GM executives have offered little reassurance that plug-in hybrids will be in the automaker's future. GM President Mark Reuss, who controls all aspects of product development and planning, has said the company is focused on full-electric vehicles rather than hybrids. A big reason is the cost of putting two powertrains in one vehicle.
"If I have to make decisions on the general deployment of resources on what the real answer here is, it's BEVs," he told Automotive News in January. "I can't do everything for everybody. We can't. We've seen that before, and it doesn't work."
Reuss said he's making sure GM's product portfolio "has options moving forward." He didn't say what those options could be, but GM could have additional technologies in the pipeline that build on Voltec. In China, GM still produces a Voltec-derived Buick Velite 6 and a Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid, which uses a different electrification system developed with lessons learned from the Volt.
GM, led by the Volt, has sold more plug-in hybrids in the U.S. than any other automaker. The large-capacity battery in vehicles such as the Volt, Cadillac ELR and Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid qualified them for the full $7,500 federal tax credit. And with contributions from the full-electric Bolt EV and the short-lived Spark EV, GM was second only to Tesla in reaching the 200,000-unit sales cap to qualify for the full EV credit.
Cadillac killed the ELR after the 2016 model year, and discontinued the CT6 plug-in hybrid in the U.S. after the 2018 model year.
As GM slips out, the plug-in hybrid market is getting more crowded, with several luxury brands adding more plug-in variants to meet stricter emissions rules around the world. Among mainstream brands, Subaru, Honda, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, Kia, Mitsubishi and Hyundai field plug-in hybrid cars, crossovers or minivans.
Retired GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who championed the costly Volt project when the company was bleeding cash, blames the Volt's sluggish start on its high price and a rough political environment surrounding GM's federally sponsored bankruptcy. But he argues the Volt was just what the automaker needed at the time, even if it never achieved sales or profit targets.
"The Volt was a huge success in the sense that it changed the GM image as it was often depicted 10 years ago as the big, dumb giant that couldn't do anything but big sport-utilities and full-size pickup trucks," Lutz told Automotive News. "It certainly put a stop to that, and that alone was worth everything we spent on it."
Other GM executives have hailed the Volt as a breakthrough that paved the way for the Bolt EV and GM's forthcoming second-generation EV platform, which the company has promised will be profitable.
That's where the EV market, thin as it is, appears to be headed as the range and selection of pure EVs improve. The full-electric Bolt EV, with a 238-mile range rating, easily outsold the extended-range Volt in 2017 and came close in 2018. Meanwhile, despite production problems and management turmoil, Tesla's Model 3 — a sedan — outsold every luxury vehicle last year.
"People are more interested in full electric," Cadillac President Steve Carlisle said in September, four months before his brand was tapped to spearhead the development of GM's next-generation EVs.