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The Chevy Bolt is claiming an unlikely victim

The Chevy Bolt is claiming an unlikely victim
Tech3 min read
Why don't more people want this car?    Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

  • As Chevy Bolt EV sales have increased, sales of the gas-electric hybrid Volt have declined.
  • The Volt was never as successful as GM hoped, but it paved the way for the Bolt.
  • We could be at the beginning of the end of the hybrid era.

Talk to anybody at General Motors about the Chevy Volt hybrid and they'll tell you that the company learned a lot from the car.

In fact, the automaker may have learned so much that the Volt could have contributed to its own demise.

GM hasn't made any announcements to that effect, but WardsAuto's James M. Amend reported that ever since the all-electric Chevy Bolt arrived late last year, Volt sales have slipped.

"According to WardsAuto data, the Bolt has sold 6,710 copies in the past three months compared with 4,416 deliveries of the Volt," Amend wrote.

"The Volt leads in calendar-year sales with 19,039 units, vs. 14,302 for the Bolt. But the Bolt was not available in 50 states until late June and even now availability remains thin."

A new kind of hybrid

Hollis Johnson

The Chevy Bolt.

The Volt was never a great seller, but it did offer a step beyond other hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius. The Prius is a parallel hybrid, meaning that its electric and gas motors run at the same time to max out fuel-economy (some plug-in and later semi-electric versions of the Prius can run for short distances on battery power alone).

The Volt is a serial hybrid. When its rechargeable batteries are drained, a small gas motor kicks in and powers a generator that makes more electricity, which in turn spins the motors that drive the wheels (the gas motor doesn't directly motivate the powertrain).

This extends the Volt's range and makes it comparable to a regular gas-engined vehicle. But if you only drive 3o or 40 miles a day, you can never tap into that "range extender." Total range is over 400 miles, and the Volt goes for about $34,000 base.

The Bolt is an all-electric vehicle that Chevy says will provide about 240 miles of range before it needs a recharge. The base price is $37,500, and it was designed to go up against Tesla's $35,000 Model 3.

The perfect car?

Chevy Volt

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

No perfect enough.

I always thought the Volt was basically the perfect car: lots of range, flexible all-electric operation, fun to drive. When the vehicle debuted in 2010, I calculated that in normal use, I might gas up half a dozen times a year, at most. When I reviewed the vehicle a while back, I wrote that it's "a thinking man's car."

"It had always been a thoughtful undertaking, from General Motors, the company that gave us the EV-1 all-electric car, but then missed the Prius revolution. How can we advance beyond the Prius, GM thought. And ... Presto! the Volt, a visionary machine. "

As it turns out, the Volt's value for GM might have been to set the stage for the Bolt. Various engineers and executives I have talked to over the past few years have suggested as much.

It could be that the hybrid age is now entering a period of decline. The vehicles have been rendered less popular thanks to a comeback by SUVs, and automakers often now think of hybrid tech as a way to add performance to a vehicle rather than to increase MPGs.

Meanwhile, a new generation of longer-range electric cars that are also affordable is arriving. I actually thought this would probably be the case, but I also expected extended-range hybrids like the Volt to be more popular.

As it turns out, automakers learned that while range-extended EVs captured some consumers, many just wanted an all-electric car that could go a long way between charges.

Get the latest Tesla stock price here.

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