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The Volt’s development by far predates GM’s bankruptcy and, even if it never becomes viable, was a logical technology to pursue for the world’s largest car company. (Brandy Baker/Brandy Baker/Associated Press)
The Volt’s development by far predates GM’s bankruptcy and, even if it never becomes viable, was a logical technology to pursue for the world’s largest car company. (Brandy Baker/Brandy Baker/Associated Press)

Global Exchange

Chevy Volt: Shock to the system Add to ...

From the FT's Lex blog



A little more than three years after the chiefs of Detroit’s Big Three carmakers travelled cap in hand to Washington in hybrids to atone for their earlier faux pas of flying in private jets, General Motors boss Dan Akerson drove there in his own Chevrolet Volt. Wednesday’s hearing, ostensibly meant to probe an earlier federal safety investigation of the plug-in hybrid, highlights how green technologies are being portrayed in partisan shades of red or blue.

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The Volt may be a convenient “political punching bag”, as Mr Akerson put it, but it is a mere rounding error for still partially government-owned GM. The 7,671 Volts sold in 2011 were a whopping three-hundredths of 1 per cent of the carmaker’s U.S. unit sales.



The notion that GM received special treatment in the fire investigation is as silly as the idea that the car is some sort of political white elephant of Barack Obama’s administration -- Solyndra on wheels. The Volt’s development by far predates GM’s bankruptcy and, even if it never becomes viable, was a logical technology to pursue for the world’s largest car company.



But it is disingenuous to claim that the Volt, and Detroit’s rebound, have not been milked for maximum political advantage by the White House. It is also clear that smaller electric vehicle companies, such as Tesla and A123 Systems, are far more dependent on corporate welfare than GM.



True, the $7,500 subsidy carries more weight for upper middle class buyers of $32,000-$45,000 Nissan Leafs and Volts than rich buyers of $100,000 Fisker Karmas and Tesla Roadsters, but other largesse keeps pure electric car companies in business.



When politicians and whizz-bang consumer technology are brought together, the result is rarely pretty. What is more, even if government does not pick winners and losers, taxpayer funds are often disbursed in an inefficient way.



But none of this is GM’s doing. It did unabashedly use the Volt to generate public goodwill, however, and now faces the consequences.



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