GM buyers snub 'Obamamobile' Volt

The electric car symbolizes the bailout for Republican candidates and plays to issues like class and the environment.

By MSNMoney partner Mar 9, 2012 1:54PM Tim Higgins, Bloomberg

Pity the Chevy Volt. Ever since it became known that the plug-in hybrid car's batteries had burst into flames after government crash tests, the car has become the whipping boy of Republican politicians.


Conservatives have equated GM's Volt with everything from government bailouts to radical left-wing environmentalism.


"Although we loaded the Volt with state-of-the-art safety features, we did not engineer the Volt to be a political punching bag," GM Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson said during a Congressional hearing on the Volt in January. "And that, sadly, is what the Volt has become."


Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich faulted the Volt for its lack of space for a gun rack. Front-runner Mitt Romney called it "an idea whose time has not come." American Tradition Partnership Inc., a conservative group, referred to Volts as "exploding Obamamobiles."


Akerson said all the trash talk about the Volt has been pinching sales. Obama's challengers, though, see it as an effective way to resonate with their voters. Republicans buy Silverado pickups and other Chevrolets in greater numbers than Democrats do, said Art Spinella, who studies new-vehicle buyers as president of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Oregon.


While Chevy customers tend to lean conservative, fewer than 14 percent of Volt buyers so far this year identify themselves as Republicans while about 53 percent call themselves Democrats, according to CNW survey of 1,416 people. Buyers of the Chevrolet brand as a whole were 37 percent Republican, 22 percent Democrat and 41 percent independent.


Politics aside, Volt sales have been a source of disappointment for GM. The Environmental Protection Agency gave it a 95 mpg rating for city driving, less than half the 230 mpg rating GM had anticipated in 2009. After the battery fires became public in November, 2011 sales fell short of Akerson's goal and following slow sales in January and February, GM decided to stop making the cars for five weeks.


While the government's investigation found the Volt to be as safe as other vehicles, they are complicated and expensive for a small car at nearly $40,000 before a federal tax credit. Nissan Motor Co.'s Leaf electric car missed its sales targets last year, too, raising questions about the size of the market for technology-laden fuel-efficient vehicle.


It's impossible to know to what degree political rhetoric is hurting Volt sales, but Akerson isn't alone in believing the numbers would look better without the Republican bashing. Chevrolet dealers in the U.S. sold 7,671 Volts last year, missing GM's target of 10,000. About 1,600 Volts were sold in the first two months of the year, a pace that doesn't match Akerson's plans to deliver 45,000 in the U.S. this year. At least part of that gap is a result of attacks on the campaign trail, Spinella said.


Buyers from the political center to the right "will not buy a car that has anything at all that they perceive being associated with the administration," Spinella said.


While the Volt accounted for less than 0.1 percent of the world's largest automaker's sales last year, it is getting heightened attention because "it's a hallmark car," Akerson told reporters in San Francisco this week.


After the announcement last week that work would stop for five weeks at the Detroit-Hamtramck where the Volt is made, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, posted on Twitter about it with the hashtag "#ObamaonEmpty."


The Volt, introduced a month before Obama said he would run for president, can go more than 30 miles on electricity before its gasoline engine kicks in and powers a generator to recharge the battery. The car has a range of 379 miles with both electric and gasoline power combined.


Bob Lutz, the former vice chairman at General Motors who helped develop the Volt, said he's angered that the car has become politicized.


"I don't mind criticizing Obama, I don't mind criticizing the Democrats and, you know me, I think global warming is a huge hoax perpetrated by the global political left," Lutz said. "But when it comes to starting to tell outright lies to advance your political purposes and damage an American company that is greatly on its way back, hurt American employment in Hamtramck, Michigan, I just think it's totally outrageous."


Lutz, a Republican, said he voted for former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum in the Michigan Republican primary in part because former Massachusetts Governor Romney wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times in 2008 headlined "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" about his opposition to a GM bailout.


After President George W. Bush extended emergency loans to GM's predecessor, Obama's administration managed its $50 billion bailout. The U.S. still holds 32 percent of the GM shares, which have gained 26 percent this year after falling 45 percent in 2011.


Obama has embraced the Volt's fuel-saving technology and said it's his choice for a new car once he's no longer president.


"It was nice," he told a United Auto Workers audience on Feb. 28 about sitting in one. "I'll bet it drives real good. And five years from now when I'm not president anymore, I'll buy one and drive it myself."


