General Motors showed off its Chevy Volt at the TechWeek conference last month at the Merchandise Mart. | Chandler West~Sun-Times
Updated: August 21, 2012 6:31AM
The Chevrolet Volt has won car of the year honors in the U.S. and Europe, has sold more units so far this year than it did in all of 2011 and represents what Motor Trend magazine calls “a game changer” that boasts “some of the most advanced engineering ever seen in a mainstream American automobile.”
So why are a few vocal talking heads trying to poison the well on innovative American technology by attacking the Volt?
Maybe they want GM to fail because of the bailout. Maybe they hate President Barack Obama so much that they’ll attack anything he mentions favorably. Maybe they want to see oil companies continue to have an undue influence on our country’s economy, politics and foreign policy.
No matter the reason, it’s about talking points and pure spin, not reality, and the attacks are flat-out wrong.
As Bob Lutz, the former GM executive and outspoken climate change denier who championed the idea for the Volt often says, the Volt project started in 2006, long before Obama became president. And it was former President George W. Bush, not Obama, who pushed for the federal tax credit for purchasing the Volt.
I bought my Volt not because I’m a former Chevy dealer, but because it is a fabulous car. I cruise around the Chicago area, relying on battery power for over 80 percent of my driving miles. When the electric charge runs out, the car seamlessly switches over to using gas as its power source. Running on gas, I get about 40 mpg. Add in my electric-only miles, and I average over 145 mpg.
It drives like a dream — quiet and smooth. Everybody who sees my car loves it. My passengers give me enthusiastic reviews.
I also love my Volt because, like all electric cars, it helps curb what President George W. Bush called our addiction to oil. The more people drive electric cars, the less we have to rely on other countries — including some troubling ones — for oil. We also pollute less and contribute less to climate change.
I’m not saying it’s perfect. There are two problems with electric cars.
One challenge is price. The Volt starts at $32,000 after a federal tax credit. The price tag may put electric cars out of reach for a lot of people, even with the tax break. That soon will change and prices will come down. Like today’s Volt owners, the early owners of personal computers paid a premium to be the first to have the newest and best technology. They played an invaluable role in fostering the digital revolution.
The other issue is range anxiety. That’s not an issue for the Volt, because it seamlessly switches to gas when the battery gets low. But electric-only cars have limits. I’ve read that nearly 80 percent of Americans drive less than 40 miles a day. So, for example, a Nissan Leaf — an all-electric car with a 70-to-100 mile range — would work for most Americans most days, but not for every American every day. As public charging stations become more common and fast-charging technology improves, all-electric vehicles will become more attractive for more people.
Why should Americans care about electric cars? Aside from the environmental and national security benefits inherent in using less oil, there is the economic argument. The U.S. auto industry cannot cede this valuable market to foreign automakers. American automakers need to stay in the ballgame if they want to remain competitive in the world market and create new jobs.
Let’s recognize the Volt for what it is: an innovative cutting-edge technology that is helping to re-establish the U.S. as a worldwide leader in the automotive industry. As Motor Trend said, it’s a game-changer. And it is, quite simply, one terrific car.
Chuck Frank owned Z. Frank Chevrolet, a Chicago-based auto dealership that closed in 2008 when he retired.