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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Government Motors Has a Great PR Day

If you've ever been to an auto show, you're likely to see some very cool concept cars. For instance, back in 1986, I saw a car with a map that could give directions in it. It was quite a concept back in the 1980's. At this past year's auto show, Saturn had a concept car that was a hybrid that runs on battery and natural gas. This car was still year's away from being on the market. The thing about concept cars is that the technology is always fascinating. Can you imagine how innovative it was in the mid 1980's to see a car that could give you directions?

So, it was a bit puzzling that everyone is going so ga ga over the GM Volt.

General Motors said Tuesday its Chevrolet Volt rechargeable electric car should get 230 miles per gallon of gasoline in city driving, more than four times the mileage of the current champion, the Toyota Prius

Yes, I realize that the number quoted is eye popping, but so was a map that could you anywhere in the mid 1980's. Yet, I don't remember the hoopla surrounding that concept car when it rolled out of the auto show in 1986.

It's true that the Volt isn't so much a concept car but one that is near ready for production. Of course, this same Volt has been ready for production for the last four years. In fact, at the last three auto shows I attended, the Volt was supposed to be out the very next year. Now, it's once again scheduled to be officially rolled out at the end of 2010.

Yet, the hoopla surrounding this announcement has been fierce and overwhelming. A spokesperson for Center for American Progress called the Volt a "game changer". Here's a car that won't be out for a year and a half at a minimum and it's being characterized as a "game changer". In fact, the success of the Volt is integral to the success of the Obama administration. Its out of this world gas mileage, not verified yet by the EPA, fits into an overall strategy of turning us green, energy efficient, and away from oil. Its success would mean that GM would be successful and thus would make the government's takeover of GM be seen as a success.

So, it's not surprising that the Center for American Progress, run by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, would consider this car the "game changer". Don't get me wrong, I hope the Volt is everything that they say it is. That's still far from clear. First, it will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000 per year. Second, a plug in is not exactly perfect for everyone. Third, at the last auto show, the numbers were significantly more conservative than they are now. What I don't want is for news to turn into propaganda. A car still a year and a half, minimum, from being ready for sale shouldn't get this kind of hoopla. All concept cars have innovative technologies and so the Volt is no different. What's different is that the Volt is owned in part by the government, and it's part of an overall vision that the administration has for the industry and the country. I hope that's not what's driving the hoopla surrounding the roll out of this news. The hoopla seems to be way over done. After all, so far it's made exactly ZERO dollars for GM. Maybe, we should all temper the excitement until we have an actual car to examine.


Anonymous said...

"In fact, the success of the Volt is integral to the success of the Obama administration."


Ok, I'm back. I just spent the last 15 minutes laughing hysterically.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'm about as convinced the Volt will make it to market as I am that Mark Prior will make it back to the majors.

I would very highly doubt the Volt will be profitable, even at $40,000.

As for the Volt being integral to the success of the Obama administration? Its success isn't even integral Fritz Henderson and Bob Lutz keeping their jobs, much less will it have anything to do with Obama.

Anonymous said...

There are limits to fuel consumption dictated by the laws of physics.
Drag as one travels through the air, rolling resistance of tires and lifting the weight of the vehicle up and down hills are the main contributors to consumption. Regeneration can improve things with the motion up and down hills, but efficiency of the process is limited.
The numbers quoted seem like they could be pushing the physical limit.