The sedan is falling rapidly out of favor in many world markets but especially so in America, where demand for SUVs is rising to a fever pitch. GM is reporting sedan sales are down over 30% so far this year. Amid predictions that sedans will be even less popular in the future, The General is considering the elimination of 6 sedans from its product lineup, including the iconic Chevrolet Impala and its highly regarded PHEV vehicle, the Chevy Volt. The Volt may exit the Chevy lineup in 2022.
The company’s investment in the Voltec plug-in hybrid technology won’t go to waste, however. Word is that Chevrolet will introduce a new plug-in hybrid sport utility vehicle known as the CrossVolt in 2020. GM renewed its trademark on that name in late 2104.
An SUV version of the Volt makes a lot of sense. As good as the current Volt is, it suffers from a lack of passenger space, particularly in the back seat. The middle of the rear seat is not really suitable for a real person and the headliner needs two areas scooped out on either side to provide enough head room for adults. A PHEV SUV would likely prove quite popular.
Back in 2010, Chevrolet released photos of a concept plug-in hybrid SUV style vehicle it called the Volt MPV5. In today’s world, the styling of that concept may seem rather bland, but there’s nothing saying Chevy couldn’t knock the socks off the competition by making the CrossVolt look similar to the very tasty looking FNR-X concept it had on display at the Shanghai auto show this spring.
If the MPV5 was rather dowdy and Plain Jane in appearance, the FNR-X definitely has looks that sizzle. Put a plug-in hybrid powertrain in this sport utility and customers would line up around the block and down the street.
In addition to the Impala — once the star of the Chevrolet bvand — and the Volt, GM is also planning to ax the Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac CT6, Cadillac XTS, and Chevrolet Sonic, all of which have seen sales tumble of late as the SUV craze gathers steam.
Dennis Williams, president of the UAW says, “We are talking to [GM] right now about the products that they currently have” at underused car plants such as Hamtramck in Michigan and Lordstown in Ohio, and whether they might be replaced with newer, more popular vehicles such as SUVs and crossovers. “We are tracking it (and) we are addressing it.”
GM must “create some innovative new products” to replace slow-selling sedans “or start closing plants,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of AutoForecast Solutions. John Murphy, an auto analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates that only 10 percent of the new vehicle models from GM over the next four years will be passenger cars. The rest will be trucks, SUVs, and crossovers.
Like it or not, SUVs and crossovers are the new normal in the auto business. As farsighted as Elon Musk is, he did not fully appreciate how quickly the tide would change when plans for the Model 3 were being finalized. A Model Y crossover is in the works but is 2 to 3 years away from production. Right now, Tesla doesn’t even have a factory to build the Model Y.
That could open up some space for legacy automakers to fill the gap and maybe beat Tesla to the punch with a competitive electric SUV. But if history is any guide, they will fail to seize the day and fall back on hybrids and new technologies to keep building cars with internal combustion engines a little while longer.
Legacy automakers are Elon Musk’s best friend. Despite the success of Tesla over the past 5 years, the other companies still treat electric cars like some sort of exotic beast that needs to be handled with extreme care. A plug-in SUV based on the Chevy Volt is a great idea — today. Whether it will still be a great idea in 2020 is another matter.