If a report by the Wall Street Journal ends up being true, General Motors will soon have an awfully lonely assembly plant on the edge of the Detroit suburbs. Sources familiar with GM’s product plans tell the publication the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic hatchback and sedan might be killed off as early as this year.
Small in size and powered by a brace of gas-sipping four-cylinders, the Sonic hit the market in late 2011. The model, produced at Orion Assembly in Michigan, came to be in the wake of the recession, offering buyers affordability and frugality with a “Made in America” stamp. In the ensuing years, however, buyers began moving onÂ â€” and upÂ â€” from small economy cars.
The rationale behind the decision to discontinue the Sonic (which GM has not confirmed) comes down to economics and falling sales figures, the sources claim. Sonic sales are down over 21 percent this year, with volume dropping by over two-thirds since the model’s best sales year of 2014. As well, American factory space is too precious for declining, low-margin models. Outsourcing production of small cars or cancelling it altogether has become the norm for domestic automakers.
Currently, Orion builds only the Sonic and Bolt electric car. Saved with a $545 million investment in 2010, the plant once cranked out the Buick Verano â€” until GM ceased production of the compact sedan in late 2016. That left extra space at Orion that could be used for high-margin models. If the Sonic goes, there’s no telling what may fill the unutilized space, but the good money lies on models with a rear liftgate and electrified powertrain.
GM hasn’t backed off its promise for 20 EV models by 2023, and the Bolt’s architecture and components will surely form the basis of one or two new models. We’ve been hearing about a Buick-badged, Bolt-based crossover for some time, and the automaker said late last year that the first two new electric models should appear within 18 months. That means we might see their debut during the next auto show circuit.
Orion seems an obvious locale for such models, though the term “high-margin” doesn’t apply to EVs â€” at least, not yet.
(Update: Michelle Malcho, communications manager for Chevrolet passenger cars and crossovers, replied to TTAC’s query by saying GM will not provide comment on the content of the WSJ report.)
[Images: General Motors]