The brutal 2012 election -- for the Volt
Peter Brown is the publisher of Automotive News.
General Motors has a problem with the Chevrolet Volt. This poor little electric car has become conflated with President Obama.
Last week, I was in an upscale restaurant -- the obligatory Ferrari and Bentley out front -- with several nice, prosperous couples. Obama's name came up occasionally, not in a good way.
The cordial woman next to me sneered about "Obama's exploding cars!" Everyone nodded.
"What cars are those?" I asked disingenuously, knowing the answer.
"The Volt," she said.
"Obama has nothing to do with the Volt," I said. "And it never exploded. Some weeks after a government crash test, when the government didn't de-charge the battery, the battery caught fire."
"Oh," she said.
"And Bob Lutz, a Republican and global-warming skeptic, launched the Volt project in 2006, two years before Obama was elected."
"I didn't know that," she said.
The man on her left saved her. "How does the Volt work?" he asked.
Nobody had a clue. They knew only that Obama bailed out GM, so they hate the Volt.
The Volt, I explained, is an electric car that plugs in and runs 30 or 40 miles on that juice. After the battery is largely discharged, a gasoline engine drives a generator that powers the electric motors, solving the range problem.
The Volt's flaw is not explosions but price. One gentleman at the table then triumphantly said it was for "limousine liberals."
So GM faces dual challenges: 1) Many people have no idea how the Volt works, and 2) many see it as the taxpayers' bailout boondoggle.
It's going to take a long time to explain the Volt to people and in this angry political climate to separate it from the bailout.
But some good news for GM: The man who asked how the Volt works -- no limousine liberal -- said that now that he understood it, he'd go take a test drive.
It's a start.
You can reach Peter Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.