You would think Chevrolet would be prepared to deal with the failure of one of its products. You’d think they would have had a contingency plan ready, especially considering their 104 year history. Consider that in the early 1960’s, General Motors came up with a vehicle that was also innovative. The engine was behind the passengers but front of the rear wheels, it had a flat-six engine, it was constructed to be lightweight, it was efficient and compact (compared to cars of the day). By all accounts it was a great vehicle. It was called the Corvair and was sold from 1960-1969. Well, the Corvair ran into some negative publicity and had its safety record attacked, just as the Volt is, right? Wrong! The similarities between these two vehicles end there. ONE looked innovative, ONE had high sales, ONE was overpriced, ONE was a success, and the other ONE was the opposite of all that.
The Chevrolet Volt is a “technical” innovation. GM calls it a plug-in extended range hybrid. It works as an electric vehicle that can be plugged in and charged while at home. After driving around and depleting the battery, a gas powered electric generator turns on, thereby extending the range of the vehicle by charging the batteries. Is this a wholly new idea? NO! The first electric carriages saw light in the 1830’s and Diesel-Electric trains have been turning Dinosaur juice into electricity since the 1950’s, but it is a new way of presenting an electric car when utilizing energy storage (battery). But look at the rest of the Volt package;
The Volt looks ridiculous. It looks like a sad grandmother dressed in her daughters clothing. It is old styling with some jewelry in an attempt to give it some “bling” (which is always a stupid word). It’s as though a small 1990’s European car was given LED headlamps, some LED tail lights, some LED fog lamps, and a roof colored black to appear “high-tech”. It is completely devoid of form, styling, and is a not-so-subtle attempt to create an American Prius. When compared, a Prius “looks” more innovative and technological than the Volt. Although I despise Prii (or Prius’, or whatever the plural is), they better match form with function and work as a cohesive design, whereas the Volt looks like it was… well, designed by committee, or government by people with no passion or creativity.
The Volt is a terrible selling vehicle. The problem is… that the car was not created, nor desired by the market. Normally, that lack of market interest means prompt failure, unfortunately, the Volt was created and sponsored by government. General Motors was pressured by government to create a vehicle with these specs for a burgeoning green economy, and in order to gain favor so as to receive further bailout monies. As a testament to its government support, fleet sales from Federal, State, and City government agencies would skew sales figures by accounting for — in some months — half of the Volt’s sold.
In its entire production run recognize that the Corvair sold over 1.8 million cars. In the last (partial) year of the Corvair’s production, it sold over 6000 vehicles. How many Volts have been sold since its inception? Just over 8000 from December 2010 to February 2012. Any other auto company (save the exotics) would recognize this as a colossal failure and correct the problem by removing the offender from production.
To even sell the few Chevy Volts that have been sold to individuals (and not government entities), the vehicles have had to be subsidized by a Federal government who happens to be a partial owner of GM. Some studies have claimed that each Volt costs $250,000. Now, that is a bit of an exaggeration since they’ve included the price of Research And Development (R&D) into the Volt Project and divided that per sold unit and we won’t do that here. But even still, if you were to create a new aircraft, let’s say, an F-22 Air Superiority Fighter, congress WOULD and HAS included the cost of R&D into the cost of each aircraft because that R&D funding must be captured somewhere. Right? Despite the fact that GM finds this methodology inconvenient now, we’ll accept their argument so long as they recognize that Millions were used to develop and engineer the volt (just as is the case with any car). Each Volt costs $39,995, which is more than $40k per unit, out the door. GM has done its best to fight any subsidizing argument, however, if they would NOT have taken taxpayer money, few observers would be complaining.
… and remember, the Federal government as well as numerous States, Counties, and Cities provide tax incentives, rebates, special privileges such as the Carpool lane (and even special parking) to those who buy Hybrids.
There is one factor that ALWAYS undoes a car and that factor is safety concerns. Safety is paramount and safety concerns do not go away. Even decades later, people joke of the Ford Pinto being explosive when hit on the rear bumper (although it wasn’t true). They also remember the Suzuki Samurai and its willingness to roll over on a dime (which was true). And back to the Corvair; Ralph Nader and his Safety-Nazi’s assaulted the car over claims that were ridiculous and eventually proven as thus, and still those false safety claims hurt sales and the Corvair went away.
The difference was that in the case of the Corvair, the market determined it was a marvel, where the Volt is deemed innovative by the government. But, no one trusts the government and as a testament to this distrust; after several post-crash fires by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Volt would be investigated and surprise, surprise, surprise… it would be found SAFE a mere 3 weeks later. It’s funny how investigations into other car companies take years (such as Toyota’s sudden acceleration recalls), but the government can fully investigate and clear a vehicle that is essentially produced by a auto company owned (25%) by the very government conducting the investigation — and they can clear that vehicle within weeks.
Whether the Volt is safe or not, no longer matters. It is tainted and will not recover. It will NEVER be a great selling vehicle (Not even if government were to mandate it so)!
How To Save the Volt?
In short, the Volt cannot be saved! The Chevrolet Volt is ingrained in people’s minds as a high-priced, government-mandated, ridiculously appointed, pedestrian-looking, and unsafe piece of garbage. Whether fair or not, that is what the market has decided. The sooner GM realizes this and removes it from the marketplace, GM/Chevrolet can come out with a new project that shares the Volts capabilities. Here are GM’s options as I see them:
(1) Use the technology and build the original Volt concept vehicle that was stylish, exciting, and unique; but with a NEW name. Cadillac may make a version called the “Converj”.
(2) Kill off the Chevy Volt and let other GM brands design off of the platform.
The Cadillac Converj is far enough away that it won’t be labeled as a relative of the Volt. Perhaps a Buick with the volt chassis might have the flexibility to be designed into an interesting vehicle as well. But, any relationship to the Volt should be promptly disavowed. It took GM years to put the Corvair to death because it was still selling, however, the Volt has been around for 2 tumultuous years and has not been selling.
Though GM, Chevrolet (and the Government) refuse to accept it, the Chevy Volt is DEAD!
Cadillac took my advice (I’m claiming) and created the “ELR“. It is based on that Volt Architecture, and is unfortunately not selling very well. The $75,000 (starting) price might have something to do with it.