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GM Was Right to Stop Making the Chevrolet Volt

GM has faced massive scrutiny for their decision to end the Chevrolet Volt program, and that backlash has come from both Volt proponents and those who claim GM isn't serious about an "all-electric future." Here's why GM was.
Posted: December 13, 2019 - 11:17AM
Author: Eric Way


As a Chevy Volt owner for over seven years, I completely understand why many Volt owners are upset at the news that GM was cancelling the Volt and not pursuing any other Voltec-based vehicle platforms. Thanks to a fervent and vocal anti-GM enclave of the EV community, the Volt's cancellation prompted renewed claims that GM was – once again – attempting to "kill" the electric car. These accusations gained additional traction thanks to GM's not having an immediate, plug-in replacement for the Volt. However, from an objective viewpoint, GM's decision to cancel the Volt and the Voltec program was correct.

In this story, I will explain why GM was right to end the Volt program, their reasons for not applying the Voltec powertrain to other platforms, and the reasons the electric vehicle community shouldn't be concerned about GM "killing" their electric cars. However, I will also explain what GM did wrong by cancelling the Volt program in the way they did and what they could have (and should have) done differently.

The Chevy Volt Cost Too Much To Build
While GM is often painted as an evil corporation bent on the destruction of humanity, the reality is that they are a profit-driven company that owes primary allegiance to its investors. Regardless of their affinity for a brand, concept, or vehicle, they have to demonstrate to their investors either immediate profits or – at the very least – a pathway to profitability. Through that lens, maintaining the Volt and Voltec programs made absolutely no sense.

The Chevrolet Volt is extremely complex and expensive to build, and its supply chain looked like someone threw a pile of spaghetti noodles onto a map of Michigan that spilled off onto the rest of the Midwest. These complicated supply chains made it difficult to build Volts profitably, and as a low-volume, low-margin vehicle, it was destined for the chopping block.

2016 Chevy Volt

The only thing that was saving the Volt from what would have normally been an easy decision to cancel the program were the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) credits that offset GM's cost for building the Volt. However, even if Corporate Average Fleet Economy (CAFE) standards and ZEV credit system remain in place (which is no longer even certain), a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) such as the Volt provides GM with increasingly fewer ZEV credits over time. Essentially, as ZEV requirements become stricter, the financial benefits GM sees from building PHEVs decreases.

With the release of Chevrolet Bolt EV, which would be responsible for earning the lion's share of GM's ZEV credits, the Volt program in the United States became very hard to justify. What is more, while there was a clear pathway to profitability for the Bolt EV; however, the same could not be said for the Volt.

The Chevy Volt Offered No Pathway to Profitability
An all-electric car like the Chevrolet Bolt EV has a clear path to profitability. Even if the ZEV credits end completely, the only thing keeping the Bolt EV from being highly profitable was battery prices. According to a UBS tear-down report of the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV, it cost GM $28,700 in parts and labor to build. That means that, at the leaked $145 per kWh price that GM was paying LG for battery cells, the Chevy Bolt EV's battery alone represented more than one third of the total cost to build the Bolt EV.

However, with battery prices projected to fall well below $100 per kWh in the near future and GM's moving electronic component manufacturing facility in Hazel Park, MI, the Bolt EV's pathway to profitability was obvious. By 2021, the Chevy Bolt EV's battery cost of $100 per kWh would save GM nearly $2,000 in manufacturing costs, despite being projected to be more capable in terms of both energy and charging speeds.

GM Electric Vehicle Battery Costs

The Chevy Volt, on the other hand, owed its manufacturing cost to more than just the battery. While it's true that there was some room to improve the Volt while still lowering costs over time (as GM had already been doing throughout the Volt’s history by moving outsourced manufacturing to the United States, improving the battery, and reducing the use of rare earth elements), the price reduction floor was still much higher in the Volt than in the Bolt EV.

Because the Volt was burdened with both an electrical powertrain and an internal combustion powertrain that offered fewer opportunities for cost reduction, the Volt could never achieve the same profitability as either a pure internal combustion vehicle or a pure battery electric vehicle.

The Chevy Volt's Appeal Was Too Limited
Some Volt proponents noted that it actually had similar U.S. sales numbers to the Chevy Bolt EV, so if GM was fine keeping the Bolt EV around, they should also keep the Volt around. As I noted above, cost and lack of profitability were key considerations; however, the Volt’s low sales numbers did also contribute to the decision. Though the Bolt EV and Volt’s domestic sales numbers were close, GM is a global company, and simply put, the Bolt EV has broader appeal and more widespread demand than the Volt.

2020 Chevy Bolt EV

First, the raw U.S. sales numbers for the Bolt EV and Volt did not provide an accurate representation of demand. The Bolt EV was actually supply constrained while the Volt had no such limitations. Many prospective customers were complaining about the availability of the Bolt EV. While it's true that GM was over delivering Bolt EVs to California (dealership lots full of Bolt EVs made it appear as though demand for the Bolt EV was not as high); however, the Bolt EV delivery numbers outside California were often so low that it was near impossible to secure a test drive. Most non-California Bolt EVs were sold before they even arrived at the dealership lot.

