2011 Automobile of the Year: Chevrolet Volt

Jim Fets

Rising out of the ashes of Poletown
The Volt's assembly plant carries a lot of baggage.

In 1980, GM presented recession-ridden Detroit an offer it couldn't refuse. It would build a new plant to replace two others that it was closing, preserving 6000 jobs along with vital tax revenues, but it needed an appropriate location. The city found a perfect plot along its border with Hamtramck, which was itself reeling from the closure of a Dodge factory. The catch? The land also encompassed much of Poletown, a struggling but proud Polish neighborhood. While most of the 3500 affected residents accepted compensation and left, a vocal minority enlisted the help of Ralph Nader to legally challenge Detroit's right of eminent domain, and a few vowed to physically resist removal. However, the combination of city hall and the world's largest corporation proved impossible to stop, and in July 1981, a wrecking ball crashed into Poletown's Immaculate Conception Church. Today, only an old cemetery hints at what once existed on the 465-acre factory grounds.

The destruction might have been easier to accept had the plant indeed furthered GM's ambitious modernization plan. Instead, expensive robots often malfunctioned and, in one infamous case, ended up painting each other. Even when the bugs had been worked out, mediocrity remained. European bureau chief Georg Kacher visited in 1994 and observed disheveled workers "eating, drinking, and smoking on the job." The finished products -- from the Cadillac Seville to the last Pontiac Bonneville -- mostly underperformed in the marketplace. GM had laid off 2500 workers by 1986, and today the plant employs a sixth of the workforce originally envisioned.

And yet, the scene at the so-called Poletown plant is hardly one of defeat. Following a $336 million investment and several months of employee training, Chevy Volts are now rolling down the same line that builds the hoary but quality-leading Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne. The Volt would have to vastly exceed sales expectations to bring the plant up to its capacity of more than 200,000 vehicles per year, but the brightest example of what the "new" GM is capable of may yet outshine this facility's checkered past. - David Zenlea

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1coolguy
GREAT CHOICE!!!The Volt is BY FAR the biggest game changer in the auto industry since, I guess, the Prius, only this is so far advanced that anyone buying a Prius from here out is simply uninformed. GM has hit a grand slam (finally) with this car and as battery technology improves and the pricing drops (remember plasma TV's @ $6,000 when they first came out?)I see a $25k Volt in the not-too-distant future and when that happens together with improved batteries, it's over for the competition.
etingwall
@jdmcderm: Automobile of the Year is always a new car. That means our winners have always been on sale for less than a year when announced.@CarGuyAZ: We aren't trying to "push" cars on anybody. With unparalleled access to vehicles, engineers, and executives, we're in a unique position to evaluate products and know what automakers are planning for the future. We know automakers are working on powertrains very similar to the Volt's, and it's GM's profound first step into a new technology that merits acknowledgment.Also, no one at Automobile Magazine has ever insinuated that the Volt will sell in high volumes; Automobile of the Year isn't about predicting the most popular car, as evidenced by past winners like the Nissan GT-R and Audi R8.
CarGuyAZ
Apparently all the automotive magazines must be owned by the same mindless individuals. All the magazines are apparently trying to push the same crap on the American consumer. Do you really believe Americans are going to rush out now in this economy and buy a 40K piece of crap from a company that can't get it's act together? They've already robbed the American tax payers with the auto bailout so why not bail them out with a glowing review of another worthless product that no one with buy even with a government sponsored tax break. I hope you don't consider yourselves journalists. At this point you've become a printed version of an infomercial for GM. Government needs to stay out of the car business and maybe GM too.
tmvu13
What a joke. Automobile Mag writers really are sipping the kool-aid. I'd like to see GM survive, but this car won't save them. Goes 40 miles and then switches to gasoline. That's useless! I still have to use gasoline in one day's worth of driving--isn't the point to get away from that? I'd rather get a Leaf--perfect for a weekend of driving in and around the city (but obviously not long road trips). Do you know which car will save an entire car company? The Jag XJ. That should've been the car of the year.
dseder
The Volt truly deserves this "Automobile of the Year" award. Its unique powertrain makes it the only all-electric commuter car (for most U.S. workers) that can also be a family's only car, thanks to its innovative range-extending operation. As for complaints about government tax credits, the Nissan Leaf receives the same consideration, and 60,000 Toyota Priuses have qualified for U.S. government tax credits, too. Fair is fair! True, GM has had serious problems in the recent past, but this car, along with the fantastic new Chevy Cruze and other great, new GM vehicles means that Chevy, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC all deserve the chance to re-establish the trust and admiration of the American public. Thank you, Automobile Magazine, for recognizing the importance of the Volt's technology in advancing the future of the automobile as we know it.
gybognarjr
A company,which robbed its shareholders, bondholders and the taxpayers, together with the UAW, makes a sos-so car, does not even deserve mentioning. Ten years late, five years behind and a totally wrong concept from Government Motors is garbage. Anything that has to be sold to people by giving them money from their neighbors $7,500.00 to buy an overpriced dead end technology is a crime, only politicians can commit, without being hanged.
Jim.Kanna
Of course it's the Automobile of the Year. Ten years from now, when there are scores of other cars on the road that are just like it, all the negative naysayers in the world couldn't and wouldn't have been able to change the Volt as the best choice in 2010 for AOTY - it's that groundbreaking, that smart, that good of a design concept, making everyone elses hybrids look bad by comparison. Forget your Gov't Motors hangups and your anti-anti American made bias and recognize GM has a better idea - and they executed it very well (this time). Give them credit where deserved, they have outdone the competition. But if, in your closed minded stubborness, you should find yourself one day sitting by the side of the road, out of juice, waiting for the tow truck in your all electric Leaf (or whatever)and you spy one of these Volts pass you by, just remember, you read it here first.
2ks2k
Terrible choice. Wouldn't buy anything from Government Motors until it is returned to private ownership. It is ridiculous to think of paying $40k+ for a car that only goes 40 miles on electric and then it goes to gas. The only way it will sell is with government incentives which are taken from the rest of us taxpayers to make it cheaper for a few. If it was on a level plane, few if any would sell.
jdmcderm
You guys have officially jumped the shark. Because the Volt was delayed, the PR wizards at GM have whipped you all into a frenzy. Can we see if the car works as advertised and stands the test of at least a year's time on the road before we start heaping accolades on it? I want GM to be successful also, but willing it into existence don't make it so. Bottom line, you wouldn't have given this award to an unproven new model from any other carmaker. However, if you turn out to be right, you'll be heralded as geniuses.

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