Well-respected car guy and General Motors supporter, Bob Lutz, posted a piece on Forbes that attacked “right-wing” criticism of the Chevy Volt. With all due respect and noting that I have nowhere near the credentials of Mr. Lutz, I feel it appropriate to respond to the ridiculous defense that we have seen of a vehicle that is costing taxpayers billions of dollars while offering little in return. I also have some questions of my own for Mr. Lutz and GM.
First, let’s address the claims that criticism of the Volt is political. Why do those that have different opinions than those supporting the tax subsidization of the Chevy Volt get vilified as right-wing agents with an ulterior motive? It is also the height of hypocrisy to complain about criticism of the Volt being political when the car itself has been nothing but about politics.
Let’s review the history of the Volt. When GM was making a pitch to receive billions of taxpayer dollars for a bailout, they used the Volt as leverage to show what a bright green future was in store if only taxpayers would supply the money. In March of 2009, Obama’s Auto Task Force actually test drove a Volt, as noted in this CNN Money piece, and took the much-hyped vehicle into consideration when determining if they would bail out GM. So, the initial hype started as GM attempted to garner support for a bailout and was later followed by an extravagant Volt rollout, which coincidently, occurred around the time of GM’s IPO.
Mr. Lutz, if GM was concerned about the politics surrounding the Volt, why did President Obama, along with his Energy Secretary, Labor Secretary, Transportation Secretary, and EPA Administrator all attend ceremonies for the rollout? And let’s not forget President Obama telling Town Hall meeting attendants that, if they were upset with the high price of gas, they should buy cars like the Volt. He also claimed he drove one and it was a great car when he actually rolled a few yards in one off the assembly line. So please, stop the false indignation that you are upset with the politics of the Volt after having deceptively hyped the potential for the vehicle and relying on the politically popular nature of the car for bailout support.
Moving on to the Volt fires and NHTSA’s response, let’s not divert attention from what are the most important facts. The Obama Administration has a vested interest in the success of the Volt and GM as he campaigns on a platform that continually cites the perception of success at GM. There is a clear conflict of interest when a government agency is in charge of investigating a government supported vehicle like the Volt. This would be a much more dangerous country if those that speak out against such conflicts are shouted down, as you and your GM supporters want to do. These conflicts can occur in other areas and a President campaigning on GM’s success while maintaining taxpayers’ investment stake in the company sets a horrible precedent. How safe the Volt actually is isn’t the point. The clear conflict of interest is.
Speaking of conflicts, you claimed the Volt was, “…perhaps the finest piece of mechanical technology our country has produced since the space shuttle.” How so? And if you believed so much in the cars potential, why in May of 2009, did you and other insiders at GM sell shares of the company one month prior to filing for bankruptcy?
According to a Reuters’ piece from the time, “GM executive officers and directors were notified a “trading window” had opened” allowing them to sell shares. The SEC was fine with this, despite the fact that you most likely had insider information on the upcoming bankruptcy which was not available to the public. Task Force head, Steve Ratner, admitted that most executives at GM were aware of the plans. Mr. Lutz, can you see that the Obama Administration’s involvement might lead me to question the lack of SEC concern that illegal insider selling may have occurred given the conflict of interest? Was the opening of a “trading window” designed so that cronies of Obama and GM could cash out of their positions while a bankruptcy plan was developed?
Mr. Lutz, the final important point to recognize is that many of us feel it is wrong to give wealthy purchasers of Chevy Volts $7500 of taxpayer money each along with State and other subsidies. You say the Volt is great and you must realize that purchasers are wealthy (like you) and have an annual income averaging over $170,000. Why do we need to give them a handout, particularly when those now in the White House claim that the rich need to pay their fair share? Wouldn’t the wealthy buy this wonderful car without the subsidies? You say you are a conservative Republican; will you support Rep. Mike Kelly’s bill to stop the wasteful subsidies that are going to the wealthy buyers of Volts, as well as those that buy $100,000 Fiskers and Teslas?
Mr. Lutz, you had a wonderful legacy at GM, despite being part of a regime that drove GM into bankruptcy. Do not let your fear that a vehicle you helped promote will go down in history as a politically motivated electric Edsel drive you to further extend the Chevy Volt deception. The hoax that the Volt has tremendous demand but supply couldn’t keep up has been exposed. Please don’t try to blame any future failure of the Volt (like the measly January sales of 603) on those that warned against over-hyping the vehicle. And I suggest that you advise your friends at GM that they should stop wasting more millions of dollars on the ridiculous Volt ad campaign that tries to tout the vehicle as “the car America needed to build.” I’m sure I will be attacked for daring speak against you, Mr. Lutz, but be assured; politics has nothing to do with it.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.