This article was my first post on the Chevy Volt, poster child for the dysfunctional union between Barack Obama, GM and Chrysler and the United Auto Worker’s Union. This situation caught my interest because it is a perfect storm of bad policy, pie-in-the-sky expectations, crony capitalism, not-ready-for-prime-time technology and plain old all-American stupidity. I’ll be transferring all of my Volt posts here from the Confederate Yankee Archive, and will continue to update the Volt story in the near future.
If You Build It, They Will Charge–UPDATED! (Originally posted 11-14-10) UPDATE 11-16-10:
Chevrolet has announced that the Motor Trend Car of the Year for 2011, beating out such strong contenders as the much anticipated Ford Fiesta, is…Maestro, drum roll please…the Chevy Volt! The Chevrolet Volt, pseudo-semi-electric car is Motor Trend magazine’s 2011 car of the year. According to the AP:
Motor Trend says the Volt has some of the most advanced engineering ever seen in an American car. The Volt can run up to 50 miles in pure electric mode before a backup gas engine kicks in to give it more range. Motor Trend also said Tuesday that the car is a great value. It costs $33,500 with a federal tax credit, but will likely be cheaper to run than a traditional hybrid. The Volt goes on sale next month.
The EPA has yet to announce a mileage estimate for the Volt (it can’t go on sale without it) and Chevy expects that to happen anytime now. Apparently Motor trend has now upped the Volt’s range by 10 miles over Chevrolet estimates and is somehow seeing amazing value in a compact car that costs $33,500.00, but only with a $7500.00 tax credit. Oh well. Motor Trend also made the Chevy Vega its car of the year back in the 70’s. The more hopeful you get, the less things change.
The ways of American automobile companies are mysterious indeed. Recent evidence would seem to suggest that at least two of the three remaining American manufacturers have abandoned any and all knowledge of how to successfully do business in a capitalist democracy, if, that is, they ever truly knew. There was a time when the “Big Three” as they were once known, all but completely owned the domestic market. But then came the 70’s, Jimmy Carter, long gas lines, and the Japanese, who did learn how to do business in a capitalist democracy from–wait for it–us! Patiently, over time, they improved their products and quality, and always offered high mileage, reasonably priced vehicles, vehicles that slowly but surely began to gain market share.
That was then; this is now. The Japanese are now dominant and the South Koreans are daily gaining market share. The Japanese have even made significant inroads into a mom and apple pie slice of the market: pickup trucks. GM is a majority controlled subsidiary of the Democrat party (OK, to be fair, it’s the US government–the taxpayers–in a for 61% share) and the United Auto Worker’s Union. Chrysler is a slow-walking zombie with pieces falling off every second. The only good news is Ford, the only company that resisted the siren song of government money (and overweening control), which is showing real signs not only of survival, but of long term viability. It introduced, for instance, a standard V6 Mustang with more than 300 HP, capable of 30+ MPG on the highway. Maybe you can have your cake and eat it too.
Perhaps the single most unfathomable practice of American auto manufacturers is how and why they decide to build a given vehicle. It’s widely understood that they spend millions on sophisticated demographic models and surveys, striving to understand and predict every niche of the market so that they can tell how many units of a given model they can expect to sell versus the manufacturing costs and profit potential of that model. Yet, they still manage to produce vehicles that the guys hanging out in the local hardware store could have told them would be major league turkeys before the first vehicle rolled off the assembly line. A case in point: The Chevy Volt.
By now, most have heard the ever changing propaganda emanating from Chevrolet in a manner reminiscent of, of, well, of the Obama Administration explaining why all of the negative effects of Obama Care aren’t bugs, but features! Magnificent selling points that all would embrace if they were only smart enough to understand them. Consider the following conversation between Mr. Average Consumer (MAC) and Obama Motors (OM):
MAC: So the Volt is absolutely, positively electrically driven and will employ super hi-tech battery technology?
OM: Absolutely! Hi-tech! Battery! Green! No pollution! Save the planet!
MAC: So how far does it go on one charge?
OM: Forty miles!
MAC: Forty miles? That’s not very far.
OM: Well, up to 40 miles, under, you know, ideal conditions.
MAC: But is that 40 miles with just the driver? What if you actually carry passengers?
OM: Well, maybe, probably less than 40 miles if you actually carry people…
MAC: Less than forty miles? That’s awful! You couldn’t even get to work and back for sure…
OM: Oh, not at all! Studies show that most people don’t commute that far.
