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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bob Lutz, the VOLT, and the Right Wing

The recent media coverage of so-called “Chevrolet Volt fires,” especially by the conservative talk shows and Fox News, has attracted my attention and ire. Let’s set out the facts (and feel free to check them yourself):
  1. Not one Chevrolet Volt has ever caught fire in normal use or in accidents. Not a single one.
  2. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, even after the highly artificial crash test (placing the car on its back, even though it did not roll over in the test) nevertheless awarded the Volt NHTSA’s highest crash-safety rating: 5 stars. Volt is supremely safe.
  3. The crashed Volt, its battery shorted by coolant from the period unjustifiably spent “feet up,” caught fire three weeks after said test. (I submit that this would provide adequate time for surviving passengers to exit the vehicle.)
  4. On average, 278,000 cars with gasoline engines caught fire in the U.S. each year between 2003 and 2007, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
  5. No factory-produced electric vehicle has ever caught fire, to the best of my knowledge.
  6. The Volt, the most technologically advanced car on the planet, was conceived by me and my team well before any federal bailout of GM.
These are the bedrock facts.
Now, how did the U.S. right-wing media choose to report this admittedly headline-tempting news? A nationally syndicated editorial three-panel cartoon stated (I believe I remember the sequence): “Thomas Edison discovered electricity;” then, “Alexander Graham Bell discovered the telephone;” and, in the third panel, “But it took the US Government to discover fire!” (accompanied by a drawing of a burning Chevy Volt).
Meanwhile, my fellow cigar-aficionado and erstwhile friend Rush Limbaugh launched the usual outraged, breathless tirades, denouncing the Volt as a typical failed President Obama initiative, on a par, grosso modo, with the dreaded Obama Care. The screen regularly depicted an exploding Chevrolet Volt.
But the Oscar for totally irresponsible journalism has to go to The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, with, as its key guest, Lou Dobbs. Amid much jocular yukking, the Volt was depicted as a typical federal failure. In attempting to explain why Chevy has sold fewer than 8,000 Volts, Dobbs states, flatly, “It doesn’t work.” He elaborates, “It doesn’t go fast and go far on electricity. What happens is it catches fire,” adding that Chevy has recalled some 8,000 Volts. Bill O’Reilly, nodding approvingly, helpfully interjects: “So they’ve recalled cars that haven’t been sold.” Boiled down to the subtext, Dobbs’ message was this: “All Volts catch fire, and therefore all Volts have been recalled.” That simply isn’t the case.
Much air time was spent on the $50 billion-plus bailout, which, the audience was left to assume, “funded” the Volt, doubtlessly at the whim of Obama’s known army of evil enviro-Nazis, intent on forcing vehicle electrification on a good-ole’-boy, V8-lovin’ populace. To top it off, these two media pros lamented the fact that the same government that had forced GM to produce the Volt was now extending $7,500 tax credits towards its purchase, thus squandering even more of “our taxpayer” dollars on this failed Socialist-collectivist flop. Truth? The $7,500 tax credit was enacted under the Bush administration!
But who the hell cares about facts when you’re in O’Reilly’s self-described “No Spin Zone?” (The fine print might as well read, “We said ‘no spin,’ not ‘no deliberate misstatement of facts.’ ”) What on Earth is wrong with the conservative media movement that it feels it’s OK to spread false information, OK to damage the reputation of perhaps the finest piece of mechanical technology our country has produced since the space shuttle, OK to hurt an iconic American company that is roaring back to global pre-eminence, OK to hurt American employment in Hamtramck, Mich., as long as it damages the Obama administration’s reputation?
While as a conservative Republican I may well share the goal, I deplore the means employed to attain it. The conservative cause damages itself, destroys its credibility through the expedient spreading of untruths. The public will figure it out. The right-wing “talking heads”, O’Reilly and Limbaugh at the forefront, have managed to make me embarrassed to describe myself as a conservative.
Come on, you guys. Shape up! There’s plenty of legitimate fodder out there. Let’s leave the “invention of facts” to the left-wing climate-change alarmists.
Published in Forbes