The Volt Unplugged

Barack Obama wants to buy a Chevy Volt when he leaves office. If they’re still making them.

The announcement late last week that Chevy was suspending Volt sales for lack of demand (conveniently timed after the Michigan primary was over, because laying off 1,300 UAW workers would have clashed with Obama’s Election Day, anti-Romney UAW Convention speech boasting that he had saved Detroit jobs) was a huge embarrassment for a president who in part rescued GM in order to make what the president claims is the Car of the Future (no doubt, it’s his vast experience in the car market that convinced him).

But it’s not just the president with egg on his face. The Volt is more than an overhyped car — it is a piece of state propaganda sold by politicians, industry, and the media alike.

On the same day Obama singled out the Volt’s Detroit production facility in 2010 to showcase the company he had saved, GM flattered the boss with an announcement that it was increasing Volt production by 50 percent to 45,000 cars for 2012 — up from 11,000 for 21011 and 30,000 in 2012. “GM says strong public interest in the vehicle led it to increase production targets for the Volt,” reported a credulous CNN.

Because it was the Car of the Future. Because Obama said so. No matter that the market for hybrid electrics was in decline.

The hype machine continued through 2011 even as monthly sales dragged. With notable exceptions like Planet Gore, the MSM salivated over a niche vehicle pitched to a narrow demographic of wealthy greens, and costing double — double — its stable-mate Chevy Cruze, a gas-powered compact that gets 35 mpg mpg.

“GM has nailed it, creating a hatchback that feels peppy and mainstream yet can sip less fuel than any gas- or diesel-powered car sold in America,” thrilled New York Times auto critic Lawrence Ulrich after driving the Obamacar. “The Volt leaves you grinning with its driving-the-future vibe. Yet the car operates so seamlessly that owners need not think about the planetary gear sets, the liquid-cooled electrons and all that digital magic taking place below.”

Yeesh, get a room.

Pooh-poohing concern over the car’s Tiffany price tag, Ulrich concluded: “Poised to sell in the tens of thousands, the Volt (is) the first car in a century to make Big Oil sweat, if only a little . . . it’s an economical car that Americans will buy for its cache, not a cut-rate payment.”

Stunned by GM’s announcement last Friday, Volt cheerleaders are scrambling to explain its lack of appeal (the Volt has as many excuses as Obama’s economic policy). Its infamous tendency to catch on fire? Yes, that surely took the shine off a car that is bought for its social caché (who wants to be the butt of a fire joke at the Art Institute fundraiser?). Its price tag? Yes, although the Leo DiCaprios of the world, who buy it to bolster their green credentials, are hardly comparison shoppers. Because Rush Limbaugh ragged on it? Um, shouldn’t this have boosted sales among the environmental Left?

But the Volt’s biggest problem is that consumers found it too complicated. After charging it overnight, you also want to fill it with gas, because like a hybrid it can run on gas to maintain the battery’s charge, and . . . am I losing you yet?

Jack Domaldson of Davis, Calif., told the Wall Street Journal that he thought of buying a Volt but found it impractical and settled for a much cheaper Toyota Prius instead. Why? “Short range, expensive, no infrastructure support, and the element of uncertainty with performance,” he said.

Yes, those damn customers. Despite the Volt’s impressive DNA (GM design legend Bob Lutz was its father) and undeniable engineering wow-factor, it still needs a market.

And like solar panels and wind turbines and other green desiderata that Obama has poured your tax dollars into, that market is not ready for prime time. In the next five weeks, GM will lower expectations, roll out a new marketing strategy, and hope for a better future.

Who knows, maybe Obama will just mandate everyone buys a Chevy Volt.

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