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driving it home

The wagon version of the Chevrolet Cruze is shown to the media during the press day at the 82st Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland.Martial Trezzini/The Associated Press

Even as General Motors was saying it would halt production of the Chevrolet Volt extended range electric car, voters here at the Geneva Motor Show named it and its European counterpart, the Opel Ampera, their European Car of the Year.

"It validates the product story here," GM vice-chairman Steve Girsky told reporters. The Volt was being developed before GM filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, he added, highlighting the company's deep-seated desire to "put a good car on the road."

Good as it is, Volt sales have fallen far short of expectations. That's why GM has said it will stop Volt production for a few weeks, to let sales catch up with inventories.

Speaking of cars that could sell in big numbers, we turn to the wagon version of the Chevrolet Cruze compact that was unveiled here. Canadian Susan Docherty, the president and managing director of Chevrolet and Cadillac in Europe, pointed to the Cruze wagon and asked me: "What do you think?"

I said it would work perfectly in Canada. Bring it on.

"Keep saying that," she smiled; always energetic, always upbeat, always smiling.

So I will. GM is making a colossal mistake here. Hyundai sells a wagon version of the Elantra compact, and it hasn't hurt sales of the sedan one bit.

The Elantra is Canada's second-best-selling car, and the Elantra Touring wagon just gives buyers another alternative in this class. The word is that Hyundai is also set to introduce all-new coupe and hatchback versions of the Elantra.

Meanwhile, Ford sells sedan and hatchback versions of its redesigned Focus and makes money on them, too. The hatchback version of the Toyota Corolla is the Matrix, and it's been a healthy seller in Canada for years, too.

GM's sedan-only strategy for the Cruze is, we're told, simple enough to understand: the company thinks hatchback, wagon and coupe variants would only cut into the profitability of the Cruze. The added cost of selling more variants makes no sense when the Cruze is already a best-seller in strictly sedan form, say company officials.

One report in Automotive News suggests GM types are worried that a Cruze wagon would cannibalize sales of the hot-selling and more profitable Chevy Equinox crossover. This is nonsense.

Hyundai has no trouble selling Tucson and Santa Fe crossovers while also selling Elantra sedans and wagons, and it's the same story for Ford with its Escape crossover, which does not suffer from Ford also having sedan and hatchback versions of the Focus in play.

At least GM is being progressive with powertrains. Next year, Chevrolet will get a diesel-powered version of the Cruze in Canada and the U.S. Now, if only that diesel engine were to come in a Cruze wagon... then GM would be onto something big and daring.