As regular readers (from Confederate Yankee) know, I’ve been following the misfortunes of the Chevy Volt and similar vehicles since the introduction of the Volt, which followed prodigious media hype and governmental support and subsidy. I’ll soon be transferring my previous writings on the Volt to the dedicated archive here. In those writings, I’ve followed these automotive experiments with considerable interest for several reasons:
(1) The Volt owes its existence to the entirely fanciful greenie dreams and assumptions of the Obama Administration, and to no small extent, to its bullying and infusions of taxpayer cash.
(2) If America is ever going to recover economically, the Federal Government cannot pick winners and losers, particularly in our major industries. It absolutely can’t design and market cars.
(3) The technology simply isn’t ready. It cannot compete in the marketplace and may never be able to compete absent currently unimaginable scientific breakthroughs. (Go here to read a fascinating story about the 1896 Roberts electric car which got—wait for it—40 miles on a single charge, which is actually better than the average Volt with 2011 battery technology.)
(4) Our taxes are paying for a grossly overpriced product that can’t sell without a $7500 government subsidy, and which sells poorly even so.
To date, articles about the Volt have fallen into three broad categories:
(1) The Volt is the car of the future, and despite a few, niggling problems only the scientifically illiterate and impolite would stoop to mention, it’s magnificent.
(2) Analyses based primarily on the Volt’s lack of technological or financial viability.
(3) The Volt is so magnificent it’s almost like, like, Barack Obama or something!
Falling into categories 1 and 3 is a slobbering review by one Gary Gastelu, published at Fox News on September 29. His first two paragraphs set the tone:
“The Chevrolet Volt went on sale about a year ago, and that’s how long it’s been since I’ve driven one. The memories are fond, but can they be trusted? I had that question in mind when I grabbed the keyless entry fob to an updated 2012 model to find out.
The biggest change is that new Volt is both cheaper and more expensive than the one it replaces. Not making sense? Remember, it’s the car of the future, so the laws of pricing that you and I are familiar with don’t apply.”
Gastelu notes that the Volt’s Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price–MSRP–has dropped from $41,000 to $39,995 and also notes that this is only because Chevy cut a number of features to get below what it thinks is the psychological barrier of $40,000. Adding those goodies as options raises the price even higher than the old MSRP. Let’s put aside for the moment GM’s assumption that consumers are sufficiently stupid that dropping the price five bucks below $40,000 dollars will suddenly provoke a stampede of the dim-witted desperate to get into a suddenly affordable Volt.
While virtually every other tester—and private owner—has been getting all-electric mileage in the 25 mile range, Gastelu claims 35-40 miles, and praises the Volt for its pseudo luxury and ride:
“With all of the seats filled with my family this time around, the Volt drove as well as I remember. It’s plenty able to get out of its way, as quiet as many forty grand luxury cars and has a ride that’s smooth enough to make some of them jealous. A soft suspension eats up the bumps while its portliness keeps it from bouncing around.
The interior is a mix of very good and very cheap plastics, but the design is postmodern enough to make up for any material shortcomings. A premium trim package adds better than expected leather to the buckets, steering wheel and armrests, and does wonders for the overall appeal. It’s really a must, as is the crystal clear Bose audio system. When a car is this quiet, you really appreciate how very good or very bad the stereo is, and this one is excellent.”
Damning with faint praise? Wasn’t the Volt’s reason for being it’s supposedly astronomical combined mileage and it’s stratospheric greenie street cred? Since all that Gastelu can laud is its cheap but somehow magnificent plastics and its quiet and stereo, apparently not so much. By “portliness,” Gastelu is avoiding saying that the Volt is very heavy by the standards of the class in which it competes. Odd for a car supposed to achieve miraculous mileage—isn’t light weight important in that pursuit? Yet this is oddly appropriate in that Gastelu notes that his father, “a former teamster and truck salesman…was pretty smitten by the Volt.” Presumably teamsters and truck salesmen appreciate the extra “portliness.”
Gastelu ends with Obama-like optimism (or is that best described as a tenuous grasp of reality?):
“In many ways that is what the Volt still is: a concept car that snuck onto the road. There will be tweaks along the way as Chevrolet figures out what customers are really expecting from it, in the hopes of selling 60,000 units worldwide next year. As of the end of August, the tally stands at less than 4,000, but production is just ramping up and GM says it’ll sell 10,000 by the end of 2011 — just as it promised a year ago.
We’ll be sure to check back and see how it did next year.”
“[Volt] Production was only ramped up to full speed in early September and now stands at a rate of 150 vehicles per day. Many of the 2,367 cars produced during the month are still in transit to dealers and buyers and, as of today, there are only 884 cars in the pipeline that are available for retail sale.
On a conference call with reporters and analysts to discuss September sales, representatives from GM said that the Volt is proving to be a magnet for new, affluent customers to Chevrolet. To date, buyers have an average income of $175,000 and 80 percent of them have been conquest sales, with the Toyota Prius hybrid the most-traded in vehicle.”
My pal Rob at PACNW Righty provides some perspective, and it’s not friendly to GM or its apparently fanciful sales projections for the Volt.
And according to Tom Krisher of the AP, GM is “delaying” plans for a second shift at the plant the Detroit-Hamtramck plant that makes Volts.
“The company said Friday it has found ways to make one shift more efficient, so it can produce the same number of cars as two shifts.”
Incredible! Why haven’t they thought of that before? It just occurred to them?
“Spokesman Chris Lee says GM still will add 300 workers at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant — but not a second shift — by the end of this year to make more Volts.
