When their company swirled around the financial crisis in the early 2000s, General Motors executives came up with the idea of countering their gas-guzzling image and showing the way forward: an electric car with gas engine support that could travel anywhere.
At the Detroit Motor Show in 2007, they unveiled the concept car Chevrolet Volt. They did not know if they had the technology to make a big breakthrough in battery-powered vehicles.
It took almost four more years, but the first Volt – a variant with a longer range of a plug-in hybrid – came off the line in late 2010. GM hoped customers would be willing to drive a car that ran 38 miles a year ago with a small combustion generator.
They were not. On Tuesday, the last Volt was built with a small ceremony in a factory in Detroit, which is now to be closed. On average, sales were less than 20,000 per year, which was not enough to sustain the costly undertaking.
The Volt was not the first electric car, but he was the first to conquer fear over range for a reasonable price. GM's limited-range EVS hit the market in the 1
The Volt was one of the first plug-in hybrids. Many of them can only travel about 20 miles with electricity and have not gained much popularity among consumers.
But the Volt has served a purpose. This has led to advances in lithium-ion batteries, similar to those driving smartphones and computers. These advances eventually led to the downfall of the Volt, as GM and other manufacturers developed all-electric vehicles capable of driving 200 kilometers more per charge.
"Although it was a financial loser, it did what was intended," said retired GM Vice President Bob Lutz, who put the Volt into production. "We saw it as a springboard for the full electrics, which was completely out of reach due to the then astronomical cost of lithium-ion batteries."
GM now has the Chevrolet Bolt, which can drive 238 miles with a single store, and it has promised many more electric vehicles in the future.
The Volt has developed a loyal fan base, many of whom are angry with the company for scrubbing the project.
Richard Winters, a 65-year-old veteran from Poteau, Oklahoma, said the Volt is useful in areas such as Oklahoma and Arkansas, where only a few electric vehicle charging stations are available. He bought his first Volt in 2016 for the 120-mile round-trip from home to the hospital in Arkansas where he works.
Last year he bought another model, a redesigned model that can consume 50 miles of power in front of the inflator. Since it can recharge at work, most of its work is done on battery power. Winter routinely does 1,400 miles between gas station fills, which he likes. It costs only about a dollar of electricity to recharge the battery, he said.
Winters had always wanted an electric car, but how many did he fear that he would run out of juice and be stranded? "When the Volt came out, I was happy," he said of his nearly unlimited range.
GM would have had to spend more on promoting the car. "I was really surprised that marketing is missing," he said. "I would not have an electric car if I did not have this gas engine."
Originally, the Volt was supposed to be a sleek, futuristic five-seater vehicle designed to house a battery and a battery compartment. The new three-cylinder engine is supposed to generate power, Abu Abu Abuamid analyst said. However, due to GM's financial problems, the project was scaled back and became a modified version of the Chevrolet Cruze compact car with only four seats and many parts from other GM vehicles.
"They made great progress with this car, but it was not all it could have been, and certainly not what they imagined when they unveiled the concept," Abuelsamid said.
Although it would be nice to continue to produce the Volt, GM had to stop making it due part of the change in consumer preferences for SUVs, he said. The company also lost money with every volt needed to research autonomous vehicles and more advanced electric cars.
"It's not the right vehicle for today's market," said Abuelsamid. "It does not make sense to keep it going – as much as you like, it's probably better to let it go."