So Long, Sonic? Chevrolet Subcompact Said to Be on the Chopping Block

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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.

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Mike-NB Mike-NB on Apr 04, 2018

    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.

  • Tmport Tmport on Apr 04, 2018

    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.

    • HotPotato HotPotato on Apr 06, 2018

      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!

  • Tassos Most people here who think it is a good idea have NO idea how much such a conversion costs. Hint: MORE than buying an entire new car.
  • Zipper69 Current radio ads blare "your local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer" and the facias read the same. Is the honeymoon with FIAT over now the 500 and big 500 have stopped selling?
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  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):