Obama and the Volt
Joe Nocera's column yesterday took on the campaign against the Chevy Volt, GM's innovative (and expensive) plug-in hybrid that has seemingly had more articles written about it in the conservative press than in car publications. Nocera writes that, contra Neil Cavuto et al, the Volt has much more to do with GM's effort to leapfrog other car companies in producing technologically advanced hybrids than the Obama administration's attempts at environmental industrial policy:
For months, the conservative propaganda machine — including Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Neil Cavuto, the Fox News business editor — had been mocking the Volt, and linking it to President Obama, who has long touted the promise of electric cars. Cavuto, who has called the Volt “roller skates with a plug,” was rumored to be going on the air that very night with yet another Volt hatchet job.
What is the connection between President Obama and the Volt? There is none. The car was the brainchild of Bob Lutz, a legendary auto executive who is about as liberal as the Koch brothers. The tax credit — which is part of the reason conservatives hate the car — became law during the Bush administration.
Nocera is on to something when he says that the conservative focus on the Volt has much, much more to do with politics, especially the politics of Obama's stimulus and energy policies, than it has to do with the merits of the car. But I think Nocera, in his effort to combat the doggedly anti-Obama conservative media, may actually be giving the Obama administration too little credit when it comes to the Volt as well as underplaying how much Obama personally is tied to the vehicle.
After all, the stimulus package included all sorts of supports and inducements for electric cars and plug-in hybirds. In ProPublica, Michael Grabell described the administration's substantial efforts to expand the supply of and market for electric and hyrbid vehicles. For example, the stimulus included more than $1 billion in supporting and expanding the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries (the batteries found in electric cars and hybrids, including the Chevy Volt). Total government support for electric cars came out to $2 billion. Then there's the federal support for GM's successful reorganization which allowed them to ever pursue forward-looking projects like the Volt in the first place. On the regulatory side as well, there has been a concerted effort to make the country a friendlier place for electric and hybrid vehicles; the new mileage standards proposed by the EPA, which have gotten the support of automakers could dramatically expand the market for higher-mileage vehicles as car companies have to comply with yearly gas-mileage improvement targets through 2025.
Obama, too, has proudly and publicly associated himself with these efforts, and has specifically praised and the Volt. In February, Obama said that, "five years from now," when he could buy and drive his own car again, he would get a Volt. In 2010, the administration was touting its support for electric and hybrid vehicles, specifically a factory in Holland, Michigan, which manufactures the battery for the Volt.
Of course, the Volt is a Chevy product, through and through, envisioned by legendary auto designer (and staunch conservative) Bob Lutz. But the environment necessary for the Volt to thrive will be one largely created by the Obama administration. That doesn't make the conservative attacks on the Volt any more fair or true, but it does mean that Volt fans maybe ought to be defending the administration's efforts, or at the very least acknowledging them.