The Chevy Volt is a compact car that was engineered as a hybrid daily driver. It was meant to be affordable for the average car buyer. Additionally, this vehicle addressed the concerns surrounding electric vehicles and their limited range, since commuters were having difficulties traveling long distances without running out of power.
Now the first commercially available plug-in hybrid is a bit of a dinosaur in the market, and production ceased in 2019. While it has been replaced with updated all-electric plugins, owners found it to be a reliable car that was incredibly affordable to drive. So why did it get the ax? This article will discuss some of the reasons why GM decided to discontinue the Chevy Volt.
Is Chevy Volt Production Discontinued?
GM announced the discontinuation of the Chevy Volt in 2019, citing the need to cut back on the general workforce and invest more dollars into pure EV technology.
It cut production that year and paused five production facilities. However, GM then retrofitted some facilities to begin production on the Chevy Bolt EV and EUV which have proven to be a much better vehicle for the money.
There are no plans to resurrect the Chevy Volt in any form because it has been fully replaced by the more efficient and cost-effective Chevy Bolt.
The Chevy Volt concept car piqued the world’s imagination with a vision of a sleek and luxurious car that could go for thousands of miles without hitting a gas station. What ultimately rolled off of the production line was a bit disappointing.
- Consumers were expecting a five-seat family car with a three-cylinder engine, unique body styling, and a space-age vibe
- What they got was a four-seat car that mostly looks like a Chevy Cruze, and feels like one too
However, for those who took the risk and bought one, it did not disappoint. The Chevy Volt has a very dedicated fan base that is frustrated that GM decided to nix their favorite commuter car.
The Chevy Volt was designed to give commuters 38 miles of all-electric driving before the internal generator kicks on to keep the batteries topped up. 38 miles does not sound like a lot of range, but it did the trick. Drivers discovered that 38 miles were typically all they ever needed. A charge at home and a charge at the office kept it running on batteries.
What the Chevy Volt did was to help Americans get over a range phobia. Americans have felt the need to have a generator under the hood to make sure that there is no unexpected battery drains leaving them stranded on the side of a busy freeway.
The Chevy Volt proved reliable, and it did more than that. It proved that most commuters can get along just fine without ever kicking on the generator, which is another reason why the Chevy Volt got kicked to the curb.
The Chevy Volt Made Itself Obsolete
GM’s consumer data showed that by 2018, Chevy Volt consumers were hardly ever using the onboard generator. This is partly because it turns out that most Chevy Volt owners do not drive that far after all, and partly because of the large numbers of charging stations that are now available for public use.
As for the part that the Chevy Volt played in its obsoletion, there are two main points.
- Firstly, the electrical engineering that went into the Volt created huge advances in the lithium batteries that are used in EV cars. As the batteries get better, the need for a generator becomes less.
- Secondly, Chevy Volt’s data proved that most buyers were not using the primary design feature of the Volt, which is the onboard generator. They were finding ways to plug in during the day, and rarely using the engine generator.
GM realized that because people were not using the generator like they thought they would back in 2010, then it makes more sense to use the engine space to house more batteries, extending the all-EV range. This decision meant discontinuing the Volt in favor of its cooler cousin, the Chevy Bolt.
When the Chevy Volt launched in 2010, there was almost no public infrastructure to support EV travel. This meant that early adopters needed the reassurance of the ability to charge batteries with a combustion engine.
The EV revolution has been picking up speed, and the plug-in hybrids are being seen as less important players in space. Even for those looking to take road trips, the quantity of charging stations along popular routes is making it more possible to take long trips without the risk of an unplanned roadside tow.
Nine years after the initial Chevy Volt launch, the rapidly expanding infrastructure means that the onboard generator is seen as a waste of space and weight. Consumers and manufacturers alike now prefer to have a longer range in batteries rather than an unused gasoline engine.
Critics accused GM of trying to kill the electric car when they discontinued the Chevy Volt, but this could not be further from the truth. GM killed the Chevy Volt because it was a low-emissions vehicle that could only get amazing range when it was paired with the gasoline engine. This is not a vehicle that fits the new green narrative for vehicles, and GM knew this.