Early on, the demand for the Bolt EV outside of California was so high, in fact, that GM had to intervene to stop California dealerships from selling directly to out of state buyers. The Bolt Stats! website still has a group called “The Bolt Smugglers” that is made up of Bolt EV owners who were able to have Bolt EVs shipped to them before California dealerships were directed to end the practice.

The Chevrolet Volt, on the other hand, had no such constraints. While some Chevy dealerships did refuse to carry any plug-in vehicles, the Volt was widely available across the country, and after eight years on the market, it failed to gain any significant traction in the market. Despite the Volt's winning numerous awards and GM dedicating several extremely expensive Super Bowl commercials – some of them were pretty good, too – the Volt failed to win significant market share.

Again, GM is a global company, and the foreign markets were even less friendly to the Volt than the United States. GM had high hopes for the Volt program in Australia and Europe; however, the Holden Volt and Vaxhull/Opel Ampera (European Volt) programs were abject failures. Over the course of four years, only 246 Volts were sold in Australia, and total European sales for that period barely hit five figures.

Those markets rejected the Volt outright, so GM soon shut down deliveries to those regions. In fact, a strong argument could be made that it was the Ampera's failure in Europe (a market that was already heavily shifting to electric vehicles) that influenced GM's decision to sell off their Opel brand to PSA Group. And again, while GM could barely sell the Ampera in Europe, there was actually a waitlist for the Ampera-E (Bolt EV). In fact, one of the biggest lasting criticisms of GM in the European market at this point is that failed to deliver on their promised Ampera-Es.

Why the Voltec Powertrain Doesn't Work for Larger Vehicles

A number of Voltec fans have stated that they understood why GM might be moving away from small cars due to declining sales and lack of interest; however, those same proponents also demand that GM use the Voltec powertrain in larger vehicles such as trucks and SUVs. There's only one problem: It doesn't work.

The Voltec system is designed to be all-electric, so the owner only uses the gas engine when absolutely necessary. Unlike the BMW i3's range extender, which is so small that it struggles to maintain freeway speeds when the battery is completely depleted, the Volt's range extender is perfectly matched to the Volt's energy draw at 70 to 80 mph freeway speeds. That 40 or so horsepower of constant power draw falls well within the Volt generator's 74 horsepower max output.

The Voltec system works well in a car like the Volt because the car is small and aerodynamic. This means that, even when the small battery is completely depleted, the Volt can maintain highway speeds using only the gas engine and generator. However, in those scenarios, the Volt is literally running at half power, with a small buffer in the battery for short surges of power. Deplete that buffer, however, and the Volt drops into Reduced Power mode. Even in the small, aerodynamic Volt, maintaining freeway speeds up a significant grade can be a struggle, especially under reduced power.

Undaunted, Voltec proponents also point to Toyota's plug-in hybrids as evidence that GM could apply the Voltec platform to larger vehicles. For example, at the LA Auto Show, Toyota recently unveiled the RAV4 Prime, which can achieve 39 miles of driving on electricity alone using Toyota's plug-in Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) technology. The problem is, Toyota's HSD is fundamentally different than the Voltec system.

Toyota RAV4 Prime

Toyota's HSD emphasizes the internal combustion engine over the electric motor system. For example, the Toyota Prius Prime's internal combustion engine alone is capable of outputting 93 hp while the two onboard electric motors can only combine for 91 horsepower. Essentially, Toyota's plug-in hybrid system is designed to run off the gas engine under all circumstances but off the electrical propulsion system only under limited circumstances. That's the exact opposite of the way the Voltec system works in the Chevy Volt.

In other words, in order to achieve what Toyota is doing with their HSD, GM would need to fundamentally change the Voltec architecture. It would lose its essence as an electric vehicle powertrain with a gas generator backup, and it would become just another hybrid. To support a larger format vehicle – an Equinox, for argument's sake – the range extender couldn't just be proportionally bigger because the power required to overcome aerodynamic drag would be far higher in a larger vehicle.

For an Equinox sized vehicle, the range extender couldn't be same half-peak-power configuration used in the Volt if it is to be capable of overcoming drag at freeway speeds. Rather, it would likely need to be at least two thirds to three quarters of peak power. So if a Voltec Equinox had a 150 kW (200 hp) main drive motor, the backup generator would likely need to be at least 100 kW (134 hp). That represents significantly higher costs, increased weight, and larger powertrain volume. These result from a larger engine (possibly a six cylinder like the Pacifica Hybrid – another plug-in hybrid that is only partial electric) to a larger fuel tank required to support lower fuel economy.

This is before any considerations are made for towing or other heavy loads, and this is in the Equinox, which is a relatively efficient midsize SUV. The Voltec system would scale even more poorly for larger, less efficient SUVs, and it definitely wouldn't work for trucks. At that point, there would need to be parity between the power output of the main electric drive motor and the gas generator, meaning it would be more effective on all fronts to simply make a standard series hybrid with no secondary motor/generator. The result would be similar to the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, which was anything but a success story.

Chevy Volt's Manufacturing Facilities to Be Used for Electric Trucks
In regards to the argument that GM’s ending the Volt and Voltec program are somehow incongruous with an “all-electric” future, I heartily disagree. One simply needs to look at how GM has followed up since that announcement. While it’s true that GM didn’t have an immediate, plug-in replacement for the Chevy Volt (more on that below), everything else they have done is demonstrating a movement toward all-electric vehicles.

