DETROIT — General Motors' aggressive restructuring of its global business operations will trickle down to its products as it balances investment in slow- selling cars, popular crossovers and emerging technologies such as electric and autonomous vehicles.
Announced freshenings last week of the 2019 Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu and Spark came amid a report in The Wall Street Journal that the company could ax production of the Chevrolet Sonic as early as this year. Sales of the subcompact car, produced since 2011 at GM's Orion Assembly plant in Michigan, are down more than 21 percent this year, while Chevy's light-truck portfolio is up 16 percent.
But the potential cut of the Sonic isn't just about crossovers vs. cars. It would also represent a GM bet on the business demands of the future over the political imperatives of the past.
The move would let GM devote more capacity at its Orion plant to one of its most advanced vehicle programs: the electric Bolt EV and its and self-driving sibling, the Cruise AV. The Bolt has been a symbol of the automaker's future since production began in 2016, and is the platform for GM's expansive plans for autonomous and electrified vehicles, including 20 battery-electric or fuel cell vehicles by 2023 and a proposed fleet of driverless taxis.
GM is expected to use the Bolt platform for new vehicles through at least 2021, when a next-generation EV platform is scheduled to launch.
"There will be new vehicles going into Orion," said IHS Markit analyst Stephanie Brinley, and they're expected to be battery-electric vehicles. "The plant's not going away or anything like that."
Brinley said GM is likely using Orion as a proving ground for the production of EVs and autonomous vehicles before the techniques roll out to other factories.
"The investment into that plant is well worth it," she said. "You've got to figure these things out."