For the sake of true EVs, GM had to stop putting money into a plug-in hybrid. It had to stop investing in a vehicle that was quickly becoming outmoded and was not really efficient in the first place. It was a great first version, a first platform for the EV market, but it could not be a forever vehicle. It was a pioneer, not a foundational vehicle.
GM had promised to make the plug-in hybrid a competitive choice for those in the commuter car market. However, keeping the price of the Volt at around $35,000 meant that they were not making money on the sale of the car.
The costs to retrofit or build new factories that can build plug-in hybrid vehicles are massive. The factory must install engines, electrical systems, and batteries, plus plug-in charging modules for each car.
This manufacturing triforce brought peace of mind to Chevy Volt fans, but it made manufacturing costs too high to be sustainable for the long term. Further, the supply chain for the Chevy Volt was all over the place, due to the complexity of integrating all of these systems into a single car. That type of inefficiency is unsustainable.
By switching to the Bolt, GM can eliminate the cost of manufacturing and installing the onboard charging systems. This allows for more battery power, making the all-electric vehicle more reliable for longer ranges, as well as cutting down manufacturing costs.
Companies must make money on a product at some point, or they will go bankrupt and everyone loses. It was time for GM to own up to the fact that they were losing ground on the Volt, and it was time to put that investment and focus into better EV manufacturing.
Cutting the Chevy Volt Makes Financial Sense
While the existence of a plug-in hybrid EV gives a sense of security to those who struggle to accept the idea that a full EV can be efficient and reliable, it also makes no financial sense to keep putting them into the marketplace.
Federal programs that offer financial incentives to EV car manufacturers did offset the cost to produce the Volt, which helped keep it on the market for a longer time. When these incentives end, the cost to keep manufacturing the car simply does not make sense.
- Concurrently, the amount of money that consumers were spending on the hybrid Chevy Volt that delivered a paltry 38 electric miles can be spent on a new Chevy Bolt that delivers a much more impressive 259 electric miles
- The money spent on the EV is money that delivers much more bang for the buck
- Those who have a few more bucks to spend can get an additional 100 miles of range and faster acceleration compared to the Tesla Model S
When consumers are willing to step back from the emotional upset of losing the Chevy Volt, they can see that the cost for the benefits is not as great now as they were when the Volt first launched around 2010. The same dollars can now get a lot more cars with a lot better range and performance.
Undoubtedly the Chevy Volt has a very loyal fan base, but overall consumers were migrating away from the plug-in hybrid and opting for the all-electric plug-in instead.
Combining lower sales with expensive manufacturing is a red flag for any company. GM realized that consumers had overcome the initial EV reluctance and were now more willing to put their money into that market space. They reacted accordingly.
Another thing that GM needed to do was to begin pioneering small EV crossovers and SUVs. There is a market for tiny four-seat commuter cars, but this eliminates consideration by a huge segment of the car market that needs at least five seats, if not six or seven to fit a family, groceries, or recreational items like bikes or camping gear.
So GM shuttered the Chevy Volt because consumers were demanding more interior capacity than the Volt could deliver. Even though many love the Volt, many more were unable to even try the Volt because it was simply too small.
Furthermore, family needs change over the years. Within nine years a single commuter can go from needing only one seat in a car to four or five, and trunk space to hold diaper bags, strollers, soccer equipment, and mega boxes of Froot Loops. Even though they may love the Volt, necessity demands a crossover or small SUV.
GM Has to Stay Competitive
Other automakers are doubling down on their EV lineups, and GM has to do the same to stay competitive. The future is in vehicles that can maximize payload, towing, and passenger capacity and still attain a long-range on a single battery charge. The majority of car buyers are not willing to pay good money for tiny cars.
Tesla has changed the game for every competitor in the EV segment as well, with lightning-fast acceleration, ultra-long-range, and decently trimmed interiors, especially where consumer electronics and navigation are concerned.
Competitors are now struggling to stay relevant in an EV market where consumers expect to have the ability to travel across state lines on a single charge and play video games on giant in-car touchscreen displays while they do so. Companies like Porsche are answering with iconic super-luxe interiors, but the performance of Tesla’s competitors is lackluster.
