (which is only just okay, but sells well), not to mention the Chinese appetite for Buicks. But the bulk of GM's profits in this country continue to come from the sales of overwrought, gas-guzzling SUVs like the GMC Yukon. As long as that remains the case, they are not likely to be a company with a bright future.
In response to some of the criticisms: Yes, I am aware that the halt in Volt production is temporary. But any halt in production is bad news for a car upon which so many hopes were pinned. Production stoppages under those circumstances are often the death knell for a car model. And yes, the battery fire issue proved to be relatively minor. But the point is that it happened at all. The last thing the Volt needed was bad press on top of bad sales.
Someone asked why I seemed so gleeful at the Volt's failure. For a couple of reasons. One is that GM has a long history of foisting substandard junk on the American public and calling it "world class." The Cadillac Cimarron, the Chevy Lumina, the Chevy Celebrity, the Pontiac Aztec, the Chevy Malibu, etc., etc. These cars were years, in some cases, decades, behind their import competition. That they were seriously offered as alternatives is nothing short of laughable. This is a company that couldn't even engineer a decent four-cylinder internal combustion engine (the Quad 4? Give me a break), and suddenly they wanted us to believe they could deliver a sophisticated hybrid electric drivetrain? You've got to be able to walk before you can run.
GM continues to be run by the same corporate structure that drove them into bankruptcy in the first place. They say they've reformed, but I'll believe it when I see it. They had a chance to do something good with Saturn, but they botched it. Then, to add insult to injury, they ran Saab into the ground.
So no, I guess you could say I'm not a fan of GM. I see them as representing all the worst excesses and bloat of corporate America. Until and unless THAT changes, it is only a matter of time before they will need to be rescued again.