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The Chevy Volt: A lightning rod of controversy

Second part of two-part series

Created date

March 20th, 2012

In last month s issue, I wrote about my new Chevy Volt. Since I purchased the electric vehicle (EV) with the gasoline back up at the end of 2011, the price of gas has gone up 10%. Experts warn that it could reach $5 a gallon by summer. With my fuel consumption averaging 101 mpg, I have no regrets about my purchase. Despite the fact that owners like me made the Volt number one in customer satisfaction (according to Consumer Reports), the car has come under heavy attack from a variety of sources.

Up in flames?

Last year, while testing the vehicle for safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) intentionally crashed a Volt. That crash damaged the vehicle s battery and ruptured the coolant line, leaving the car un-driveable by any standard. Three weeks later, the car caught on fire, which made headlines everywhere. What didn t make headlines is that the car received an overall five-star safety rating. Concerned about the fire, NHTSA performed three more tests on the car s lithium ion battery and coolant system, purposely impacting them and then rotating them to simulate a real crash. One of the batteries sparked, but again, it was long after the impact. The Volt has taken a lot of heat for these crash test fires. Even after the NHTSA released a statement saying that the Volt posed no undue risk of fires, the controversy hasn t cooled. Of course, gas-fueled vehicles catch on fire too. In the past two years, Honda, Ford, BMW, and Mazda recalled over half a million vehicles due to potential fire hazards, with little or no media attention.

The tax break and incentives

The cost of a Volt is high at $39,145, but the federal government and many states offer tax incentives, in the same way they offer incentives for purchasing energy-efficient appliances. More efficient products benefit everyone so giving them a push in the market-place is one way to ensure that green products have a chance to catch on. Ideally, once the new technology becomes more available and accepted, the cost goes down and incentives are phased out. There s been a lot of griping about incentives for the Volt and other EVs but as a car buyer, I wouldn t have purchased the Volt if the tax break didn t exist. In fact, I bought my car in the last week of 2011, out of concern that the $7,500 federal tax break would be discontinued in 2012. Maybe I should have waited a week because now it s possible that the federal tax break may be increased to $10,000.

Politics

A lot of the criticism directed at the Volt seems to be politically driven. Rants against the car can be found all over the Internet. People are upset that GM received millions of dollars of federal funding to develop the Volt; they see the tax incentives as a way of unfairly subsidizing one product over another and, of course, there s the issue of the GM bailout. While all that makes great topics for talk radio, as a consumer I simply wanted a car that gets me where I m going cheaply and efficiently. I didn t consider which administration funded its development (Bush) or which administration stands to look good if it succeeds (Obama). I bought the Volt because it s kind to the environment and costs less to operate than my old gas-guzzler. One thing I know for sure: when I m behind the wheel, I m not thinking about politics, I m only thinking about all the money I m saving by not relying on gas. michele.harris@erickson.com

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