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Chevrolet Botched Its Most Ground-Breaking Vehicle's Launch

Technology / 16 Comments

Well, it was ground-breaking back in 2010.

The first-generation Chevrolet Volt was a big deal. It was supposed to be the start of a whole new era of powertrain technology for the automaker, which was just emerging from its humiliating bankruptcy at the time. This was back in 2010 when the Volt's extended-range powertrain tech was state-of-the-art. The vehicle itself was also affordable thanks in part to state and federal tax breaks. Chevy knew the Volt was ahead of its time and assumed consumers would eventually understand and appreciate everything it offered. Chevy assumed wrong.

Automotive News figured it was time to take a brief look back at the Volt in light of its discontinuation. Only two generations of the plug-in hybrid were built, contrary to the initial plan. So, what went wrong? A lack of consumer education. Buyers simply were unaware and sometimes even confused about the Volt's many benefits, such as its plug-in electric and gasoline powertrains.

The incredible driving range offered by the Volt simply didn't register. Marketing and advertising also failed to focus on education and the Volt's overall message – that of making an electrified vehicle practical – was lost. In fact, the Volt was even more practical than a typical internal combustion engine because it required fewer fill-ups, assuming owners regularly charged their cars to keep the battery running.

Ironically, automakers today are now utilizing the Volt's successes and failures for their own internal purposes; they don't want their new PHEVs to suffer the same way the Volt did. Bottom line is that consumer education is key and even Chevy's first Volt commercials failed to address this. For example, the first-gen Volt was compared to everyday electrical appliances and referred to it as an "extended-range electric Volt." Too many words, too much confusion.

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Steve Majoros, director of Chevy marketing, cars and crossovers, admitted GM focused way too much on the Volt's technical aspects instead of the "promise of what Volt delivered." Despite ranking highly in various customer satisfaction surveys, including Consumer Reports, the Volt was really only "successful among the people who bought it," said Dan Edmunds of Edmunds vehicle testing. "The problem with PHEVs is it's a mouthful, and people still aren't sure what a PHEV is," Edmunds said. "Nobody's been able to figure out how to talk about a plug-in hybrid, and I think that's because we started on the wrong foot."

In any case, the Chevrolet Volt will soon be no more. It'll go down in history as a car ahead of its time whose maker simply didn't know how to effectively market it.