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Driving Change

An ode to the Volt: Farewell, we'll miss you

This article is drawn from the Transport Weekly newsletter from GreenBiz, running Tuesdays.

Eight years ago General Motors delivered the first of its "extended range" electric Volts to its first customers amid much fanfare at the Los Angeles Auto Show. GM execs called the car a "game changer" and "epic," while early adopter owners eagerly touted the combination of the battery and the gas-powered engine. 

Last week — the same week as the 2018 LA Auto Show — GM abruptly announced that it would stop making the Volt early next year, amidst a broader move to cut costs across the company.

It was a truly sad day for Volt owners. Many of these customers have been passionate advocates of electric vehicles and were among the first of a small but growing set of Americans to try out a vehicle that (partly) runs on batteries.

Frustrated and disappointed Volt fans have taken to Facebook groupsforums and columns to express their dismay. Volt owners that I've talked to have been equally upset by the move. 

My sister, Jill Fehrenbacher, founder of Inhabitat, described GM's ending production of the Volt as heartbreaking. She bought the car for environmental reasons but loves the convenience of the small engine. 

Entrepreneur Apoorv Bhargava, founder of Weave Grid, told me he's really sad to see GM kill the Volt given "it’s got so much potential to convert EV skeptics but also to attract those people who like EVs but just have real constraints around range."

While the car didn't ever achieve the sales volumes it needed, the Volt is currently the bestselling plug-in electric vehicle in the United States.
HuffPost writer Jonathan Cohn writes that he doesn't just like the flexibility of the small engine of the car but also how "peppy" and "roomy" it is. "General Motors just killed the best car you’ve never owned," Cohn wrote. 

GreenBiz President and co-founder Pete May started leasing a Volt two years ago and charges the car with his home solar panels. His son, Hugo, now drives it and particularly enjoys the 100 percent torque that EVs provide. 

Despite the end of an era, GM and Volt enthusiasts have a lot to be proud of with the pioneering vehicle. 

While the car never achieved the sales volumes it needed, the Volt is currently the bestselling plug-in electric vehicle in the United States (with around 150,000 sold), according to these numbers. Tesla's Model 3 likely soon will take that title in the fourth quarter of this year.

The Volt also has been influential in the auto industry. It was released years before many big auto companies had started pledging to move toward electrification, and its battery and engine combo has been a gateway car for EVs. In that respect, GM execs were right to call it "a game changer" at its launch.

The car's creation was also useful for GM's development. The automaker held its IPO shortly after the Volt was delivered and about a year after GM declared bankruptcy. 

Lessons learned with manufacturing and selling the Volt no doubt will inform GM's electric future. The automaker says it's not moving away from electric vehicles and is doubling down on the all-electric Bolt platform. GM plans to release 20 electric models by 2023. 

The Volt will live on in all these cars, as well as in the future that someday likely will be dominated by electric vehicles.

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