For example, GM is converting the shuttered Detroit-Hamtramck plant (where the Chevy Volt was built) to build electric vehicles. The factory is currently being retrofitted and retooled in order to build three upcoming, all-electric offerings: An Escalade SUV, a Sierra truck, and a Hummer SUV. GM is spending $300 million to retool their Orion facility (where the Chevy Bolt EV is built) so that they can build their upcoming midsize, all-electric offering, currently being referred to as the “Bolt EUV.”

For these larger format vehicles, the elegance and simplicity of an all-electric powertrain far exceeds what could be done with any variation of a hybrid drive system, plug-in or otherwise. That is especially true in the case of a vehicle like an Escalade EV. Simply imagine what would happen if a Voltec powertrain was scaled up and used in a Cadillac Escalade EV, and then compare that to a competing all-electric such as the Rivian R1S. It's really no contest at this point; a 300 to 400 mile all-electric SUV presents a far greater value proposition than a hybrid SUV that is sometimes electric.

The argument that GM isn't really serious about these larger electric vehicles falls apart further when considering that GM invested $2.3 billion in a joint venture with LG to build a battery production facility in Lordstown that will capable of producing 30 GWh of batteries per year. Even at 150 kWh per large truck or SUV (a good guess, in my opinion), GM would be able to produce as many as 200,000 of these large-format EVs each year.

What GM Should Have Done with the Chevy Volt
One area where I do agree with GM's critics is their concerns about how GM ended the Volt program. Essentially, they killed off the Volt before they had a ready, all-electric replacement. While the Chevrolet Bolt EV is a great multipurpose electric vehicle and an excellent runabout, it's not as capable at freeway speed, long distance travel as a smaller, more aerodynamic electric sedan would be (e.g., the Hyundai Ioniq Electric or Tesla Model 3).

The Volt's hatchback sedan format was a high-efficiency platform that would perform well as an all-electric, long distance vehicle. If they continued using the same Volt platform, GM would need to get creative with how they packaged the battery for an all-electric Volt (such as what Opel did with their Corsa-e or Porsche did with the Taycan), but dropping the internal combustion engine and supporting components (in particular, the fuel and exhaust system) would open up enough volume to add significantly more energy capacity.

Opel Corsa-e Battery

GM already demonstrated that they have improved their battery chemistry with the new 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV's battery achieving 150 Wh/kg of energy density at a pack level. If GM could find enough room for even a 50 kWh battery pack (again, similar to the Opel Corsa-e), an all-electric Chevy Volt could easily exceed 200 miles of range, even at freeway speeds.

This Chevy "Volt EV" wouldn't be the most compelling electric vehicle, but GM could sell it for a lower price. Plus, it would be positioned very well against something like Hyundai's recently refreshed Ioniq Electric with 180 miles of range.

Hyundai Ioniq Electric

In my opinion, the better choice would have been to simply adapt the BEV2 chassis (which is already used in the Chevy Bolt EV) to an existing sedan format. My preference would be the Chevrolet Malibu, which would easily achieve 300 miles of EPA range, even with a modest 70 kWh battery pack. This would also better align with customer expectations as shared by GM President Mark Reuss in a recent article, though it still wouldn't resolve the issue of upfront price parity with an internal combustion vehicle.

Some Volt Owners Are Still Addicted to Gas
Still, it appears that for many of the Volt owners who are most critical of GM's decision to end the Voltec program, even a 300-mile all-electric sedan wouldn't be good enough. Whether this is because they live in an area where they feel the public charging infrastructure is insufficient or they simply aren't aware of what is available because they are still fueling with gas on long trips, these drivers are insistent that GM needs to continue down the plug-in hybrid path.

Electrify America Display LA Auto Show

For those Voltec and plug-in hybrid proponents, I can only say that they might want to simply stick with gasoline. Based on my experience, the Volt and other plug-in hybrids only fit a very narrow set of driving needs, and more than enough Volts have already been produced to serve that market.

As a Volt owner, I fully appreciate the tens of thousands of all-electric miles of driving I was able to do in the Volt. Even when the infrastructure wasn't in place and I couldn't afford any of the longer range all-electric vehicles capable of meeting my demanding driving needs, the Volt was an option. But times have changed, and even for demanding drivers such as myself, there are all-electric vehicles that are more cost-effective while being fully capable of meeting most people’s driving needs.

If, as a Volt driver, you rarely exceed the all-electric range, it's very likely that a number of similarly priced all-electric vehicles that are currently on the market would serve your needs better than the Volt. Not only are there a number of functionally different vehicle formats to choose from, you may never need to plug these vehicles in away from home or work. A number of Chevy Bolt EV and Hyundai Kona Electric owners I know have still never had to use the public charging infrastructure.

On the other hand, if you always run past the Volt's generous all-electric range, it's very likely that a number of cheaper or similarly priced vehicles would better suit your needs. Whether it be more efficient hybrids with nearly 20% better freeway fuel economy than the Volt or all-electrics with four to five times the Volt's electric range, there are other, possibly better, options. I understand that driving a standard hybrid doesn't carry the same cachet as driving an "electric," but burning that much gas in a Volt really makes it nothing more than an expensive, inefficient hybrid.

