The Volt Rolls Out to a Media Goregasm (National Review 10.12.10)

Posted by hpayne on October 12, 2010

Imagine the U.S. government offering $7,500 to well-off buyers of a BMW 3-series convertible, and an additional $2,000 to buy fuel. Imagine the outrage. There you have the problem with the Chevy Volt.

In the midst of a slow economy and voter anxiety, the U.S. government is preparing to roll out its green electric-car program starring Chevy’s plug-in hybrid. While GM has offered the car for media drives, the collective Goregasm from the press hides the fact that the high tech, silent, undoubtedly cool electronic gizmo is a $41,000 plaything for the blue coast jet set.

“I drove a pre-production Volt,” writes one reviewer with the Boston Herald, “(and it) proved to be a far better vehicle than I was expecting, an undeniable engineering coup for GM. The biggest surprise may be how well the Volt handles. The T-shaped battery pack is placed very low in the chassis, and the lower the extra weight is, the better.”

The trouble with pressie car reviewers is the cars are free. Sure, the Volt handles better than the $17,000 Chevy Cruze with which it shares a platform — but if it’s handling you want, you’ll drop your $40 grand on a BMW. Or an Audi A5. Or any number of vastly superior vehicles in that price range.

And that gets to the nub of the issue. The Volt — and its expensive electric stable mates — are rich niche cars for DiCaprio & Co. Which is why the Toyota Prius–dominated hybrid market has never eclipsed 3 percent of cars sold. Which is why the U.S. government is desperately offering a $7,500 tax credit to buy it and another $2 grand for a fast-charging station.

“The Volt strikes us as the closest in concept to the winning formula of the Prius,” writes Car & Driver, which — unlike their media brethren — has managed to maintain some perspective. “This is without a doubt the most important new car since the advent of hybrids in the late ’90s, and GM has nailed it. Is this the handing off of the Prius’s very illustrious torch?”

The Volt is evolution, not revolution. That is, it’s the new green fashion statement. It’s the new Prius.

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