The Green Car of the Year was selected last week at the Los Angeles Auto Show and the judges got it wrong.
They gave the award to the gasoline engine plus electric motor Chevrolet Volt over the all-electric Nissan Leaf. I'm not opposed to the Volt but it only goes half way toward the zero emission goal while the Leaf is 100 per cent there.
The reason the judges gave it to the Volt was to relieve "anxiety." Anxiety, as you know, is a permanent state of worry occurring in a variety of mental disorders. The newest anxiety, invented perhaps by General Motors marketers, is "range" anxiety. While this hasn't been recognized in the field of psychiatry yet, it certainly has traction in La La Land.
"Range" anxiety is worrying yourself sick over running out of juice. If the battery goes dead in your electric car you're stuck, while in the Volt you just fire up the old gas-burning four-banger and away you go. But if you stop all this worrying and do a little planning, you should never run out of juice.
Don't get me started on the people who call a tow truck when they're shocked to discover an electric car has a well-defined maximum range. Doesn't he remember the concept of useable fuel from flight training? Would he go up in an airplane with next to nothing in the tank? Remember 45-minutes reserve? That's the problem with the Volt; it just covers up not thinking ahead.
"Oh, I forgot to plug it in." And "Oh, I couldn't be bothered to plug it in." And then, "Oh, I'll just go to the gas station."
Americans should be having anxiety over their trillion-dollar deficits, crumbling public institutions and "President" Sarah Palin. They don't need to invent new anxieties and reward the products that play to them.
As a true "green" car, the Nissan Leaf stands alone at this time. Ninety-five per cent of Americans drive less than 100 miles a day and this is within the Leaf's all- electric range. If you want to drive from here to say, Wasilla, Alaska, the Leaf won't make it, so take another car. If you want to commute to somewhere downtown, the Leaf is the best answer.
The Volt is an extremely comfortable, well-put-together car, but it costs 1 1/2 times as much as a Leaf and has about a third the range in all-electric mode. I'm glad to see General Motors make such a big plunge into electrics but Nissan has been braver and greener. Have they blundered by not taking the American "anxiety" factor into account? The market will decide.
One other interesting thing about the Green Car Award is that it certainly was Los Angeles. Jay Leno was singled out as a Green Car judge along with a panel of mostly environmentalists, and the celebrated mayor of L.A. showed up for the photo op.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, perhaps best known for dumping his wife and taking up with not one but two local television anchorwomen, arrived in a shiny suit with a big green tie. He declared that he would transform L.A. from the car capital of the world to the electric car capital of the world. To his credit, he has put in a program to get home chargers to electric vehicle owners in less than seven days through streamlined permitting, inspection and meter installation.
Preferring the Leaf over the Volt definitely puts me in the minority. The Volt not only won Green Car Award at the Los Angeles Auto Show it also took home the Car of The Year Award from Motor Trend magazine and Automobile of the Year by Automobile magazine.
I've been wrong before, but I don't believe I am on this one. Only time will tell.
Michael Vaughan is co-host with Jeremy Cato of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.
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