2015 Chevy Volt

One of the key reasons I got the Chevy Bolt EV was because, in my regular routine, I was burning at least 6 gallons of gas a week in my Volt. When I threw onto that my regular road trips, I was easily burning 30 to 40 gallons of gas a month in a car that's supposed to be primarily electric. Even my mother (to whom I gave my Volt) is going through at least one 9 gallon gas tank a month, and she doesn't even drive it that often.

I also understand that going fully electric can be daunting because of its learning curve and lack of familiarity. And yes, in some parts of the country, the public charging infrastructure simply doesn't support long distance travel in a fully electric vehicle. However, those aren't the geographical areas where the Volt was selling well anyway. A majority of Chevy Volts were sold in California where, despite delays and interference from permitting offices and public utilities, the public charging infrastructure is more robust than anywhere else in the nation.

Essentially, if you can't make an all-electric work in a state like California, you'll probably be stuck burning gas for a very, very long time.

To me, it’s clear that GM made the correct, pragmatic decision in ending the Chevrolet Volt and Voltec programs. While they could have held onto manufacturing the Volt a little longer, between working through a UAW strike and retrofitting the Detroit-Hamtramck facility, we’re only talking a few more months’ worth of production. It’s also clear that this is not an indication of GM backing off on electric vehicles, but rather, it is evidence that GM is more committed than ever to building all-electric platforms across their brands and lineups.

While I do agree that GM needs a sleek, efficient plug-in sedan in their lineup in order to offset one of the biggest EV weaknesses (high-speed driving range), I disagree with pursuing internal combustion range extending technology any further. It’s simply a waste, and the Voltec platform itself was incongruous with an “all-electric future.”

See you next time as I give my perspective on Tesla’s holiday Supercharger queues!

About The Author
Eric Way focuses on reporting expert opinion on GM brand electric vehicles at Torque News. Eric is also an instructional designer and technical writer with more than 15 years of writing experience. He also hosts the News Coulomb video blog, which focuses on electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, and renewable energy. Eric is an active member of the EV Advocates of Ventura County, a volunteer organization focused on increasing the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. You can follow Eric on News Coulomb Youtube, on Facebook at @NewsCoulomb as well as on Twitter at @eway1978.


DeanMcManis (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 4:59AM

There are several points that I agree with in your article, but we fundamentally disagree with GM's choice to kill off the Volt. You partially concede that killing the Volt was a bad idea because they didn't have any EV to replace the Volt with. I agree that was ONE of the reasons why it was a poor decision, but there were many others as well. Maybe I will respond to those points later, but I am wondering where you got your data about the Volt and RAV4 Prime's power output. I contend that the Volt's powertrain would be more than adequate to handle normal driving in a small SUV/CUV, and even in a pickup truck like the Colorado. Sure the Volt's drivetrain would not be a good substitute for a full sized truck's turbocharged V8 diesel engine for hauling and towing, but most people just use their vehicles for commuting, and it would work quite well for that use. As a comparison, the Chevy Colorado's base 2.5L 4 cylinder engine makes 200HP/191TQ, the drivetrain in the 2016 Cadillac ELR made 233HP and a whopping 372TQ in Sport mode. 233HP translates to 173kW, which I only see the power usage gauge hit briefly under max acceleration (like getting on the freeway), whereas regular cruising only uses around 20-25kW at 70MPH on level ground, (which is only 35HP) with steeper grades sometimes doubling that kW use. The ELR's combined power got the car to 60MPH in 6.4 sec. Just running off of batteries alone the ELR produced 135kW(181HP) which is more than enough. And the Gen II Volt improved on the GEN I's capability and efficiency providing 149kW and 245TQ which were both up from the Gen 1 Volt. Certainly the drag coefficient and frontal area is greater on a crossover or truck, but seeing that the base gas engines handle those same loads without problems, the electric motors would do at least as well. The Chevy Blazer's base gas engine makes 193HP/188TQ, and a EREV Blazer would have been comparable to the RAV4 Prime's 176HP(131kW) 2.5L gas engine. Even if they used the Gen II Volt's drivetrain unaltered, it's 2 electric engines combined to make 181HP (135kW) which is more than enough for normal driving, and they could have bumped up the generator to say a 2.0/2.5L to compensate for the extra drag and weight of the larger CUV or truck body. If I was on the Chevy EV design team I would have used half of the Bolt's 60/66kW battery, combined with DC fast charging, and Chevy could have offered an EREV Blazer and Colorado with around 120mi EV-only range that probably also got at least 40MPG when running on the gas generator. And if Chevy similarly updated the Volt, and added the EREV Blazer and Colorado, they would have been seen as true leaders in EV vehicles even before they eventually released full BEV models in a few years. I believe that the upcoming RAV4 Prime will outsell the Chevy Bolt, and capture that growing market of buyers who are not ready to move to a full BEV, but who want the many advantages of EV driving, just with a gas backup. As I regularly mention, hybrid and PHEV models are not so much in competition against BEV models, they are expanding the overall sales of all EVs, and converting many of the 97% of fossil fuel vehicle owners over to the EV side.

