From developing an amazing engine and not using it, to missing the EV train.
The first entry in this list of projects we wish General Motors hadn't canceled is a prime example of the automaker's ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The company's modern history is full of missteps and head-scratching decisions, from how it made a mess of Pontiac to the more recent case of the Chevrolet Camaro being in trouble. It often feels like individual product successes like the Chevrolet Corvette are despite its corporate overlords, not because of them. Some of these examples of GM canning a project have certainly set the automaker back, and it's time to take a look at some of the winners, or in this case, losers.
General Motors was ahead of the game in the 1990s and delivered the first mass-produced electric car of the modern era. The EV1 was conceived in 1990 and developed by AeroVironment, based on knowledge gleaned by GM's participation at the 1987 World Solar Challenge. Other companies involved were California-based AC Propulsion and Hughes Electronics, which is now known as DirectTV. It also inspired the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to start ensuring automakers had cleaner vehicles available.
The EV1 was launched in 1996, powered by lead-acid batteries, with a range of 70 to 100 miles. GM built just 600 cars and they were exclusively leased out in Southern California and Arizona to get things rolling. A second generation came out in 1999, using a nickel-metal hydride battery (NiMH) with a range of 100-140 miles. However, in 2003 GM announced the end of the program claiming it couldn't be made profitable. The automaker refused to extend the leases and started to reclaim the cars, despite having enthusiastic and loyal customers. In 2006, GM's former Chairman and CEO, Rick Wagoner, claimed that his worst decision while at GM was "axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids. It didn't affect profitability, but it did affect image."
At the 2008 New York auto show, Pontiac introduced the G8 ST, the ST part standing for 'sport truck.' Across America, those cheering for a revival of the El Camino or having a fetish for the Australian muscle ute got seriously excited. The idea was to rebadge the Australian Holden Ute, essentially a Holden Commodore sedan front end with a short pickup bed for a rear end. The Holden Commodore was already in the US badged as the Pontiac G8, so it looked like a slam-dunk.
An LS V8-powered car-truck crossover would be one hell of a halo vehicle and appeal to all sorts of car and truck enthusiasts. Some say it could have saved Pontiac, but a year later, and before the wheels could seriously start turning, GM began to restructure. Three months after that, GM announced that the Pontiac brand was being given the ax. In 2017, any chance of another GM brand picking up the ball ended when the company folded up Holden in Australia.
You may or may not know this, but GM and Chevy actually built a few mid-engined sports cars in the 1960s. Which means the Corvette could have become a true supercar anytime from then until now. In the late 1950s, the father of the Corvette performance , Belgian-born engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, realized that mid-engined chassis architecture was the way forward. In 1960, he developed the first Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle (CERV). The engine of CERV I was mounted between the rear wheels and behind the driver before Lamborghini popularized the layout in 1966.
In 1962 some of the prototypes started running all-wheel-drive powertrains and in testing the CERV II hit 212 mph. Soon after Dan Gurney and Stirling Moss ran demonstration laps at the Formula 1 US Grand Prix in Riverside, California. Duntov wanted the CERV to go racing, but GM's management killed that idea. Duntov kept developing the car, but in 1970 it was consigned to a warehouse by GM. Over the following decades, mid-engined Corvette concepts and prototypes appeared, but it was July of 2019 before a production mid-engined Corvette appeared, 24 years after Duntov's death.
Feelings will be mixed on this one, but for a while, it looked like GMC might move forward with a small compact crossover called the Granite. It would have been smaller than the $25,000 GMC Terrain and, rumor had it, wouldn't be inspired by the boxy-but-smooth GMC Granite concept that debuted at the Detroit Auto Show back in 2010. That, we would have liked to see come to market as a luxurious and aggressive looking little crossover. Chances are it would have ended up as bland as the Acadia and Terrain, but if GMC had got something like the original to market, it may have had a hot little seller.
The fate of the Chevrolet Camaro is in the balance, and could be axed as of 2023. Slow sales are harming the sports car at a time when Chevrolet has the chance to market it to those who are disappointed that the Corvette has gone mid-engine. One way that statement could have been made was on the table but recently scrapped, according to Motor Trend. The idea was to put the C8-generation Corvette Z06 V8 under the Camaro's hood, and we know from past experience what Chevy can do with that kind of power. The fifth-generation Camaro Z/28 with the 7.0-liter LS7 V8 was an absolute stonker of a car.
The upcoming Corvette will have a naturally aspirated, flat-plane crank, 5.5-liter V8 likely to deliver around 600 horsepower. And it'll wail like a banshee to boot. Putting it in the sixth-generation Camaro is an idea that had enthusiasts salivating. And that's before remembering the C8 Corvette won't be getting a manual transmission. The sixth-generation Camaro does have a manual transmission already capable of handling well north of 600 hp.
In 2014, GM brought in Johan de Nysschen, formerly of BMW and Audi, to take on the German brands in the premium luxury markets. Cadillac needed a smooth and powerful V8 of its own as part of his plan, and a repurposed GM pushrod engine didn't fit the bill. The result of Cadillac's clean-sheet design was a twin-turbo V8 that took on the German brand's power plants toe-to-toe. Dubbed 'Blackwing,' the 4.2-liter engine was Cadillac's first twin-turbo V8 and had a delicious blend of smooth power and manic acceleration. The prototype was first shown in 2016 in Cadillac's Escala concept, billed as "a prototype of a new system in development for future Cadillac models." The finished engine debuted in the CT6-V and was perfect as a top-level product spec engine. It should have been a home run.
The problems for the Blackwing engine came thick and fast. It was expensive to build and would push the Escalade's price too high. At the same time, sedan sales were dropping fast, and the rear-wheel-drive CT6 based on the cutting-edge Omega platform was dropped in 2017 based on cost. The icing on the cake was that GM didn't appear to agree with de Nysschen that Cadillac needed a lot of time and money to turn the brand around. As a result, the Blackwing engine entered production in 2018 and went out in 2020, while de Nysschen left the company in 2018.
The engine cost around $23 million to develop, and only 800 were built. To add insult to injury, as a performance engine, its 550 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque was likely just the start of its potential.