In May, the company announced it would add a second shift late this year to increase Volt production from 16,000 per year to 60,000. A second shift will be added, though, but not until the last half of 2012, when the plant starts building the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan in addition to the Volt.
GM said the change had nothing to do with Volt sales, which have been slower than expected. The company said demand for the car still is strong and it’s sticking with plans to build 60,000 next year. That number includes the Opel Ampera, a version of the Volt to be sold in Europe.”
According to GM, all of this is a means of producing more with less while actually hiring 300 additional workers—that’s union workers, gentle readers—but paying them a great deal less than legacy workers. Let’s see if I understand this: Volt sales are “slower than expected,” so they’re going to dramatically increase production without increasing production capacity, so they’re going to hire 300 more union workers, but pay them less. Right. That’s how the free enterprise system works, isn’t it?
Have you noticed how every bit of completely foreseeable bad economic news caused by the Obama Administration and its allies is always unexpected? Build a grossly overpriced ridiculously heavy, solution-to-a-nonexistent-problem car with not-ready-for-primetime technology, which costs twice as much as vehicles that get equal or better mileage and slow sales are unexpected? And while the new GM union employees will be paid less, it would no doubt be unexpected should one discover that their union dues are not similarly reduced. And yes, gentle readers, the unions do have—courtesy of Mr. Obama—a substantial ownership stake in GM and Chrysler.
But wait! As late night TV infomercials say, there’s more! The Daily Caller reports on the day-to-day, real people reality of the Volt:
“The White House’s green technology revolution is sitting in an auto lot in Butler, Pa., and nobody is buying.
‘Nobody comes in to ask, nobody comes in to look … The American people are smarter than the government — they’re not buying that car,’ said Republican Rep. Mike Kelly, who owns the auto lot where one of General Motors’ combined electric-and-gasoline powered Volt autos sits unwanted, unsold and unused.
The Chevy Volt would cost its buyer almost $40,000 — even after a $7,500 federal check — and that’s more than twice the price of a comparable Chevy Cruze, Kelly told The Daily Caller. “I just pay interest on it, insure it, and in another week or month, we’ll scrape snow off it.”
His lonely Volt, however, isn’t truly alone. There are 3,370 Volts sitting in auto lots around the country, up from 2,600 on Oct. 3, according to cars.com, one of the nation’s largest automotive classified sites.”
Mr. Obama was hoping that his green jobs revolution would employ as many as 2 million people by 2010. Of course, those numbers never materialized. The Department of Energy forecast more than 120,000 Volts sold every year, beginning in 2012. And that too, will never materialize. The DC noted:
“The car is now being promoted by GM as a ‘loss-leader,’ an experiment that will goose future sales of other cars by boosting the brand. ‘It is an assertion of leadership — there is nothing else like it on the road,’ said company spokesman Greg Martin. By pushing ahead with the car, and using it to help develop a wide variety of alternative power plants, ‘we’re exercising some vision and leadership that people have accused of of not exercising in the past.’
But that’s not what company officials said earlier. In May, GM CEO Dan Akerson envisaged production of 25,000 Volts this year, and 100,000 per year afterwards. These days, cautious company officials talk of 16,000 Volt sales this year, and 60,000 new Volts next year, for U.S. and overseas markets.”
And now we’re to believe that the Volt is a “loss-leader,” which by its example of being grossly overpriced and not actually profitable, will encourage people to buy other GM products? Look Honey! GM is making crappy cars that don’t work as advertised and cost as much as our parent’s homes! Let’s buy one now! If that’s GM’s new and improved business model, no wonder they went bankrupt. But of course, that kind of “vision and leadership” would be mother’s milk to a president who leads from behind and thinks the way to reduce the deficit is to spend America into oblivion.
The Volt remains what I’ve always said it was: a vehicle for the wealthy who want the newest tech toy on four wheels, or who feel the need to demonstrate their rolling green street cred. Even if Mr. Obama hadn’t virtually single-handedly tanked the economy while simultaneously trying to make it even worse, there isn’t a sufficiently large demographic out there with the money and inclination to make the Volt a viable, self-supporting, profit-making product, visionary “loss leader” or not.
In light of the federal buyout of GM and Chrysler, Mrs. Manor and I traded in our Chrysler products and have been driving a Ford Escape and new Ford Fiesta, and we’re quite pleased with them, and with Ford’s independence and reliance on American free market principles. We certainly commend Ford to you. They’re doing it right these days.
I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again: When Mr. Obama leaves office, the Volt will quietly and quickly fade into automotive history as the little, heavy electric car that never had the juice in the first place. And the billions we will have put into the project? They’ve already faded away. All that remains to be seen is how much more taxpayer money will be wasted on this greenie boondoggle between now and the end of Mr. Obama’s term in office—whenever that turns out to be.
UPDATE: 10-27-11 1730 CT: Reader Jesse wrote that they saw a Volt with FedGov plates in DC yesterday and wondered how many Volts the Feds are planning to buy. As it happens, I wrote on that very topic for Pajamas Media–now PJ Media–not long ago. Take the link for the whole article, but the short answer is Mr. Obama has mandated that the entire Federal fleet be Volt-type vehicles by 2015 and has committed to buying an unspecified number of Volts in the short term. In addition, Jeffrey Immelt, the head of his economic advisory council and head of General Electric had made a similar pledge, mentioned at least 12,000. GE stands to benefit handsomely from the sale of charging stations. But of course, that must be a mere coincidence for the most transparent and ethical administration in history.