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Corporate Blunders – Chevrolet Volt

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General Motors is in big trouble, they’ll be out of money within months without some serious cash infusion. However, they presented a possible saviour to the company in form of the Volt concept car January 7, 2007. The plug-in hybrid featured lithium-ion batteries with a gasoline drive generator to act as a range-extender and a futuristic, edgy and muscular design appealing to technology and environmental geeks, designers,muscle car fans and hip city couples. When they presented the Volt in its final production form though, they sealed their own future.

Chevrolet Volt Production Front

The Chevrolet Volt in production form. Photo by GM.

The immense success of stylish small cars such as the Mini (particularly the Cooper versions) and Fiat 500 shows that city life style vehicles sell, and sell good numbers. The Toyota Prius has sold incredibly good as well, but that is on other merits. The Prius success is simply because it’s the only option for many buyers, practical and cheap enough while being classed as an environmentally friendly vehicle for personal, corporate and tax reasons.

When GM clashes head to head with the Prius instead of taking on the entire lineup of environmentally friendly life-style cars, they might have made their biggest blunder to date. The Volt could have been the most desirable (and accessible) car to have for an entire generation, a pony and muscle car combined for the new millennia. Instead GM internal corporate culture averaged the car into something that I (and many with me) just won’t buy, regardless of the technology inside it (which I love, by the way).

Chevrolet Volt Concept Front

The Concept Version of the Chevrolet Volt. Photo by GM.

The only visible carry-over from the concept is the black line under the side windows. In the concept, they’re plastics that make the windows larger to increase perceived space inside which is limited due to the high waistline. In production form, the black painted line serves no purpose other than to make the windows look larger from the outside. The shape is altered for the sake of aerodynamic efficiency, a worthy cause but when they make the car undesirable something is wrong. When even the designer is more proud of the hideous production version, that should tell us something.

The problem for GM is that they won’t only combat the Prius when the Volt is released in 2011, BMW’s Mini-E, a plug-in Prius, the Fisker Karma and the Tesla Roadster will battle for the EV customers. GM won’t recieve anything for free like Toyota did when star celebrities bought Priuses to make a statement, the Tesla has taken that role now and suits the high-income crowd much better.

The only good thing about the Volt is that GM seems to have abandoned the Hydrogen path and that the E-Flex platform underpinning the Volt can be adapted to other cars. To bad GM haven’t produced a car I would actually like to own since the Corvettes and Muscle Cars of the 60′s.

For an excellent article on why General Motors are going down the drain (and has been since 1970′s) through bad management and corporate culture read Alex Taylors article GM: Death of an American dream.

UPDATE 2008-12-09:
The N.Y Times has now given their view on the G.M. corporate culture which has lead to their current situation titled At G.M., Innovation Sacrificed to Profits. The summary? Short term profits have been prioritized instead of innovation and vision.



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