Tony (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 7:58AM

Why couldn't Chevy make the volt with an increasingly smaller combustion engine? Go to a 1.0 and then create an engine, perhaps even a high rpm two cycle engine, that can serve as a more efficient generator for an electric motor than a standard car motor. In cold weather, miles fly off my volt or any electric vehicle like hot cakes, so I have to "prime" my volt's electric motor on cold mornings for 3-5 miles to make the electric motor work effectively. I think a high rpm, gas generator would be more efficient in the voltec concept. Further, most hybrids can disconnect the electric mode when drained, whereas, the volt is constantly trying to recharge the electric motor which is extremely inefficient. A small high powered, high rpm gas generator would work well in cold climates. How can someone in Minnesota or Norway possibly own an e vehicle with a quirky temperature sensitive e engine which really only works efficiently in 55 plus Fahrenheit weather?

Ivan Tuma (not verified)    October 4, 2020 - 9:02PM

In reply to by Tony (not verified)

probably a little late to reply, but the Volt can be pre-conditioned while plugged in - you just turn it on remotely 20 minutes before you leave - it will warm up the interior, and top off the battery. when in "Hold" mode, it doesn't recharge the battery - the energy produced by the ICE engine merely keeps enough energy in the system to compensate for the energy being used to drive the car. When running in hold or mountain mode, at 70mph, the ICE engine actually couples with the transmission to provide some direct-drive assist as this is more efficient than using EV power alone (but doesn't change performance (much)). I'll concede, the worst part is, starting the Volt in freezing weather without having access to a charger. The battery draw is huge, trying to warm up the batteries and warming up the cabin. I'm fortunate that, although my office doesn't have charging stations, I am on top of a big 3 mile-long hill. So coming down with a cold Volt, I use the heated seats, while regenerative braking is actually diverted into the heater core to warm everything up faster - but most people don't have that advantage. The disadvantage to my commute is - I use up ~10 miles of range getting up the same darn hill :D (but at least everything is warmed up during the assent)

Spector (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 8:04AM

I agree that the Volt was costly to manufacture. So why can Hyundai make a PHEV ionic affordably? Also re charging I live in Chicago and our public charging infrastructure is abysmal. The for profit public stations are usually so costly that gasoline is cheaper and free chargers are almost non existent anymore. There were more years ago, now almost none. Plus unless you live in a house or apartment with a private garage good luck charging. My high rise condo is run by assholes and they stopped me charging my Volt on 110v in the garage after about 6 months of allowing me to do so. If I had a Bolt I'd be totally out of luck. At least with gasoline I can still drive my volt which I love. It still gets me over 30 mpg city on gasoline. So no, unless you live in LA, or own a garage, or own a Tesla or Leaf with free L3 charging, owning any GM BEV will be a huge challenge.

Charles Jack (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 8:32AM

This author speaketh the truth. GM has some pretty smart cookies on the payroll as evidenced by their brilliant Volt creation. In biz, if you can't make money, you die. This Volt owner is an ageing retiree who's transport needs are primarily grocery gettin' and doctor trips; perfect for me. Those in that situation looking for a reliable, low cost and FUN ride (IMHO) would do quite will to consider a pre- owned Volt.

Terry (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 9:53AM

In reply to by Charles Jack (not verified)

We have a12 Volt and we use for short trips and we have seen EMM lately. We purchased a model 3 in June and have 15000 miles on it. That is a lot of gas miles on the Volt if used. The supercharging network allows this where a Bolt would not work. The Bolt is competing with superchargers and is losing. The Volt was great in 2012. However the model 3 and supercharging excel today and any other EV tesla makes will excel like the model 3. When both gigafactorys are completed which will be soon GM may not be able to catch Tesla. As you said they just started to change their plants and gigafactory 1 is almost done and is being used now

B Joshia Rosen (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 9:02AM

I agree that from a technical standpoint it no longer makes sense to build EREVs but as a tool to transition consumers to EVs it does. I have a Gen2 Volt and a Model 3 AWD. The Gen2 Volt has a 100HP engine which fixed all of the issues that you described in your Gen1 Volt, I've been able to take my Volt on 2000 Mike road trips with no problems. In the summer my Model 3 is a vastly better car than the Volt. 300 miles is enough range that combined with the Supercharger network I can go anywhere with no inconvience. But in winter the Model 3 only has 200 miles of range Wich isn't enough for a road trip. I find im using my Volt more than my Model 3 in the winter. In the summer I use the M3 almost exclusively. We are in a range gap period where BEVs haven't reached the level required for a 12 month car. Tesla is promising 509 miles in the Cybertruck. 500 miles closes the range gap because that translates into 300 winter miles. When that gap is closed then the barrier to consumer acceptance goes away. In fact we have an example to prove that. In CA which has no winter the Model 3 is almost tied with the Camry as the second best selling vehicle

I think GM killed the Volt prematurely, they should have kept it around another couple of years. They were right to stop investing in Voltec because it's a deadend. But what they didn't do is build any compelling BEVs yet. The Bolt matches Tesla's effeciency, which is a major acheivement, just look at how terrible the iPace, Etron and Taycan are in that regards, but aside from that it's a cheap looking car that's uncompetive with the Model 3. GM should have had more choices by now.

bjrosen (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 9:43AM

From a technical standpoint you are correct, EREVs are a dead end and it no longer makes sense to invest in them. From a consumer point of view they serve a purpose as a transitional vehicle. I agree that GM had to kill the Volt but I think they did it prematurely, it would have been nice if they had kept it around for another year or two.

