Ten years ago, General Motors Co. was in deep trouble.
Yet then-CEO Rick Wagoner took the stage at the 2007 Detroit auto show with his usual stoic confidence. On the other side of the wall was the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid concept car that was as much about proving that GM still had a bright future as it was about guzzling less gasoline.
"This isn't about science projects," Wagoner said after unveiling the Volt. "This is about creating cars and trucks propelled in an efficient manner that people really want to own. And that's the way we're going to win."
The concept Volt featured plastics extensively, including body panels and polycarbonate window features. While the version that went into production dropped some of that dramatic plastic styling, it still relies on plastics. Its battery system won the Society of Plastics Engineers' top auto award in 2011 for the injection molded nylon used in its prismatic cells.
The current Volt also added a battery pack with a glass-reinforced polyester structural composite cover.
The Volt didn't keep GM out of bankruptcy (or save Wagoner's job), and consumers didn't embrace it the way GM had projected. But it did set GM on a decadelong path that culminated in the launch late in 2016 of the Chevy Bolt, a battery-powered car that presages a future with self-driving, emissions-free vehicles that consumers might share rather than own.
GM's journey from the Volt to the Bolt mirrors the dramatic shifts and lessons for the entire auto industry over the course of that decade. The fact that the Bolt runs on electricity is now only part of its story: Its greatest legacy may lie in its ability to help GM navigate a future in which automakers that fall too far behind can become obsolete.
The Bolt arrives as automakers race to acquire technology startups, align themselves with ride-hailing companies and battle Silicon Valley for software-development talent. Many of the news conferences that kick off the Detroit show Jan. 9 will focus on that mobility frenzy rather than traditional vehicle debuts.