Why the Chevrolet Volt Didn’t Deserve to Die

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
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Chevrolet rolled the last Volt plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) off of its Detroit assembly line on Tuesday, February 19, bringing an end to a brilliant car that few people understood or bought.

Equipped with enough battery capacity to travel 53 miles on a charge, the Volt provided more electric driving range than a typical American commuter needed. And if daily driving distance exceeded that number, a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine fired up to serve as a generator, its power converted into electricity to keep the Volt going, and going, and going, like the automotive equivalent of the Energizer bunny.

In other words, the Chevy Volt was an electric car during weekdays and a road-tripper on weekends. Plus, you didn’t need an expensive 240-volt home charging station because the Volt could recharge in about 12 hours using a standard household wall outlet. You never suffered range anxiety when driving a Volt, either, and if you decided to take a cross-country road trip, all you needed to do was get into the car and drive from Savannah to Seattle without plugging it in even once.

That’s what made the Volt brilliant. It was an affordable electric car until you needed an affordable regular car, and then it was one of those, too.

The Volt Didn’t Deserve to Die, but It Had To

Silver 2011 Chevrolet Volt
Chevrolet spent a fortune to create the original Volt, which garnered critical acclaim but didn’t turn a profit. Less than a decade later, the sun is setting on the underappreciated commuter car. (Chevrolet)

 

The Volt didn’t deserve to die, and as recently as the summer of 2018 Chevrolet didn’t think so, either. On June 28, 2018, the automaker announced numerous changes that made the car better than ever.

A new 7.2 kWh charging system was the big news because it cut the amount of time to quick-charge the car by half, topping off the battery in 2.5 hours according to Chevrolet. The 2019 Chevy Volt also got new regenerative braking capabilities similar to one-pedal driving in other electric vehicles, a revised automatic heating system that ensured greater all-electric operation in cold weather, a next-generation infotainment system, and upgraded driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies.

Sadly, these updates didn’t jolt Volt sales in an economically roaring America where gas is cheap and both trucks and SUVs rule. Right around the same time that Chevy announced these upgrades, the Volt’s potential customers were discovering the bigger Honda Clarity Plug-in, a new PHEV which delivered 47 miles of electric driving range combined with more cargo and passenger space – and for $120 less. And it certainly didn’t help that the Volt shared a factory with two other slow-selling models getting the ax from General Motors: the Cadillac CT6 and Chevrolet Impala.

So GM did what smart companies do with unpopular, money-losing products. It pulled the plug.

No, the Volt didn’t deserve to die, but it had to.

You Can Bet the Volt (Name) Will Be Back

Red 2019 Chevrolet Volt
When Chevrolet redesigned the Volt for the 2016 model year, the new design wasn’t distinctive like the original, and the car’s rear seat and cargo area were still mighty cramped. (Chevrolet)

 

As an avid proponent of the Volt’s inherent brilliance (if not its cramped 4-seat hatchback packaging), I am sad to see it die.

Also, because I firmly believe that until electric charging station and hydrogen refueling station infrastructure becomes as easy to rely upon as a gas station or a home electrical outlet, plug-in hybrids are the best transition vehicles from the past to the future, I think the Volt’s cancelation prematurely removes one of the most compelling choices in that segment of the market. The car was the perfect solution for people who couldn’t decide whether to get an EV or go with a hybrid because the Volt was both cars in one.

No doubt, though, the Volt name will be resurrected in the future. It’s just too perfect to be shelved for long. My bet is that it shows up glued to an electric crossover SUV based on the Chevy Bolt EV.

But any future pure electric Volt EV will still require a recharge after 250 miles of driving or so, and if an open and operational DC Fast Charging station simply isn’t available when you need one, that’s going to add lots of time to longer trips.

At that point, the officially defunct original Chevy Volt recipe, with its modest electric range and onboard gasoline generator, is going to look like a simple yet smart solution to a complex problem.


About the Author

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
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