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GM’s third strike

This is not about a labor strike of autoworkers. It’s about the baffling decision-making at General Motors that flies in the face of market trends and common sense. In recent weeks GM has announced that they’re killing CarPlay and Android on many of their future models and that they are discontinuing the Chevy Bolt, the most affordable of all U.S. EVs on the market and with growing sales. They come a few years after the company killed the Chevy Volt, the innovative plug-in hybrid (PHEV) that got up to 60 miles on a battery charge and another 340 miles on 7 gallons of gas. If these decisions seem counterproductive, you are correct. Most auto analysts have derided the moves as baffling and just plain stupid.

I know a lot about the Volt, as I’ve owned three, beginning in 2012. I leased the first generation model shortly after testing it for my tech column in the San DIego Transcript. It was a terrific car built on a unique concept: you could drive 40 miles on a charge, charge at night, and never need gas if you drove under 40 miles a day. But if you drove further or wanted to take a long trip, you could use gas and never need to take the time to charge the car. The Volt was the first Amercian car I bought in decades.

When my first lease expired I leased a newer model, and when that expired, I purchased a 2019 model after it was announced it was being discontinued. The 2019 Premier model fully loaded had a sticker price of $43K. The cost after the $7500 rebate and a 25% discount off the sticker, brought it down to $26K. It’s been the best car I’ve ever owned.

GM always had difficulty selling Volts during its lifetime. Dealers had difficulty explaining what a plug-in hybrid was, and customers often got confused with a Prius hybrid, a car that combines a battery with a gas engine to get better mileage, but not designed to run on batteries alone. But now there are many other brands selling plug-in hybrids, mostly with fewer electric miles. Toyota has given the PHEV top billing with its RAV4 and Prius Prime lines, getting about 45 miles per charge. They can’t keep them in stock. GM gave up on this innovative design shortly before it became mainstream.

GM states a variety of reasons for discontinuing the Bolt: it needs more manufacturing space for a new SUV, the Bolt uses old battery technology, and it lost money because of a safety recall for defective batteries. But the Bolt is the country’s lowest cost EV with a range of more than 200 miles. It’s also eligible for a $7500 tax credit, bringing it’s effective cost to about $25K. It may be the best deal today, especially if dealers discount it.

GM continues to face ridicule for its decision to eliminate Apple CarPlay and develop their own in car entertainment system. In this 3 minute interview with Joanna Stern of the WSJ, the CEO of Ford, Jim Farley, couldn’t be happier with their decision:

“The interior has to be really well done. But in terms of content? We kind of lost that battle 10 years ago. So get real with it, because you’re not going to make a ton of money on content inside the vehicle. It’s going to be safety/security, partial autonomy, and productivity in our eyes. […] 70 percent of our Ford customers in the U.S are Apple customers. Why would I go to an Apple customer and say ‘Good luck!’? That doesn’t seem customer centric.”