I have a Gen2 Volt and a Model 3 AWD. The Gen2 Volt has a 100HP engine and better motors than the Gen1 Volt that you owned. The Gen2 fixed all of the problems that you described, it's completely adequate at highway speeds and I've had no trouble taking it on long, 2000 mile, road trips. It makes the perfect vehicle to transition from ICE to EV because it has no limitations.

With BEVs we are still living in a range gap period. In the summer the Model 3 is a vastly better car than the Volt in every way. With 310 miles of range and the Supercharger network you can go pretty much anywhere without inconvenience, I've done about 20 road trips in mine, but it does require a little planning which the Volt doesn't. In the winter the Model 3 has 200 miles of range which isn't enough for road trips. The Cybertruck will offer 500 miles of range which closes the range gap, 500 miles translates into 300 winter miles which is the threshold for a go anywhere car. When 500 miles is mainstream there will be no barrier to the acceptance of EVs. indeed we have a proof of concept, in CA, where they don't have winter, the Model 3 is now the number 3 selling vehicle just barely behind the Camry and ahead of the Accord.

The place where GM has screwed up is that the only BEV they have at the moment is the Bolt. They should have had a replacement by now. The Bolt nearly matches Tesla in efficiency, which is a major accomplishment when you consider just how terrible the iPace, E-Tron and Taycan are, but aside from that it's a very cheap looking car with not quite enough range and an inadequate charger. It's priced the same as the entry level Model 3, but it's simply not competitive with the M3. GM could have had a competitive car by now, they have the technology, but they've lost momentum. By the time they do have new BEVs the market will be crowded and they will be just another company. They could have been taking market share from their traditional competitors if they had stayed on their path, but they stalled so now the best they will be able to do is try and maintain market share.

Mike Campbell (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 11:32AM

The main reason the Volt manufacturing was stopped is that the government $7500 rebate was stopped because Chevy reached the manufacturing limit. I owned a 2013 and by far the best car I have ever owned. I am looking for a used 2017-2019 model because of the many improvements. I support America and do not buy foreign cars.

Marty Weirick (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 11:47AM

I think you missed a big defect in the Volt program... the failure to adequately market the car for what it was.

I never saw any Chevy marketing effort that said the car was FUN to Drive, smooth, quiet, fast and cheap to own. Instead Chevy marketed quirkiness, bathroom jokes, and 120 volt sockets. Chevy didn't want to market the Volt, and dealers sure as heck didn't want to sell it.

I still own my 2011 Volt, now with 140,000 plus miles and still running strong. Until I bought my little red Tesla 3 it was the best car I ever owned.

Steve Mann (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 1:39PM

In reply to by Marty Weirick (not verified)

I couldn't agree more. Chevrolet never marketed the Volt and for sure, the dealers didn't want to sell it. When we bought our 2017 Volt, we had to go to three dealerships to find one that would even take an order to sell us the car we wanted.

I will NEVER buy another Chevrolet product.

bjrosen (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 11:10PM

In reply to by Marty Weirick (not verified)

My dealer experiences were excellent. I bought a 2017 in 2016, went to two Chevy dealers, both were knowledgeable about the car, neither tried to steer me to a different car, I ended up making my decision based on which one had the color that I wanted in stock. I've also been very happy with my service since then. In my area dealers weren't the problem. Chevy was never interested in selling more cars then they needed for CARB credits and they were able to do that with zero marketing. At it's peak the Volt was selling 2500 cars a month, that's a really good number for any EV that's not a Tesla, the Clarity is currently selling about a third as many. GM lost money on each Volt they sold, the only thing that made it worthwhile to them were the CARB credits. The Bolt gets three times as many CARB credits as the Volt per car which is why they got rid of the Volt, they can get all the CARB credits they need and only have to sell 1/3rd as many Bolts and they can do that with zero marketing so that's why they aren't spending a penny to market Bolts just as they didn't spend a penny marketing Volts.

Sherri S (not verified)    March 7, 2021 - 12:47AM

In reply to by Marty Weirick (not verified)

My 2013 is the best car I have owned. It is so well-built and I have never had to get new brakes! And that's from doing 35+ mile commutes one way everyday since 2012 and over 170,000 miles. The only reason I am here and doing research is because the battery no longer does a full charge and the gas use is inefficient and rough on the car. They are offering great deals on 2020 Bolts right now but how can I go to a Bolt after driving a Volt?! I would never purposely drive a car as small as a Bolt. I don't know what to do :(.

Jeff N (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 11:47AM

I agree with a bunch of your insights on GM’s decisions with discontinuing their Voltec hybrid and plug-in hybrid products but I don’t agree with some of your engineering evaluation here.

