Anyone following the Chevy Volt story has seen the internet headlines trumpeting the blog by General Motors’ Bob Lutz in which he blasts Bill O’Reilly, Fox News and what he calls, “the rabid, sadly misinformed right.” It remains a mystery as to why GM would take a political stance, and seek to identify with one ideological faction over another. It’s ridiculous to blame poor Volt sales on a Republican conspiracy. It is also pretty stupid. After all, some of the people who buy cars are Republicans.
Before moving on to the Lutz offensive defense, let’s review the facts. Sales for the much-hyped Chevy Volt have never materialized. Prior to the ridiculous misdirection play by GM and Lutz (yes, he is a paid consultant for GM) that sees Fox News and Rush Limbaugh being vilified for criticizing the Volt, the excuse for the low sales was that supply could not keep up with demand. Another subsidized electric car, the Nissan Leaf, also suffers from poor sales. The Leaf hasn’t been criticized to the extent of the Volt, yet sales have recently been even lower than the Volt. The low sales for EVs can not be blamed on critics. Why does GM continue to lie about the reasons for the low demand for the Volt when the answer is obviously that the car is too expensive to appeal to average consumers who do not see the additional cost outweighed by the value of plugging a vehicle in for 10 hours to go about 30 miles on a charge before switching to premium fuel?
GM and Bob Lutz are now strange bedfellows with others on the political left that can not accept the failure of the Volt. Climatecrocks.com states, “One thing climate deniers seem to hate even more than a black president is the electric hybrid Chevy Volt.” And, “A concentrated attack from the increasingly irrational far right media may have had an impact on sales.” An increasingly crotchety Bob Lutz states in his blog, “So, the loony right has its jaws sunk into the Volt with all the stupid determination of a terrier who has locked his teeth into the mailman’s butt. And with the same result: painful, but without any useful purpose. So, if this continues, will we see the Republican presidential campaign centered on the Volt, with catchy slogans like ‘Vote Republican! Kill the Volt before it kills you?'”
Here’s the thing, auto journalists know the truth about the reason for low Volt sales. The media allows GM and Lutz to make ludicrous accusations and very few question the strategy. So, I know GM continues to deceive when it comes to the Volt, but I still am trying to figure out why. The very intriguing question at this point is, “what does GM have up its sleeve and what’s their next move?”
Usually you can follow the money to discover what motivates such deceit as we have seen with the Volt. When crony companies like General Electric commit to buying thousands of Volts, it is not hard to figure out that they stand to profit from selling charging stations. GE’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, has a cozy relationship with President Obama and the company is one of the main recipients of a green energy policy that continues to gift taxpayer funds to companies like GE. What has become bizarre has been the political nature of GM as we approach the 2012 elections. Why would a publicly traded company focus more on political goals than on profitability?
It is important to remember that the government continues to hold a large stake in GM as they refuse to sell the taxpayers’ “investment” in the company. President Obama appointed GM CEO, Dan Akerson, as well as some of the board members. While claims have been made that the government does not get involved with GM’s business, evidence previously surfaced that the administration was more involved than thought. Emails were discovered that saw a coordination with the Obama team when then CEO, Ed Whitacre, made false claims in a TV ad that GM’s loans were repaid in full. Fairly recent statements by Akerson revealed a desire to see gas prices rise to $5 a gallon, a scenario that would cost GM and shareholders profits. The insane defense of the Volt is also hard to figure. The political nature of the new Chevy Volt defense can not be ignored, especially given the criticism of Fox and Rush Limbaugh which mirrors the Democrats’ political strategy.
The silly defense of the Volt that blames the right for poor sales stinks of politics. It is obvious that the false claims and accusations are not designed to fool those that have followed the Volt story closely and recognize the deception. What amazes me is that a corporation in a competitive industry would risk alienating a large segment of the population by insulting Republicans, conservatives and viewers of Fox. The boycott of GM products to this point has only consisted of those that had strong feelings against the bankruptcy process and the wasting of taxpayer money spent on the Chevy Volt. GM now risks losing more customers because of its politicized strategy which insults many in the country. All just to convince Americans that the Volt is a success? In politics, convincing 51% of voters can make you a winner. In the auto industry, alienating about 40% of the population will certainly make you a loser.
The real mystery is where the Volt story heads now. The most likely scenario is that GE steps up its orders of Volts, possibly along with other groups as influenced by the Obama Administration, just as we approach November elections. It is possible that the sales will not be recorded as GE purchases if vehicles get registered under GE employee names. GM can declare success for the Volt and the left gets to condemn Republicans, claiming that they tried to prevent the car from succeeding which would have cost American jobs. The fact that the public is now aware of this scam may prevent this from playing out.
Another scenario just sees GM continuing to spend tens of millions of dollars on ads and incentives to sell Volts. Much of this will go to Fox News in an attempt to influence coverage of the Volt story. Does anyone else find it strange that GM spends so much advertising the Volt on O’Reilly while acting like they are outraged by his reporting? Viewers of O’Reilly probably have noticed that the coverage isn’t really negative at all. This was a fabrication by Lutz and GM which focused on a couple of infrequent comments and is designed to fool those that don’t watch the show. I can even envision an O’Reilly interview with Lutz being planned with Lutz promoting the Volt on the show. Ratings for the show would benefit, ad dollars would continue to flow and the Volt would get more hype. Sales for the Volt may approach 2,000 to 3,000 a month at an expense of about $10,000 per vehicle in ads and incentives and the still dismal sales figures would be declared a great success since the bar was set so low. Leaf comparisons would continue since the additional millions spent on the Volt will ensure victory over the Leaf.
The last scenario I could see playing out is a final admission by GM that the Volt has failed and they are halting production. This is the least likely option, but the vehicle is costing GM both in terms of credibility lost and profit dollars lost. The failure would be blamed on Republicans who “unfairly” criticized the car and didn’t give it a chance to succeed, thus costing jobs and condemning the planet to a fiery, global warming induced, future catastrophe.
So, stay tuned. The Volt has given us a show that can be described as mystery, comedy and tragedy all in one. Just remember that there has also been much fiction if GM claims that Bob Lutz is not speaking for GM. And many are helping to write the script.
Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.