Representative Mike Kelly, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who owns a Chevrolet dealership in Butler, said he doesn't sell the Volt at his store because it's too expensive for his customers, who would be better served with a cheaper Cruze. While it may be an engineering marvel, it's too far out for his customers, he said.


"It's still just not a viable alternative to the market that I serve in western Pennsylvania," he said. "I just don't have people coming in to buy that car."


The Volt not only personifies the bailout for Republican candidates, it also plays to other issues such as class and the environment. On the campaign trail, for example, Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker, has peppered his stump speech with comments about the Volt, including during a stop Feb. 17 caught by C-Span.


"The average family that buys it earns $170,000 a year and this is Obama's idea of populism and in his new budget he wants to increase the amount given to every Volt buyer to $10,000, which is an amount which would allow a lot of people to buy a decent secondhand car but it wouldn't be an Obama car," Gingrich said to cheers in Peachtree City, Georgia. "But here's my point to folks: You can't put a gun rack in a Volt."


"So let's be clear what this election is all about," Gingrich continued. "We believe in the right to bear arms and we like to bear the arms in our trucks."


The Volt "can do a lot of things," including tote a gun rack, responded Selim Bingol, vice president of GM's global communications, on a company blog. "But if you are looking for a vehicle for your next hunting trip, it may not be your first choice."

More from Bloomberg
Mar 9, 2012 2:58PM
A better idea is natural gas-powered cars. We have a surplus of natural gas. We're trying to figure out how to export it! Government should ease the option of natural-gas vehicles by installing some natural gas pumping stations in high-traffic areas. Then car makers, especially one we bailed out, should be encouraged to make natural-gas versions of their best selling cars. It must begin somewhere.
Mar 9, 2012 3:31PM
So, the reporter quotes over 30 miles on the battery.  Real world use shows it often switches over well under 30 miles.  It requires an overnight charge for the under 30 miles of battery use.  The vast majority of electricity is being produced by burning coal which Obama's EPA is trying to eliminate.  This will result in raising electric costs in conjunction to rising gas costs.  This is Obama's solution?  The only solution for this Country is to vote the Democrats out of power.  Their answers simply do not make sense.
Mar 9, 2012 5:19PM
Has anyone heard of supply and demand.  If you build a desired product and sell it at a decent price it will sell.  The government cannot create  market demand except by legislation. Thanks to the taxpayer money, we have a dud.
Mar 9, 2012 4:36PM
The biggest problem with the Volt is the price...besides the whole battery fire thing.  The "Average Person" that Obama claims to be the champion of cannot afford a $40,000 small car.  Just another walk in "Progressive Fantasy Land" 
Mar 9, 2012 4:20PM
The reason the Volt isn't selling is because it is $40,000.00, you can buy a loaded Aveo or Ford Fiesta for $20,000.00 and with the the other $20,000.00 buy enough gas for 200,000 miles. That is the facts, that is what republicans are pointing out, Anyone who buys this car for $40,000.00 is paying $14.00 per gallon to get the same 200,000 miles, it isn't political, its simple math.!
Mar 9, 2012 3:33PM
Another ChickenS**t  item in Obama's quest for fundamental change: The volt is a lemon and this administration is heltlbent on shoving these pieces of crap down the American public's throat. How many Volts have been sold, less than 10,000?  Have you seen the TV commercials with the testimonials about what a nice car they are and they would buy one even if it wasn't electric? What a bunch of hooey! In a  recent TV program, John Stossel had driven one and it ran out of juice after less than 30 miles.
In the larger context, the increasing gas prices, the Solyndra and now Colorado's Abound Solar, the denial of the Keystone pipeline (yes liberals lemmings I know this won't help the immediate gas price spike), the Gov' Motors (GM) Volt crap all goes to this administrations' attempt to wring every last drop of heart, soul, money and  gas out of the american people and make us go begging to the Gov't for help...We need to see through the last four years of downright lies, obfuscations, broken promises and PC crap this president and his minions (and minders ) have given us and vote him out..
Gawd I'm tired of the lemmings out there!!!
Mar 9, 2012 4:59PM
At $40,000.00 I would guess the price is what limits sales. 
Mar 9, 2012 3:30PM
Chevys Volt, a shocking taxpayers expense.  They played the government [taxpayers] for a quick dollar and we lost.  Mean while gm is laughing all the way to the bank..  Another Obama stimulus program gone wrong at our expense.
Mar 9, 2012 4:35PM
This 30 mile all electric range,,,,how is that determined? Uh-oh it's raining, I'll have to turn on my electric wipers. Oh man it's hot in here because I've closed the windows. Do I have enough juice to drive the a.c.? Sure wish I could turn on the electric radio to find out why I'm stuck in traffic. Damn. Its getting dark. I'll wait as long as I can before using my headlights.. WHO THE HELL WANTS TO LIVE LIKE THIS?????
Mar 9, 2012 3:24PM

