Recently, the Chevrolet Volt, GM’s answer to the Toyota Prius, was rolled out for market with great fanfare and rejoicing, with President Obama himself in attendance, announcing the new age of hybrid motoring.
Not only will the environment be made a little cleaner, but a lot of good, Democratic-voting union jobs will be saved, which those rascally Republicans were not in favor of, the President was careful to remind one and all.
But does the Chevy Volt live up to the hype? Not so much, suggests Edward Niedermeyer in a recent piece in the New York Times:
“GENERAL MOTORS introduced America to the Chevrolet Volt at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show as a low-slung concept car that would someday be the future of motorized transportation. It would go 40 miles on battery power alone, promised G.M., after which it would create its own electricity with a gas engine. Three and a half years – and one government-assisted bankruptcy later – G.M. is bringing a Volt to market that makes good on those two promises. The problem is, well, everything else.
“For starters, G.M.’s vision turned into a car that costs $41,000 before relevant tax breaks … but after billions of dollars of government loans and grants for the Volt’s development and production. And instead of the sleek coupe of 2007, it looks suspiciously similar to a Toyota Prius. It also requires premium gasoline, seats only four people (the battery runs down the center of the car, preventing a rear bench) and has less head and leg room than the $17,000 Chevrolet Cruze, which is more or less the non-electric version of the Volt.
“In short, the Volt appears to be exactly the kind of green-at-all-costs car that some opponents of the bailout feared the government might order G.M. to build. Unfortunately for this theory, G.M. was already committed to the Volt when it entered bankruptcy. And though President Obama’s task force reported in 2009 that the Volt ‘will likely be too expensive to be commercially successful in the short term,’ it didn’t cancel the project.”
As Rush Limbaugh tartly opined on his radio show, for just a few dollars more, one can buy a real car, say, a BMW or a Lexus.
Mind, the idea of an electric car (the Volt is technically not a hybrid, as it uses the gasoline engine to recharge the battery and not power the car) is an appealing one. One can cruise down the road with the greatest of ease while paying just a fraction that the other poor schlubs with conventional cars do for gasoline.
On the other hand, the Volt appears to be just the sort of car one would expect to come out of “Government Motors,” whose design is dictated by people who have not one iota of experience on how to design cars that people actually want to drive. The desire of people to be ecologically correct will only go so far. People do not want the driving experience to be an exercise in self-abuse.
Elon Musk, who owns an electric car company called Tesla, seems to realize this. The first car in the Tesla pipeline is an uber-expensive sports car called the Roadster, which appropriately looks sleek and sexy to drive. Following up will be the Model S, a four-door, high-end sedan, which seats seven and looks quite sporty, more like a BMW than a box on wheels.
There are two problems with electric cars. Battery technology is not quite there yet to create a battery that can hold a charge long enough to compete in the range of conventional gasoline cars. Also, lithium ion batteries are expensive.
Hence, the fact that electric cars coming to the market are heavily dependent on government subsidies, which means we’ve all put a down payment on the Volt and even the Model S whether we want to or not. Add to that the many billions the government has spent developing the Volt and retooling GM factories to produce it, and there is every potential that it will become a government-financed Edsel.
Will the Chevy Volt Save GM?, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, August 11th, 2009
G.M.’s Electric Lemon, Edward Niedermeyer, New York Times, July 29th, 2010