By on April 1, 2010

Way back when the Chevy Volt was taking center stage in GM’s case for bailout (as in give us one, or you won’t get the Volt), the Obama Administration’s task force on autos was not amused. “While the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable,” was just one of the knocks the pols gave the then-mule-stage Volt. And even though the Nissan Leaf has since proven that the Volt is also “much more expensive than its pure-electric peers” the White House’s official car guys have changed their tune.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the Obama Adminstration will buy the first 100 Chevy Volts… because unlike most Americans they can afford to pay non-commercially-viable prices for their green-mobiles. Oh, and did we mention they own the company too? That might have had something to do with it. And though it’s nice to have customers for your overpriced green image machines, this announcement sees to confirm once and for all the Volt’s inherently political raison d’etre. And to think that the folks who put Government Motors back together again nearly killed the Volt in the first place.

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27 Comments on “Volt Birth Watch 184: Obama Administration To Buy First 100 Volts...”


  • avatar
    jkross22

    Soooo, what’s the per unit price that the government (read taxpayers) will fork over for each of the Volts?

    I’m sure the gov’t cashed in on the employee discount and red tag sale for these, but really, I can’t wait to hear the final figure per car.

    Oh, and also am excited to hear how close the Volt will actually get to that 200 mpg number Fritzy-boy was touting.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      Soooo, what’s the per unit price that the government (read taxpayers) will fork over for each of the Volts?

      Isn’t it just a matter of transferring money from one part of the government to another? The headline would be better worded as “Obama Administration To Not Sell First 100 Volts”.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It keeps the money in circulation and makes the later models commercially viable. This is not a bad thing.

    Remember that the internet wasn’t profitable, or even commercially viable and was reserved for “insiders and the elite” in it’s first decade or more. Commercial “versions” of the internet (CompuServe, GEnie, Prodigy) were much more expensive, much more restrictive and paid little heed to interoperability. It took the government funding the technology to give it time to get traction.

    I know it pains free-market purists, but sometimes you have to nudge the market at little to get it to “do the right thing” (or stop doing the wrong thing). Just letting the market do it’s thing only works for things the market cares about; anything where the cost/benefit is too far in the future to be appealing to reactionary forces just doesn’t happen.

    The Volt and cars like it are a good thing. They’re much more efficient in their energy use and, as economies of scale and technology catch up, will become more prevalent and less expensive, just like the internet did. If left purely to the market, this car would probably never exist, right up until the point we hit an extended oil crisis, and then we’d be dealing with reactionary measures while it was tooled up and developed. Why not try to get ahead of the economy curve?

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      As always, psarhjinian, your logic is seductive. Except that the value of the Internet was self-evident to pretty much everyone. We all needed it, and nobody could find a way to make it happen without centralized planning.

      The value of the Volt, however, is far from self-evident. People do not agree on EVs, on climate change, or on the merits of bailing out a failed corporation with taxpayer dollars when several viable alternatives are already on the market. Pushing through a project this weak and controversial scares a lot of people, including me.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      The problem is, absent market demand, noone knows what “the right direction” is. Or how far in any direction to nudge.

      It is a common pastime of the chattering classes to pretend to know; but all they’re really doing is nudging things around at random, while setting themselves up to get paid for doing so.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      Don,
      While I agree that not everyone agrees on climate change, I do believe that everyone agrees that current energy consumption needs to be watched very closely and improved upon. This isn’t me promoting cap and trade, only efficiency. By and large, people are behind that.

      What is going to make this technology less expensive is time in the market place and cheaper batteries.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Except that the value of the Internet was self-evident to pretty much everyone.

      You would have thought that, but no. The internet was pretty much the domain of the elites and very much a government-and-academia project.

      At the time (the Reagan era) because of it’s ties to defense, it was pretty immune from interference; today you would have had the likes of CompuServe or GEnie lobbying congressmen to privatize the service and award the contract to them on the grounds that “the market can do it better”. What we would have ended up with would be an internet that looks like the current mobile-phone market: fragmented, stunted by corporate profiteering and hostile to it’s users.

