By on April 4, 2018

2017 Chevrolet Sonic

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 on — and up — 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.

2017 Chevrolet Sonic, Image: General Motors

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 — 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 — 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]

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32 Comments on “So Long, Sonic? Chevrolet Subcompact Said to Be on the Chopping Block...”

  • avatar

    Would be interesting to see how real-transaction prices compare between Sonics and today’s Ace of Base Spark.

    • 0 avatar

      I purchased my ’15 Sonic LT brand new for $12,500. MSRP was $17,500. Mine was a manual and was a end-of-year clearance, so they were pretty desperate to move it off the lot. At that price, I have power windows, door locks, cruise control, bluetooth, alloys, and a standard CD radio with USB. Great deal!

    • 0 avatar

      Compare the Sonic prices to the Cruze. The 2017 Cruze has very high incentives and gets similar gas mileage with more space. It’s a tight space between the Spark and the Cruze.

      • 0 avatar

        That was my second thought. To go from a basic Spark for $10k, to what sounds like about $12,5k for a Sonic, to maybe $14k for a heavily discounted lot-poison Cruze LS? It’s crowded space, until I suppose you consider that from $10,000 to $14,000 is percentage-wise quite a leap.

  • avatar

    “In a flat world, you can’t be secure in your home market if you aren’t able to compete in others”

    -Sergio Marchionne

  • avatar

    Made in USA? Did they let people know that?
    I would have been interested if I had known.

    • 0 avatar

      Not just made in the USA, but a blast to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d read in the past that the Sonic was built at Orion Township, but since the advertising didn’t mention that, I didn’t really think about it.

      They wouldn’t have to scream it, I just wish they had made people aware of the fact. It’s definitely better looking than its predecessor, the Aveo. I imagine most people just assume that the Sonic is built in Korea, too.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve Biro

        For all those who say if they had known the Sonic was built in the U.S., they probably would have bought one: Put your money where your mouth is. You know now and the Sonic is still in production. Why not go out and buy one? If sales are down, the deals are probably pretty good.

        What I don’t understand is why if one has any interest in the car at all, why one wouldn’t have enough intellectual curiosity to find out where it’s made. It wouldn’t have been difficult. Perhaps some assumed it was made in South Korea. I don’t think final assemly point even enters the mind of most Americans.

        • 0 avatar

          That was the big selling point for me; made in America. Being a competent little car didn’t hurt either.

          When I did buy mine, the dealer did try to steer me to a Spark, and I refused based on it being made in Korea.

          So yes, I did put my money where my mouth is.

          Chevy’s marketing didn’t scream that it was American made from the mountain tops, but the sales brochures did proudly proclaim it was the only subcompact made in the US. Plus almost every review on this car mentioned the fact too. I thought every car enthusiast would’ve known

  • avatar

    “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.”

    I don’t see anything fully electrified being profitable for GM. Since GM is threatening to shut down Daewoo, I see this as the new home of the Buick Ensure. Watch and see.

  • avatar

    Shame they didn’t listen to us and build a Sonic SS as the chassis was 100% there. The facelifted front end is terrible and looks like what would have happened if the beancounters had their way at the debut; I appreciate the canister lights and proportional grilles of the early models. Also loved the motorcycle gauges they put in this and the early Spark.

  • avatar

    This was the only car made in america that could have gone head to head with the VW golf. another wasted non effort by GM. instead let the japanese and germans own the tuner market and continue their ever growing presence there. Way to go GM!

  • avatar

    I doubt the bolt is enough to keep a plant alive so they will need something, can not blame GM small cars do not sell well in the land of cheap gas.

  • avatar

    This would be a shame. The Sonic is a great little subcompact and even though it’s getting a little dated, is still competitive.

    I have a ’15 Sonic hatch and love the little thing. It has a big car feel with large seats, plenty of front leg and headroom, and has a refined, quiet ride. Compared to a Fit or Versa, the Sonic was much more refined with NVH. The five-speed manual is pretty slick and shifts fluidly, the handling borders on fun, and I can eek out 43mpg on the highway.

    I even like the quirky, unique styling touches (digital dash, quad headlights), and the fact that it was made in the U.S. made it an even more appealing purchase.

    After three years of ownership, I’m impressed and thrilled with the car. I plan on keeping it for many more years.

    The restyle for ’17 I think took some of the appeal of the car and made it much more generic

    • 0 avatar

      I’m a Sonic fan too, at least a fan of the hatch. Drives like a VW Golf, parks like a Fiat 500, buys like a Hyundai Accent. Pretty formidable combo if you’re in the market for a small car. It’s just that few people are anymore — I think the bulky SUV arms race is making people feel physically unsafe driving a small car. Their answer seems to be to drive a small CUV instead, which from a physics standpoint is probably less safe still (at least a low-riding hatch isn’t tippy). But consider that the Chevy Trax built on the same platform sells okay, and the Buick Encore built on the same platform sells more than okay.

      (The Encore’s seats are woeful, but its Easter-egg styling grows on you, the deals are good, and you can now get a slightly less anemic step-up engine…pre-Trifecta’d presumably.)

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    If there is still demand for a model like the Sonic in the GM line they can give us the Opel Corsa. It’s also a fun hot hatch.
    It’s planned replacement is most likely PSA based.

    • 0 avatar

      There isn’t though. Whats left of Detroit can’t profit in those ultra small segments and never should have been in them. There is a reason why Ford especially put all of its smaller stuff in Mexico, there is not enough margin to justify US supplier/UAW expenses.

  • avatar

    I had one of these as a rental once and enjoyed it. Had I been able to lease this for “free” instead of a Cruze two years ago, I would have done so. Just a decent driving little car, composed and quieter than any small car should be. I liked the “motorcycle-inspired” gauge pod and the original fascia over the current bland version.

    The Fiesta would still get the nod in driving dynamics, but the Sync I (or whatever) system in the Ford was maddening, Chevy’s MyLink being superior.

    GM should have played up the Made in America aspect of this car and even the Cruze. But then that might call attention to how much GM builds elsewhere.

  • avatar

    I had one of these as a rental a few weeks ago and was prepared to dislike it. After 400kms of city and highway driving I came away with a lot of respect for this car. It aims at a specific (albeit declining) part of the market and pretty much hits the target dead on.

  • avatar

    I’ve had a crush on the Sonic since 2015. I ended up buying a Kia Soul that year because I wasn’t convinced about the reliability of the Sonic, but I’m still a bit enamored. If the long list of problems noted on the forums didn’t scare me so much, it would be at the top of the list for cars to buy when it comes time to replace the second car in my family later this year. But it’s tough to pull the trigger on the Sonic when I can get, say, a Corolla iM for just a little bit more and be assured of Japanese-built reliability for 10+ years.

    • 0 avatar

      We all swear we’re going to be good little Suze Ormans and keep our cars for 10 years but gimme a break, we’re car people and we’re going to be dead-bored of any car, especially a Corolla, well before 10 years. YOLO, buy the car you want!

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