MAC: What studies?
OM: Have I mentioned the 40-mile range?
MAC: But what if I have to use things that drain power, things like lights, turn indicators, air conditioning, the radio, windows, stuff like that?
OM: Well, you know, up to 40 miles, but maybe, probably, less if you insist on using such frivolous, outlandishly luxurious accessories.
MAC: What if I go fast, like 70? Won’t that reduce the range?
OM: Have I mentioned the revolutionary, hi-tech battery? It’s really quiet! Save the planet?
MAC: Don’t lithium-ion batteries contain substances that, if they combine even through a pinhole, spontaneously burst into flame?
OM: Well…did we mention 40 miles…?
MAC: And doesn’t one of those batteries cost about $10,000?
OM: That’s an absolute lie! No more than $7,000-$8,000, maybe…I think…
MAC: How long do they last?
OM: A really, really long time. Trust us on this. We’ll even guarantee them.
MAC: (Sigh) How long does it take to recharge?
OM: With standard 110 volt house current, 8-12 hours.
MAC: Eight to twelve hours?!
OM: Well, maybe longer…
MAC: Longer?! Can’t you do it faster?
OM: Of course! You just have to install a special 220 volt fast charger in your home.
MAC: How much does that cost?
OM: Oh, you know, about, well, $2000.00…
MAC: $2000? For a battery charger?!
OM: But it charges the battery in only about four hours, and if we sell a million or so Volts, it will probably cost less…
MAC: Less? A million or so? Four hours? If the battery is drained, I have to wait four hours to drive the car again?
OM: Of course not! But if you don’t fully recharge, your range will be a lot less…
MAC: Less than what?
OM: Well, 40 miles…
MAC: Never mind. What about charging the car away from home?
OM: Oh, I’m glad you asked! There are plans to install charging stations, you know, like a lot of interest flowing…
MAC: Yeah? Where? How many?
OM: Plans, you know, like real plans…lots and lots, you know, here and there, lots of places, and lots of interest by interested…parties…
MAC: But I’d still have to sit there for four hours?
OM: Not at all! You could, you know, take as little as, for example, two hours…but your range would be less… Catch up on your reading! Commune with nature! Do you knit?
MAC: Knit? Less than…never mind. Doesn’t the Volt actually have a gas engine too?
OM: Well, yes, but that’s just to charge the battery when it drains too far. It will never drive the wheels.
MAC: Wait a minute! You mean that if the battery drains too far, I’m stuck?
OM: Oh no! The gasoline engine will provide enough electric power to the battery to allow you to limp–I mean, sedately motor– home at a very reduced speed, I mean, as long as it’s not too far, you know…40 miles and all…
OM: Did I say that? Ha-ha! I mean that the gasoline engine actually drives the wheels if, you know, the battery gets too low, or if, you know, you want to drive at really crazy speeds…
MAC: What do you mean, crazy speeds?
OM: You know, like around 70…or so…
MAC: What?! But that means that the Volt is just another hybrid!
OM: Have I mentioned hi-tech? Quiet? Revolutionary? Green?
MAC: Oh never mind. Where can I buy one?
OM: For the time being, only in Texas, California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington D.C.
MAC: What? Why only those places?
MAC: Never mind. How much does one cost?
OM: We’re really proud of that! A basic model is only MSRP $41,000!
OM: But the government will give you a $7500 tax credit for each and every Volt you buy!
MAC: Every Volt I buy…? But that means the car still costs $33,500 for a base model…
OM: Isn’t that great…
MAC: …plus $2000 for a home battery charger! That’s $35,500! For a compact car with a range less than 40 miles! Wait a minute…I also have to consider how much in taxes I have to pay to buy my own car!
OM: Green! Revolutionary! Save the planet!
MAC: Hey, you guys said you were gonna make 60,000 of the things. How many are you actually making?
OM: Oh, we’re making, a whole, complete, absolutely making, you know…10,000…
MAC: Ten thousand? Just for those six states?
OM: On no! For all of North America.
OM: How many can I put you down for? One for each day of the week? Green…
And so Chevrolet is producing a compact car with a range of less than 40 miles, a car that is not, in fact, an all electrically driven car, but another sort of hybrid, a hybrid that costs, even with additional taxpayer support beyond the taxpayer’s 61% stake in GM, at least $33,500. And what, pray tell, niche market does Chevrolet hope to fill or create with the Volt? The hopenchange, “yes we can” niche market has been, of late, severely depleted and disheartened. What family could afford to employ a Volt as their sole vehicle? For most, the Volt could not serve as even a reliable second car.