I believe more Americans would buy the car if they could afford to spend $40, 000 on a small car. It's like the "Eating Healthy" thing. Buying organic for a family just costs too much coupled with everything else we have to spend on. Now, if these companies can advertise these vehicles with data on how much in fuel costs they will save you over the coming years, then i think more people would spring for one. Show them that if they spend $40 G's that they will save X amount of dollars per year on fuel costs and how that will impact the overall cost. Plus, the vehicles are brand new.No one has ever driven or owned one. Nobody really knows anyone who owns one.  People don't know what to expect with these cars; How long will they last?; how much will it cost to maintain these vehicles?; how do they work??? These are the questions that GM needs to address to the public if they hope to move this vehicle and fund other vehicles like this in the future. Dealerships can also help by hosting a "open-House" of sorts to educate curious people about the car. Have them invite people in to experience these vehicles with No Strings attached.(No obligation to buy!). Let the customer learn and eventually this thing will sell if it is any good!


Mar 9, 2012 4:31PM

The plain truth is that the "Average Joe" would rather buy a vehicle that he trusts is good technology.  Your current administration continually pushes for unproven electric vehicles, while other parts of the world continue to rely on "tried-and-true" technologies found in diesel engines. 


Europeans are currently driving compact, American-made, diesel vehicles with 65+ mpg performances, while US taxpayers are subsidizing glorified golf carts (even foreign ones), and bailing-out unionized labor in the USA.  I wouldn't purchase a Volt at any price.

Mar 9, 2012 4:40PM

Obama has embraced the Volt's fuel-saving technology and said it's his choice for a new car once he's no longer president.


Yeah right! Yet another lie.

Mar 9, 2012 3:46PM
I don't get it. Mr. Obama is so commited to helping the Blue Collar/working man then why did he fund a car with a sticker price of more than 40k?  doesn't add up,,,like the many other programs he supports and funds. People Bolt from the Volt...
Mar 9, 2012 3:44PM
My 2008 Corvette got 26 miles to the gallon at 80 miles per hour.  I love efficiency
Mar 9, 2012 4:07PM
The plain truth is that the "Average Joe" cannot afford to buy this car, so doesn't make any difference what you call it.  It's out of reach for my pocketbook.   
Mar 9, 2012 5:09PM
Toss it in the bag with Obama's other energy Solyndra.  But don't forget those bonuses first.
Mar 9, 2012 4:05PM
Obama ignored the housing mess. He did not rebuild the infrastructure. The white house is loaded with lobbyist and he said none would be there. Too many of the middle class are one notch above minimum wage. The seniors have fallen behind and many cannot afford their medicine or food. Put Obama in the volt with his big business buddies, illegal mexicans, welfare people and shoot him to the moon. They would not need food stamps, free medical and their way paid for doing nothing.
Mar 9, 2012 4:31PM
Right on BradO1812!  One of the reasons I have the Ford Escape hybrid is that Ford took no bailout money!!! And if you recall they put that fact in a commercial and was forced to pull the commercial because there was outrage (outrage from the administration because it was true!)- i felt very satisfied after that because I knew I had made the right choice (the car is great too!)
Mar 9, 2012 4:28PM
If i had $40,000 to buy a car, i would have money for gas ,so i wouldn't need a car like this. If this car was in the 16k to 18k price range they would sell like hot cakes. And that is what the country needs . I can buy a 2012 camaro SS and have 10k towards gas . Or oil for my oil furnace for 5 years.
Mar 9, 2012 3:59PM
Hey Dg73, for the record, I don't listen to the radio or support Newt.  If you must know, I was a lifelong Democrat until the last 3 years happened.  In first two we had a Democrat Congress and our President.  They spent moneyHe, they, have done nothing but make this economy worse by their reckless spending.  I will be voting for a conservative this year because I do not want my children saddled with the out of control spending and debt that our President has given us.  So, don't jump to your ridiculous conclusions.
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