The second generation Voltec system used in the Volt beginning in 2016 was perfectly fine for use in a Prius-like application with more emphasis on a bigger gas engine and less emphasis on the electric power side of things. In fact, GM did exactly that when they dropped an only slightly modified Voltec transmission into the Chevy Malibu Hybrid. They only removed a clutch that would never be used in that configuration and revised the electric motors for better efficiency in a hybrid duty-cycle. The rest of the transmission was used unchanged. They could have just dropped in an unmodified Voltec transmission and it would have worked just fine the way it was without the tweaks.

Likewise, GM created a RWD variant of the Voltec for the Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid that was better tuned for use with a large gas engine and heavy torque and horsepower output. GM could have easily dropped that CT6 Voltec into its pickup trucks and large SUVs for use in hybrid and plug-in hybrid models.

There is no major inherent tow-rating limitation with Voltec or the older 2-mode hybrid transmissions used in some GM trucks and SUVs between 2008 and 2013. In fact, I recall offhand that some of those vehicles had decent tow ratings. Vehicles designed for the highest tow ratings were configured with better brakes and alternate rear wheel differentials that had higher final gear ratios to get higher torque multiplication so as to better launch or accelerate while towing heavy loads. The downside of the higher final gearing ratio is higher and less optimal engine rpms during highway driving which results in worse EPA ratings. The same alternative RWD differential game could have been used to improve the tow ratings for the hybrid trucks and SUVs but they were so low-volume in sales that GM didn’t bother to offer variants with higher towing capability.

There is nothing about the Voltec FWD and RWD transmissions that made them inherently significantly more expensive to build than the Toyota hybrid platforms they could have competed against. The real issue was scaling and volume production to reduce the cost.

Ultimately, my take is that GM decided they couldn’t and didn’t need to simultaneously invest in a major transition to many new all-electric vehicles in the next few years while also scaling up Voltec hybrid production to make it cost competitive. They chose to simplify their product mix by dropping hybrids.

This seems like a reasonable choice to me. In any case, they now have the technology in hand so they can always easily bring out hybrids again if they need to in the future.

Shawn (not verified)    December 14, 2019 - 11:00PM

Simply put, the reason the car didn't do well is because, to this day, people don't know what a PHEV is.

"it's electric when you want it, it's gas when you need it".

They put that in an ad, stress that they'll never "run out of charge", and get real ads with driver testimonials getting over 250mpg... they'd sell more. There are still people that think it dies after 50 miles. GM's fatal flaw - bad ads (and bad dealerships unwilling to pick up that slack)

Jared (not verified)    December 15, 2019 - 9:32AM

Great article. I was a surprised Volt owner myself on the news of discontinuing the car and this helped clarify a few things. But as other replies have said, GM really dropped the ball on marketing the car. You wouldn't believe how many people I drive around in my car that had no idea it had all the fun of an EV without the range anxiety. These cars absolutely have a place until batteries and charging network catch-up. On the drivetrain expense argument, they could have allowed owners to control when the generator ran. That way they wouldn't need to match power at full depletion. An owner could just flip on the generator at say half power knowing they'll need it to get where they're going. And in a pinch, they get off the highway and be comfortable driving at 50mph or less where the generator can keep up with the battery depletion. I've learned to love side streets and the scenic route in Denver thanks to my Volt getting better range going that way. All in all I get the decision, but GM still sucks at marketing, design, and knowing what they're customers really want.

John Bridges (not verified)    December 15, 2019 - 2:27PM

I own a 2018 Volt. In 15 months I have spent less than $100 for gas.

I drove BMWs for 15 years prior. Averaged $130 a month for gas.

Volt is a great city car. Does 80 on the highway just as nice as BMW.

Love the car. Okay, dealership sucks and GM has extremely poor customer service.
Maybe the government can keep them alive.

Matt (not verified)    December 16, 2019 - 5:36AM

"For an Equinox sized vehicle, the range extender couldn't be same half-peak-power configuration used in the Volt if it is to be capable of overcoming drag at freeway speeds."

Huh? The Volt's drivetrain draws about 16 kW at 65 mph on level pavement that's barely 20 horsepower.

That section is all nonsense and rock-smoking.

Matt (not verified)    December 16, 2019 - 6:22AM

The two-motor Voltec-derived series-hybrid powertrain "definitely wouldn't work for trucks" but the author mentions they do make the Chrysler Pacifica minivan with a curb weight of 5000 lbs and a tow package and designed to seat 8 people. OK....

Phil Brady (not verified)    December 17, 2019 - 9:23AM

Your article is generally well thought out and accurate, except for the commentary on the VOLT running on the "Range Extender" (generator). Before buying mine I was in communication with a GM engineer who told me the only vehicle to compare with the VOLT is the locomotive of a train.
This is because they both are propelled by electric motors- ALL THE TIME. Unlike the locomotive, the VOLT pulls power first from the battery (reserving power for some uses, then switches to creating power with the generator, all while maintaining required electric energy to the drive motor. I am on my second VOLT as I do not want to be restricted by range when traveling long distances and I have never experienced loss of power when seamlessly going from battery to generator. Most people don't even know what is happening.
GM shot themselves in the foot by NOT clarifying how it worked or advertising it as much as their more profitable trucks and SUV's.

