A hilarious piece by the Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten on the Chevy Volt:
Here’s the hyphen-heavy heap of hype on the Chevy Volt, GM’s new, highly touted plug-in hybrid electric car: It’s packing a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. It has a 1.4-liter, 16-valve, 4-cylinder, in-line gasoline engine fed by a 9.3-gallon fuel tank. It’s got front-wheel drive and does a peppy 8.8-second zero-to-60.
You don’t care about all that? Me, either. I’m not sure why automotive writers think we do. Ordinary people tend to make their car-buying judgments on a different, non-hyphenated calculus. This is particularly true for a concept car such as the Volt, which has been selling disproportionately to men, and which is why, to better serve you, the discerning consumer, I am stopping an attractive woman on a Bethesda sidewalk and asking her if she would sleep with me.
K.C. Hernandez is 32, a marketing associate visiting from Chicago. I assure her that I am a working journalist and that my question is purely hypothetical. Judging by appearances alone, I ask, what would be my theoretical chance of having sex with her, expressed as a percentage?
K.C.’s friend is frantically girl-coding, bugging out her eyes and shaking her head no, no! But K.C. is laughing. She’ll play. She surveys my body, which has the muscle tone of a yam souffle. I am 59. I did not arrive there the way some men — say, Harrison Ford — did.
“Three,” she says finally.
Three percent! I’m pretty sure it’s a mercy vote, but I’ll take it. Next, we walk across the street for the second part of the experiment. I pat the hood of an obsidian-black 2011 Chevy Volt, on loan to me for the day.
“This is my ride,” I say. “Does this new information change the hypothetical answer at all?”
K.C. has heard of the Chevy Volt but hadn’t seen one yet. Almost no one has, actually; it just hit the streets last month in the Washington area and four other markets nationwide — a tantalizing trickle of a rollout. For a vehicle aimed at the eco-friendly, it is surprisingly sleek and growly-looking. It has clean lines, a youthful, video-game feel to its dashboard display, and a few mildly decadent luxury-car amenities, such as butt-warmer seats. After a big federal tax rebate, it costs about 35 grand, bottom line.
K.C. keeps looking from it to me dubiously, as if to reconcile the one with the other.
“Okay,” she says.
She takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly.
OK, that’s funny, but there’s also some relevant observations that the eco-world doesn’t want you to think about:
The Volt’s ad campaign, by contrast, has actually been under-selling the novelty of the car, emphasizing that the buyer is not sacrificing utility for uniqueness. Rather than touting its alternative nature, the Volt’s official motto almost apologizes for it:
“It’s More Car Than Electric.”
Why the humility? I’m thinking maybe GM is feeling guilty because it knows a more honest slogan would have been:
“Powered by Coal.”
In the mainstream media’s coverage of the rollout of the Volt, the merits of electric fuel have mostly been accepted as a given, as though electricity were magic fairy dust; seldom has this attitude been subjected to the rigorous scrutiny that might be applied by, say, a grumpy reviewer with an ax to grind.
Ecologically, electric power is not, when you get right down to it, all that clean. The single largest source of America’s electric power grid — at 44.5 percent — is coal. The second largest is another fossil fuel, natural gas. So just how green is that snazzy new Volt — with its electric butt-warmer seats — that’s charging up in your garage?
Basically, it depends on where that garage is. If it’s in California, which is big on nuclear power, your Volt is practically pristine. If it’s in Pennsylvania, in coal country, not so much.
Gene ends up liking the car, but I thought this exchange he had with flex-fuel fan James Woolsey merited an excerpt:
Okay, this is James Woolsey, a director of the CIA under Bill Clinton. Woolsey is one of a handful of ordinary citizens who were selected by GM months ago to test-own the Volt and privately report back to the company. They were chosen for sundry reasons, some practical, some promotional. Chef Bryan Voltaggio of Frederick got one because he owns a restaurant named Volt. Woolsey is a venture capitalist in the field of alternative energy.
This handful of people has two combined qualities no one else on Earth does: 1) extended driving experience in the Volt and 2) no financial connection to GM. They can be honest, if they feel like it.
I want this guy to feel like it. So I tell him why I’ve brought him to this particular place.
“We are standing in the precise location where Bob Woodward used to meet Deep Throat. This is hallowed ground, a citadel to truth. It would be sacrilege to lie to a journalist in this place, or even to withhold information.”
Woolsey smiles tightly. “I can see that.”
“Good. Now dish the dirt.”
He looks at the car, then at me.
“Okay, there is something,” he says. I nod encouragingly in my best Woodwardian manner.
“When I reach to change the radio station, if my finger grazes the dashboard, it puts the radio in ‘seek’ mode. They have to fix that.”
My pen is poised over my notebook.
“And that’s it.”
What follows is a 24-minute disquisition on the evils of our dependence on fossil fuels and on the transcendent wonderfulness of the Volt. Woolsey plans on leasing a Volt for the next two years, then buying the 2013 model, which he has been told will have an engine that can run mostly on ethanol.
So, Woolsey is going to save the planet by getting rid of his perfectly good leased car and replacing it with a brand new one that runs of environment-killing ethanol. Brilliant!
The whole piece is here.