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2012 Chevrolet Volt (GM/General Motors)
2012 Chevrolet Volt (GM/General Motors)

Driving It Home

GM's activist CEO defends the Volt Add to ...

General Motors brought out the biggest gun of all to defend the Chevrolet Volt against what any sensible person would see as unfair and unprofessional treatment at the hands of U.S. Government regulators – regulators whom Akerson contends are politically motivated.

In testimony to the U.S. Congress, GM CEO Dan Akerson targeted “a disproportionate level of scrutiny” by critics of GM and the Obama administration. He was referring to a recently closed U.S. government safety probe into the risk of fire in the company’s extended range electric car, the Chevrolet Volt.

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The Volt is safe, stressed Akeson to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The evidence supports him. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now says it does not believe that the Volt or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered ones. A GM-proposed reinforcement to the Volt’s battery pack should make the car even safer, too.

Akerson is a no-nonsense former U.S. Navy officer who has run three public companies and was before coming to GM a managing partner of The Carlyle Group private equity outfit. He is smart and experienced enough to be careful in how he called out the apparent political motivations behind recent attacks – unfair and unsubstantiated attacks – on the Volt south of the border. But he called them out, without question.

“The Volt seems, perhaps unfairly, to have become a surrogate for some to offer broader commentary on General Motors’ business prospects and administration policy,” he said in his testimony. “These factors should not be discounted as to why federal regulators opened an investigation into the Volt’s battery safety.”

Akerson is saying federal regulators appear to have been swayed by opponents of both President Barak Obama and the GM bailout which unquestionably saved hundreds of thousands of jobs. He has a point. NHTSA announced the since-closed Volt investigation months after learning about two incidents in which the Volt's battery pack either caught fire or emitted sparks in the weeks after crash tests.

Politics, suggested, Akerson, were at play, not legitimate safety concerns. Why, it’s fair to ask, did NHTSA take five months to go public with a report about the first battery fire in a Volt, which occurred in June? NHTSA has concluded that the Volt is not unsafe here; let’s not forget that.

The implication in Akerson’s testimony is that this investigation and how it was handled provided fuel for critics of Obama and GM. The subtext is that the timing of the regulator’s actions provided fodder for anti-GM/Obama critics at a time when the U.S. Republican Presidential primaries were about to kick off. Regulators playing politics, in other words. How Banana Republic is that?

More on Akerson tomorrow, but let me just say that this former Navy man with connections in high places is exactly the right person to fire back at critics and those motivated not by safety worries, but political considerations.

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