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Will GM’s Shakeup Kill the Volt?

The government-appointed chairman is bringing big changes to the automaker.
December 4, 2009

It’s not clear yet what the management shake-ups at General Motors this week, which sent the CEO, Fritz Henderson, packing and shuffled around senior management, will mean for the Chevrolet Volt, the much hyped electric vehicle (with a gas engine for added range) due out next year.

Fans of the Volt–which is also called a plug-in hybrid–have been nervous about its fate ever since an Obama administration commissioned report in March said the vehicle isn’t likely to be an economic success. The car is likely to be too expensive, it said, which is due to its large battery pack. Fans have got more reason to worry now that the man the federal government appointed as chairman of GM, Edward Whitacre, is taking over as CEO. Although he says he’s taken the position temporarily, his move puts him in a better position to influence day to day operations and decisions about products. That could hurt the Volt if he agrees with the government report.

Since last March, when the government bought a 61 percent share of the company, GM executives have repeatedly said the Volt program will continue, and that the car will come out on time. This week, after Henderson got the axe, it stuck to that story at the L.A. auto show, with vice chairman Robert Lutz highlighting progress on the Volt in a keynote speech. But since then Whitacre has started to make major changes to GM management. It’s unclear what the company will look like when the dust settles.

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