I’ve been a pretty satisfied customer of the Chevy Volt for three years now. It’s a plug-in hybrid, meaning that it will go for about 50 miles on battery power and then switch over to a gas engine. It’s quiet, well-equipped, fairly spacious, and has good zoom. 50 miles lets me drive electric about 80% of the time.
My lease is almost over, and I’ll be getting an all-electric car next time. Their battery range is well over 200 miles these days, so I don’t need the backup engine. I pulled into a gas station yesterday and realized that this might well be the last time I ever fill up. One more tank will take me through the end of this lease, and the next won’t use gas. Good! As I was thinking about this in the gas station, I noticed just how awful they smell.
But that next car will not be from GM. They stopped building Volts last April. Everyone told them to build a CUV, but instead they gave up on plug-ins altogether. They do have an all-electric, the Chevy Bolt, but it hasn’t been updated for three years. The Tesla Model 3 costs about as much and is outselling it 13 to 1. It has more electric range, more acceleration, more space, and looks sleeker:
GM says that they’ll be coming out with more electric models soon, but they haven’t for a long time even as Tesla has been rolling over them.
Worse still, GM just sided with the Trump administration in trying to stop improving mileage standards. Trump wants to freeze them, while Obama then and California now want them to improve by about 4% per year. Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW sided with California in maintaining the Obama increases, but GM decided to go with the least popular president in American history. He’ll only be president for another year, and maybe not even that. Any Democrat is certain to reinstate the standards. California is now actually saying that they will refuse to buy GM for state car fleets.
The Volt was their bid to get back into the good graces of blue states. When GM went under in 2009, it was a big reason why the Obama administration bailed them out. It was a sign that GM really could adapt to the future. The whole world needs to get off gasoline cars, and the Volt was a strong first step. They sold about 155K of them total, and another 50K Bolts. But the Volt and Bolt together were only 2% of unit sales to Chevrolet, and their profit margins weren’t great either. They’re now going to drive that bloated SUV/truck product line right into the guardrail.
I also wonder whether the Administration threatened them. Trump has made open threats against GM in the past when they have closed plants in districts that voted for him. Maybe he extorted them just as he extorted Ukraine. He also apparently denied Amazon a $10B cloud computing contract at the Pentagon, just because Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post writes mean stories about him. Extortion seems to be his standard operating procedure these days.
In any case, this GM customer won’t be buying again. I really, really want mainline US companies to stay competitive for the sake of the country, but they’re just not keeping up.