GM knows, just as every other car manufacturer knows, that this is the time to double-down in the EV market if they are going to make it at all. There is a major marketplace sifting that is in process, and those who can not stay competitive in the EV market will find themselves no longer relevant in any vehicle market.
In 2010 when the Chevy Volt launched, it was geared toward a certain sector of the vehicle market that would leap at the opportunity to purchase and drive a little affordable green car, regardless of performance issues, range, or payload deficiencies. Today that is no longer the case.
The sector that will still jump at the chance to buy a little one or two-seater green car still exists, but it is overshadowed by much more widespread adoption of the technology that includes a major segment of the market that has higher expectations of vehicles.
- The new EV buyers are not interested in putting around in a car just because it is green or a low emissions vehicle
- The new EV buyers expect it to deliver some wow, to feel at least a little bit luxurious, and to be able to tow a small trailer, participate in the neighborhood carpool, or haul a trunkload of stuff home from Costco
Knowing that the consumer market is gravitating away from compact cars, GM knows that keeping the Chevy Volt on the production line is a waste of valuable resources that could and should be invested in segments of the market that are wide-open for competition, such as EV trucks, SUVs, and crossovers.
General Motors has been a floundering company for over a decade that is still struggling to find its feet. In 2018 they announced a massive workforce cut that released 14,000 people from their means of income while “pausing” five plants in multiple states and Canada. Along with that massive cut went the discontinuation of the Chevy Volt.
CEO Mary Barra had told New York Times reporters that the cuts were part of a general trimming that needed to take place to keep the company healthy. Faced with rising steel prices and consistently lower consumer demand for small economy vehicles, GM did not see a way to stay afloat while maintaining a full workforce and the plants that make certain cars including the Chevy Volt.
It was a perfect storm of circumstances that made the manufacturing of small low-emissions vehicles like the Chevy Volt seem debatable. President Trump’s foreign and domestic policies had created a situation where gas prices were the lowest they had been in years, while imported steel prices were rising.
This meant that the cost to produce little economy vehicles was going up, while consumer demand was being rerouted to higher performance vehicles because the cost of fuel was favorable to larger rigs. GM had made a big bet on tiny vehicles, which had to be unwound because the market did not react as GM had predicted.
There are Better Options Than the Chevy Volt
The fact is that there are now much better options than the Chevy Volt. The first better option being its cooler, faster, longer-range cousin, the Chevy Bolt. The Chevy Bolt launched in 2017 and quickly overshadowed its older cousin.
- The Chevy Bolt launched with a 0 to 60 speed of just about 6.5 seconds
- That is not raging fast, but it is faster than most gasoline engines on the road today, especially those found in little compact hatchbacks like the Bolt
It could be purchased for about $30,000 after federal rebates and boasted an all-electric range of about 238 miles. That is a very nice range for an EV, ensuring that most users can get out and about and make shorter trips with no need to stop at a charging station.
The 2022 Bolt EUV is a small crossover-style SUV that is built on the wildly popular Chevy Bolt platform. Between the EV and the EUV, there is a Chevy EV that will suit the needs and tastes of most EV buyers.
The Chevy Bolt enjoys some of the highest consumer satisfaction ratings in the EV industry. People love the new size of the vehicle, the reliability, handling, and overall feel of driving. The 2022 Chevy Bolt has upgraded charging capability included in the vehicle price, resolving some earlier issues that owners had with home charging.
At the time, the Voltec battery system designed for use in the Chevy Volt was revolutionary, and a true feat of engineering. It could power the lightweight, aerodynamic Chevy Volt around town while kicking on the gasoline engine generator to attain highway speeds, climb hills, and recharge the batteries when needed.
However, this technology has been eclipsed by better batteries and electric power trains that cost much less to produce.
Stubborn proponents of the Voltec system argue that it could be used on larger vehicles, but this simply is not the case. It is a system that is designed to favor the power output from the electric batteries in all cases until they are unable to provide the power needed for hills, freeway speeds, et cetera.
Larger hybrid vehicles need much more power than can be provided by the Voltec system. They rely first on the gasoline engine and then power down to battery only when the additional power is not needed for towing, hill climbing, freeway speeds, and such situations.
