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GM Reverses All-In EV Strategy to Bring Back Plug-In Hybrids

Five years ago, GM spurned hybrids to get to EVs "faster and better than anybody else."
2019 Chevrolet Volt
2019 Chevrolet Volt Chevrolet

General Motors was one of the first to foray into plug-in hybrids, but it abandoned them amid the hype for electric vehicles. Now that automakers are running up against the current limits of EV demand though, they’re looking for other ways to curb fleet emissions. In GM’s case, that way is an about-face and return to PHEVs after completely dismissing their potential just a few years ago.

“Our forward plans include bringing our plug-in hybrid technology to select vehicles in North America,” said GM CEO Mary Barra during a Q4 earnings call transcribed by Automotive News. Barra added that GM still aimed to eliminate its light-duty vehicles’ emissions by 2035, but said that hybrids will fill in the gaps where needed “from a compliance perspective.” She didn’t specify which segments they may occupy, but going by GM’s history, they’ll probably be brilliantly engineered and utterly neglected by marketing. So, get ready to scoop up a 2026 Chevy Volt PHEV or whatever instead of a used Blazer EV.

2018 Chevrolet Volt
2018 Chevrolet Volt. Chevrolet

This strategy is an almost 180-degree turnaround from GM’s electrification trajectory in recent years. Back in 2019, GM president Mark Reuss rhetorically asked: “If I had a dollar more to invest, would I spend it on a hybrid?” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Or would I spend it on the answer that we all know is going to happen, and get there faster and better than anybody else?”

His boss Barra echoed this sentiment a few months later in an interview with MotorTrend.

“So the quicker you get to our goal of zero emissions, the better, and EVs get you there faster,” Barra said. “So why dedicate a lot of capital and engineering into a segment that doesn’t get you to the end game when we know how to do the end game?”

“If you’re a customer-focused company and you’re a company that believes in the science of global warming, why wouldn’t you get to EVs as fast as you can?”

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS
2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV RS. James Gilboy

That attitude made more sense in an era when EV demand was only increasing year over year, and GM was eager to get not just its foot in the door, but its whole leg. In the years since, though, GM’s EV ambitions have been tempered by recalls and lukewarm product launches such as the GMC Hummer EV and aforementioned Blazer EV. Now, with EV demand potentially plateauing (at least for now), automakers are returning to the proven, less compromising option of hybrids. Just like we said they should.

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