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Volt

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I must have a soft spot for GM. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the 1959 Olds 98 we got in my childhood. Or my reading a few years later of Alfred Sloan’s My Years with General Motors, an odd choice for a 12-year-old. And then there were my Pontiacs, the 1974 Grand Am and the 1984 6000 STE. Two great cars. (Well, great if you ignore the idiosyncrasies of the Grand Am’s electrical system, which plagued it to the end. My favorite moment was the day I was driving back to my Cambridge apartment when I applied pressure to the brake pedal and the interior dome came on. Fortunately, so did the brakes. After I had several days to enjoy this new feature, I brought the car to the dealer to put it to an end.)

In any case, I’ve been enjoying all the great press the Chevy Volt has been receiving. I almost wrote about it last month, when the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil gave it a rave review, calling it “the company’s most technologically significant car since the 1912 Cadillac” and “a spark of genius.”

I get it. A lot of people don’t like GM because: 1) the bailout, or 1a) Obama; or 2) the United Auto Workers; or 3) because some Monte Carlo or Cutlass Sierra or deuce-and-a-quarter left them walking a long time ago. That’s understandable. These are sour times. But for the moment, we should suspend our rancor and savor a little American pride. A bunch of Midwestern engineers in bad haircuts and cheap wristwatches just out-engineered every other car company on the planet. And they did it in 29 months while the company they worked for was falling apart around them. That was downright heroic. Somebody ought to make a movie.

I’m writing about the Volt today because Motor Trend, in its January 2011 issue, has named it the Motor Trend Car of the Year. And because they are standing up to America’s biggest bully, Rush Limbaugh.

The award first. Motor Trend opens its piece on the Volt as follows:

“I expected a science fair experiment. But this is a moonshot.”

Chris Theodore is a wily veteran of the auto business, a seasoned development engineer whose impressive resume includes vehicles as thoughtfully executed as the Chrysler minivan and as tightly focused as the Ford GT.

As one of the consultant judges on this year’s COTY panel, Chris brought the deep insight and professional skepticism you’d expect of someone who’s spent his entire working life making cars. But our 2011 Car of the Year, Chevrolet’s ground-breaking Volt, has blown him away.

“This is a fully developed vehicle with seamlessly integrated systems and software, a real car that provides a unique driving experience. And commuters may never need to buy gas!”

Like all of us on the staff at Motor Trend, Chris is an enthusiast, a man who’ll keep a thundering high-performance V-8 in his garage no matter how high gas prices go. But he nailed the Volt’s place in automotive history: “If this is the brave new world, then it’s an acceptable definition.”

In the 61-year history of the Car of the Year award, there have been few contenders as hyped — or as controversial — as the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt started life an Old GM project, then arrived fully formed as a symbol of New GM, carrying all the emotional and political baggage of that profound and painful transition. As a result, a lot of the sound and fury that has surrounded the Volt’s launchhas tended to obscure a simple truth: This automobile is a game-changer.

The conclusion: “Moonshot. Game-changer. A car of the future that you can drive today, and every day. So what should we call Chevrolet’s astonishing Volt? How about, simply, Motor Trend’s 2011 Car of the Year.”

Now, about that bully. He’s been attacking the Volt at least since late July. In the wake of Motor Trend’s award, he attacked again, and the magazine’s Todd Lassa chose not to turn the other cheek. Here’s a sample.

… you continue to attack it as the car only a tree hugging, Obama-supporting Government Motors customer would want. …

In its attempt to force cars that don’t use much gas on us — how un-American/un-ExxonMobil/un-Halliburton is that? — the Obama administration is offering a $7,500 tax credit on the Chevy Volt, grabbing tax breaks and credits right out of the deserving, job-creating pockets of America’s richest individuals. How dare he?

This is another of your distortions, Rush, repeated by the otherwise more level-headed George Will in The Washington Post last Sunday. The $7,500 Obama tax credit is an expansion of President Bush’s hybrid credits from the last decade. The Obama tax credit extends to the new Nissan Leaf, too, but if you or Will slammed that car, I’ve not heard or read it. I’d be surprised if you did, though, as Nissan is building the Leaf in a non-union factory in a right-to-work state represented by two Republican senators. A factory located there because Tennessee offered Nissan big tax credits. Maybe you’re worried that if the $7,500 tax credit works, too many people will buy the Volt, and that could reduce the need for oil drilling tax credits?

GM designed the Chevy Volt after its failed experiment with the EV1, which was its attempt to respond to a California mandate. States rights, you know. While Toyota was developing, and eventually selling the hybrid Prius in ever-greater numbers, GM decided to move beyond the Prius-model with a new kind of technology that’s not quite plug-in hybrid, not quite pure electric.

It unveiled the Chevy Volt concept at the 2007 Detroit auto show. That means GM began working on it before the November 2006 elections, when the Republican Party had majorities in the House and Senate, before President Bush had signed a single veto. Bob Lutz, who famously decreed, “Global Warming is a crock of shit,” introduced the car two years before Bush gave GM its first bailout from TARP pocket change. This was two-and-a-half years before Obama’s Automotive Task Force forced GM into bankruptcy.

All the shouting from you or from electric car purists on the left can’t distort the fact that the Chevy Volt is, indeed, a technological breakthrough. And it’s more. It’s a technological breakthrough that many American families can use for gas-free daily commutes and well-planned vacation drives. It’s expensive for a Chevy, but many of those families will find the gasoline saved worth it. If you can stop shilling for your favorite political party long enough to go for a drive, you might really enjoy the Chevy Volt. I’m sure GM would be happy to lend you one for the weekend. Just remember: driving and Oxycontin don’t mix.

Hooray for Motor Trend. And for Chevrolet. If I were in the market for a car, I know the first one I’d be looking at. If only it were available here.

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