The Voltec system was incredible for a starter plug-in hybrid car. It still is a good system for a used hybrid EV. However, the new technology is more efficient and cost-effective, making it win in production.
The Majority of Volt Owners Can Use EV Chargers
Here is where the main criticisms come into play from consumers who are very upset that GM discontinued the Chevy Volt. These are consumers who really did rely on the gasoline engine to recharge the batteries, making longer commutes more affordable, and keeping them off of the side of the road.
These are consumers who are in more rural areas and feel more secure knowing that they have a gasoline backup.
- Those who live in urban areas do not always understand the importance of hybrid options for rural areas
- For rural commuters to adopt any sort of electric option, they feel that it must have a gasoline backup to be possible
However, these rural commuters represent such a small number of Chevy Volt consumers, that GM found it better to discontinue the vehicle despite their protests and reliance on the platform for efficiency with longer commutes.
Most Chevy Volt drivers were able to access enough chargers that they never needed to kick on the gasoline engine. They were accessing chargers at home, at work, and various stores and charging stations in more urban and suburban areas.
These charging options may not be as widely available in wide swaths of the country, making those in areas with less electric infrastructure feel that their needs are being completely overlooked by those in urban areas. This is largely and consistently a true and real concern.
While those in rural areas struggle to come to terms with the disappearing class of plug-in hybrids and the lack of convenient access to charging stations, the EV market is coming back with EVs that boast a range that is sufficient for all but the most rural commuters.
- For instance, the new 2022 Chevy Bolt has an EPA estimated range of 259 miles on a full charge
- This is not necessarily road trip numbers, but it is sufficient for a daily commute even for very rural drivers
Tesla’s new Model 3 has a 353 EPA estimated range on a full charge. The base Tesla Model 3 comes in at about $40,000, which is about $10,000 more than the Chevy Bolt. However, it also comes with about 100 more miles of range. The cost may be more than worth it to those who are nervous about running out of charge.
The range has been a contentious subject among EV manufacturers since the beginning. The main concern is always the cost of manufacture, and longer-range EVs cost a lot more to produce. Add to this the fact that the EV can never gain widespread adoption until people are confident that they can charge conveniently and quickly.
A gasoline car can be fueled up to full range capacity in around five minutes. Most EVs need hours to charge. The Tesla Model S can charge at one of the special lightning-fast charging stations in about a half-hour if the consumer is happy to drive away with less than a full charge. This is a major drawback because the majority of consumers are unwilling to hang out at charging stations for a large amount of time.
However, for normal daily commuting the average EV can get a consumer to and from work, or running errands around town without needing a plugin. A bonus for many EV owners is the more widespread adoption of at-work charging stations that ensure an EV owner will have a full battery bank to endure stop-and-go commuting back home.
EVs are Cool, but the Chevy Volt Is Not
EVs of all kinds are the wave of the future. Tesla is promising all EV delivery fleets and semi-trucks, while the entire auto industry is engaging in a massive brawl to deliver the first and best EV consumer pickup truck.
Some of these pickup trucks are hybrids, some are all EV. All of them are outperforming expectations, and hyping up the consumers who are waiting to see an EV winner in their preferred brand so they can buy.
People are also getting expectations built higher by Land Rover, Toyota, Honda, Jeep, and other SUV and crossover manufacturers who are working to release real-world EV offerings that can perform up to expectations while remaining affordable to the families who will be going into debt to get one.
Compact and subcompact vehicles are preferable for extreme urban driving, but for normal city and suburban commutes, people prefer something with more interior space and get-up-and-go. The Chevy Volt was a perfect little commuter mobile, but over the years it lost its appeal as a super cool and forward-thinking purchase.
This is not the fault of GM or the Volt. It is still a cute little car, but the market has advanced so rapidly that it makes more sense to retire this model and invest in the latest technology. This will be a frequent case as the EV industry goes through the inevitable growing pains which seem to be increasing as the years go by.
The fact is that consumers benefit from market competition. Manufacturers have to engineer EVs for minimum production costs, maximum performance, and as much luxury and amenities as can be reasonably included at an affordable price. Consumers benefit with each new model year and every advance that is made necessary with competition between carmakers.