Does it really matter which automaker will be the first to get plug-in electric vehicles to showrooms? Sure, being first with anything carries a certain amount of prestige, but beyond that?
It matters to Wheego Electric Cars Inc., an Atlanta automaker that few in the industry have heard of. That is exactly why it matters to the people at Wheego.
"We've been operating under the radar screen rather than making a lot of media noise," says CEO Mike McQuary. "But we've got dealers standing by and expect to have the Wheego LiFe on sale in October."
That would be a month earlier than General Motors Co. plans to launch the Chevrolet Volt and two months before Nissan North America starts selling the Leaf. McQuary sums up the benefit of being first in two words: "Barack Obama."
In presenting his energy policy plans in March, President Obama vowed: "Before the end of the year, we'll purchase the first 100 plug-in electric vehicles to roll off American assembly lines."
Says McQuary: "He was probably assuming they would be Chevy Volts, but they will be Wheego LiFes. We've contacted the White House to make sure they know."
But even assuming the Obama administration agrees that Wheego has beaten GM to the punch, how will that help Wheego?
The executive answers: "It would be quite a coup having the president come to our shop in California, having the national media see the White House buy our cars."
And what did the White House say when Wheego called to alert it to Wheego's launch plans?
"They told us they've never heard of us."