Charles Jack (not verified)    December 18, 2019 - 10:12PM

In reply to by Phil Brady (not verified)

Quite accurate. Missing from the locomotive comparison is a storage battery. Early releases from GM in their institutional ads state that the Volt has an electric generator that provides for extended range. Sounds like "range extender" to me. It just baffles me that a company that had the genius to create their marvel had zero talent to market it. Aside from that; the government incentive for EV purchase took the form of a tax CREDIT instead of a REBATE. That would have greatly broadened the potential buyer base for a car made for the masses.

longbowgun (not verified)    December 17, 2019 - 1:23PM

My drive to work is more than half my battery. I charge at work. I haven't put gas in my Volt in 3 months. I'm averaging 177 mpg for the last 11,000+ miles. I have yet to change the oil.

If you burned 40 gallons a month: You're driving 1,200 miles a month - at the very least! Go buy a Prius and spend more time and money at the gas station (and don't forget to change the oil) than you did in the Volt... or go buy a Model 3 and STFU.

Matt (not verified)    December 19, 2019 - 8:11PM

Wonder how long it will be before Honda kills the Clarity PHEV for the same reason? Apparently they are selling far fewer per year than the Volt did during the time the Gen 2's were being sold. Based on the author's logic it seems off Honda even bothered to introduce it in the first place...

erfooly (not verified)    December 22, 2019 - 1:06PM

I've seen Volt transmission and it's the same as Toyota's hybrid vehicles.
Also in Toyota, engine engages with the wheel only at highway speeds. At low speeds it would only recharge the battery if necessary. This should be the same for the Volt as it uses the same design transmission. So basically Chevy could have transferred Volted system to comparable size SUV like Equinox.
I think the main reason to abandon this program is they couldn't compete with toyota's prices.

Jeremy (not verified)    January 13, 2020 - 5:19PM

Hi Eric,

Thanks for an interesting article.

I don't understand the push toward a pure EV future, even from a "green" perspective. First, ZEV's are not zero emission vehicles, they are remote emission vehicles (REV's). Second, the infrastructure required to handle a small, say 10%, increase in pure EV's does not exist. Creating that infrastructure will be hugely expensive and have a massive carbon impact. Building what will be required for a pure EV future, will likely negate any "green" advantages for pure EV's for quite some time.

I understand why people like pure EV's, but they are practically inferior to either ICE's or Hybrids. Yes, battery technology is improving, but not nearly as fast as hoped. EV's have limited range compared to ICE's or hybrids, cannot be "fueled" nearly as quickly as ICE's, and access to charging stations is meager compared to gas stations. Pure EV's have more range than needed for most daily driving and less range needed for long trips.

I posit that plug in hybrids make much more sense, both practically and environmentally, than pure EV's. Of course, your cost concerns are valid but, as with EV technology and scale, costs could come down significantly, maybe not with the particular Voltec platform (though I suspect it would), but other, more cost effective technology would likely be created. Of course this would require large scale adoption of the plug in hybrid model, which has proved illusory, though pure EV's don't do well here eitherl. One marketing problem is that pure EV's are said to be "greener" than any other possibility, this is far from clear. Those who won't sacrifice the practical superiority of an ICE, won't buy an EV and those who wish to be "green" consider hybrids to be a step below EV's

So, imagine what would be needed to achieve a pure EV future.

- A massive increase in the infrastructure, both at the production end and the consumption end. The consumption end would require huge changes to both public and private infrastructure to make pure EV's even remotely comparable, practically, to ICE's or hybrids. The necessary changes at the production end would require many more coal plants and/or a shift toward nuclear power (sorry, wind and solar won't do it).

What would be required for a plug in hybrid future?

- Almost nothing. If plug in hybrids achieved a sensible range, say 40 to 50 miles, they could be fully, or mostly, charged overnight on standard power. No need for expensive additional equipment for the home (apartment dwellers pose a problem, but that;s true for pure EV's as well) . Of course, this would create additional demand for electricity, requiring additional production capacity, but not nearly as much as for pure EV.s.

Plug in hybrids have most, sometimes all, of the advantages of a pure EV with none of the significant disadvantages. In addition, factoring in everything, they are probably "greener" too.

Kind Regards,

Gino Tiberio (not verified)    March 30, 2020 - 4:01PM

You would have to own 2 cars if you want to buy an all electric car...What happens if you're travelling 100 miles away and there is no charging station where you are going to ..Who wants the hassle of looking for a charging station...And I have a friend who travelled with a bolt (all electric) to Myrtyle beach...It took him 3 days to get there instead of 18 hours..( + 2 hotel nights)...Big mistake to get rid of the volt...

Jason (not verified)    November 3, 2020 - 12:36PM

In reply to by Gino Tiberio (not verified)

Most US households have two or more cars so you can pair an EV with a gas car or hybrid.

In my household I drove a 2016 Spark EV (82 mile range) and my wife drove a 2014 Jetta Sportwagen TDI. The Spark handled by 50 mile commute and trips around town and the Sportwagen was our road trip car.

Alex Diamantopulo (not verified)    June 25, 2021 - 5:08PM

In reply to by Jason (not verified)

Well, good for you. But get back to Eart and imagine all families have 2 or more cars. Also, imagine that not the whole world is like US. Imagine that there are people who are single. So they would need to buy 2 cars? Pffft...