If you're a GM fan-boy, you're probably a pretty happy camper this week. GM's celebrating its centennial and you've seen the live reveals of both the upcoming Chevy Cruze, the 40 MPG+ econobox you can't ignore yesterday, and today, the Chevy Volt, GM's resuscitation of the electric car. One of these two will save GM, the other will not. If you can't tell from the headline, let's make it clear again: Keep your fancy-pants electric cars, GM — you won't be saved by the Chevy Volt. No, instead, it's the little Chevy Cruze that should get the savior-like halo.
Despite the hype, and as I laid out in a piece today for Popular Mechanics, the Volt, Tesla Roadster, the upcoming plug-in Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight will not be what I'd call mass-market game-changers. More like mass-market hype. Sorry Dick and Jane Average, but unless your real name is Matt Damon, Katie Couric or Ariana Huffington, the high price (plus the added pricing on the sticker from the dealer) and low volume will put these technologically magical marvels of engineering outside your reach. Unfortunately, it's Dick and Jane Average that will need higher fuel economy the most. That's where the Cruze comes in. When the news of the Cruze, the companion car to the Chevy Cobalt to be built at the General's Lordstown, Ohio plant, first broke with little in the way of details, it was the epitome of a non-event — another attempt by GM to produce something in the econobox range. No reason to think otherwise until the second press conference with GM CEO Rick Wagoner a week later. There he laid out expectations on fuel economy for the Cruze. Thanks to the turbocharged 1.4-liter four-banger under the hood, the Cruze is expected to get the astonishing fuel economy of "over 40 MPG." Now 40 MPG may not be as good as what the Volt will get, but I can guarantee you it's better than what 98% of the auto-owning population is getting on the roads now. Add to that the Chevy Orlando, a concept MPV to be unveiled along with its platform-mate, the Cruze, at next month's Paris Motor Show. Unlike the Volt, which is all about the marketing of MPG, the Cruze lineup can give GM the upper hand in bringing MPG to the masses. And they've got some seriously sharp-as-a-knife looks. If GM pulls off the Cruze at these fuel economy numbers and a price in line with the 30 MPG+ marketplace, then they may actually be on to something in the world of the appliance car — and that's what they'll really need to get the company through the first few of their next hundred years.