DETROIT — As their company was swirling around the financial drain in the early 2000s, General Motors executives came up with an idea to counter its gas-guzzling image and point the way to transportation of the future: An electric car with a gas-engine backup that could travel anywhere.
At Detroit’s auto show in 2007, they unveiled the Chevrolet Volt concept car, not knowing yet whether they had the technology to pull off a major breakthrough in battery-powered vehicles.
It took nearly four more years, but the first Volt — a longer-range version of a plug-in hybrid — rolled off the assembly line late in 2010. GM had hopes that customers would be ready for a car that could go 38 miles on electricity before a small internal combustion generator kicked in.
They weren’t. On Tuesday, the last Volt was built with little ceremony at a Detroit factory that’s now slated to close. Sales averaged less than 20,000 per year, not enough to sustain the costly undertaking.
The Volt wasn’t the first electric car, but it was the first to conquer anxiety over range at a reasonable cost. GM’s limited-range EV1 came out in the 1990s, and Tesla put out its 200-plus-mile Roadster in 2008 for more than $100,000.
The Volt was among the first plug-in hybrids, many of which can go only 20 or so miles on electricity and haven’t gained much popularity among consumers.
Yet the Volt did serve a purpose. It led to advances in lithium-ion batteries similar to those that power smart phones and computers. But such advances ultimately led to the Volt’s demise as GM and other manufacturers developed fully electric vehicles that can go 200 more miles per charge.
“While it was a financial loser, it did what was intended,” said retired GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who shepherded the Volt into production. “We viewed it as a stepping stone to full electrics, which were totally out of reach due to the then-astronomical cost of lithium-ion batteries.”
Read more: Washington Post