There remains yet another factor that has not been discussed in the media (Hmmm. I wonder why not?): cold weather. Cold drains, even disables, batteries, even revolutionary, green, hi-tech, lithium-ion batteries. The colder the temperatures, the more quickly batteries drain, and in much of America and virtually all of Canada it gets cold enough for long portions of the year to render an all electric vehicle an expensive driveway awning. Patchwork fixes like heated garages and battery heaters are essentially useless. An onboard battery heater will drain the power of the battery it is working to keep warm, further reducing an already reduced range. Will there be a heated garage at work? An outlet for keeping the battery warm enough while it’s being recharged so that it can be recharged? And if it’s cold enough, will a Volt actually make it to work before it loses all of its battery power and is forced to rely on its underpowered gasoline engine? It’s a delicious irony that the Volt works best in warmer climates like Mexico or Central and South America where most people can’t afford to buy one. It’s almost as if it was designed by the government!
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the Volt and GM. Perhaps this really is revolutionary, green technology so powerful that millions will rush to buy this ridiculously overpriced better mousetrap. According to George Will, writing in the November 14 edition of the Washington Post, Marc Reuss, GM North American Division President said:
The early enthusiastic consumer response–more than 120,000 potential Volt customers have already signaled interest in the car, and orders have flowed since the summer–give us confidence that the Volt with succeed on its merits.
Ah! I see. “Enthusiastic response…signaled interest…orders have flowed.” GM is sounding more and more like the Obama administration trying to defend the indefensible every minute. Would this enthusiasm and signaled interest translate to flowing orders without say, the $7500 taxpayer funded tax credit? What merits? And, Mr. Reuss, exactly how many orders, accompanied by cold hard cash, have flowed into GM coffers as yet? Mr. Reuss? Can we expect the same stunning, economic success that was Cash for Clunkers [which, circa December 2011, even the Obama Administration has admitted was a complete and costly failure]?
But let’s assume, just for fun, that the Obamite dream of a bold new green future, led by the hard charging (get it?) Volt, comes true and millions of all electric (sort of) pollution free (not really) cars take to the roadways. Imagine gas at $10 per gallon rising on the skyrocketing energy rates of which Mr. Obama so fondly dreamed when he was candidate Obama, accompanied by tens of millions of convenient electric fast charging stations! What does an hour of fast-charge 220 volt electricity go for these days anyway?
Not so fast. America is just about tapped out on electric capacity, capacity flowing through a crumbling electric generating and transmission infrastructure, an infrastructure that cannot be replaced or augmented. Why not? Because Mr. Obama and all of his allies oppose the building of new power plants, nuclear, coal, even solar and wind. No, I’m not kidding.
The enviros are opposing the building of a solar generation facility in the Mojave Desert. Yes. The Mojave Desert. Something about lizards or toads I think. In addition, the Sierra Club and various other animal rights organizations are preventing the construction of electric generating windmills across the land because their blades kill birds and bats. Electric facilities and transmission towers despoil pristine–and not so pristine–wilderness, etc. And there are various politicians keeping windmills from despoiling their favorite views of nature (and lowering their property values). You name it, someone on the left opposes it and has it tied up in litigation and red tape. Add EPA Chief Carol Browner altering scientific documents and lying about it to make it appear that scientists supported a drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico, combine that with Administration refusal to authorize the building of additional refinery capacity, and the Obama Administration has succeeded in creating a lose/lose situation.
All of us, the American taxpayers, are building a car with not ready for prime time technology, a car that offers no advantage over any other car on the market, to say nothing of any car against which it will directly compete. For the price of a single Volt and charger, one can buy two well equipped Ford Fiestas, cars which achieve 40 MPG in highway driving, are fun to drive, and have a range of at least 400 miles, after which a ten minute stop at any gas station will restore a range 10-20 times that of a Volt.
The Volt should not exist, except as an engineering exercise. That it does exist suggests two possibilities: The Obamites intend to so damage the economy that a Volt will actually be economically feasible, even desirable, or they have no idea whatsoever of reality on any level. On second thought, rack up both of those possibilities. If they get their socialist wishes, we’ll have no choice but to charge. Charge, that is, if there is anyone left in America who can afford a Volt or has access to electricity.