  • avatar
    AJ

    Everything “green” seems to be expensive. I guess that is why elitists love them.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Everything that’s not green is cheap because it doesn’t carry it’s true externalized cost. For example:
      * The cheap goods you buy at Walmart doesn’t include the cost of destroying middle class jobs in your own country
      * Cheap oil from the middle east doesn’t include the cost in money and blood to extract it
      * Foods packed with HFCS don’t include the cost of treating diabetes
      * Gas burned in cars without emissions controls don’t include the cost of treating lung damage in cities prone to air-quality problems

      When you can use slave labour, working sixteen hours a day in a country where environmental laws depend on who you can pay off and you can use things like melamine, of course it will be cheaper.

      You know what, I think I’d rather be an “elitist” than an active participant in the economic race to the bottom that’s killing everything worthwhile about western society.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      Well said, psarhjinian.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “The cheap goods you buy at Walmart doesn’t include the cost of destroying middle class jobs in your own country”

      $60k per year for assembling cars or toys is outrageous. The true American way is all about efficiency. They should deliver more goods/service per unit cost to the customer than their competitors. If they can’t, they should find what’s wrong with themselves. Or, maybe they should just do something different (otherwise, most of us would still be hunting and farming to this day).

      * Cheap oil from the middle east doesn’t include the cost in money and blood to extract it
      * Foods packed with HFCS don’t include the cost of treating diabetes
      * Gas burned in cars without emissions controls don’t include the cost of treating lung damage in cities prone to air-quality problems

      Agree. But the solution should be government regulations to put a price tag on the problem (gas tax, anyone?). The government should create the rules, not making a product such as the Volt.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The true American way is all about efficiency. They should deliver more goods/service per unit cost to the customer than their competitors. If they can’t, they should find what’s wrong with themselves. Or, maybe they should just do something different (otherwise, most of us would still be hunting and farming to this day).

      This is a valid point, but it’s not a sustainable economic measure. If you continually subject your middle class to wage and cost pressure (as we have) you seriously compromise your economy’s stability.

      Yes, $60K is a lot, but it’s also the kind of wage that enabled a lot of the prosperity, stability and forward progress. If you take that wage cushion away, you incur several problems:
      * You generate a middle class reliant on credit (and/or the largess of the upper classes). This amounts to indentured servitude, and badly cripples that middle class.
      * You end up on the fast-track to economic stratification: the middle class wages keep dropping as the upper classes pursue more.

      Again, eventually the market correct this kind of stuff, but the corrections aren’t always timely or particularly nice. Sometimes they’re very nasty.

      And again, what’s really wrong with someone blue-collar making a living wage appropriate for the country they live in? It allows them to be a better participant in that country’s economy (better than they would be making less than $20K with no benefits and the Pink Slip of Damocles hanging over their head). It’s certainly better than kicking that person out of work and handing their job to someone in another country with no human or environmental rights to speak of, and then putting the western worker in the impossible position of trying to “compete” on a playing field they didn’t design and can’t play in without serious compromise.

      Championing what you’re saying, even if it’s “the American way” is not economically sustainable.

      The government should create the rules, not making a product such as the Volt.

      Again, I give you the example of the Internet. I also give you the example of things like the fire department or the military. Government has the ability and the motive to be more progressive and visionary than the market because it can, in theory, look beyond the quarterly statement.

      A lot of the problems with government services is that we are trying to run government like a business and stripping of it’s ability to be progressive for the sake of winning in two- to four-year terms, monthly opinion polls and media soundbites. Governments are not businesses; they’re a progressive collective, not a reactive one.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Psarhjinian: And again, what’s really wrong with someone blue-collar making a living wage appropriate for the country they live in? It allows them to be a better participant in that country’s economy (better than they would be making less than $20K with no benefits and the Pink Slip of Damocles hanging over their head).

      A living wage is a poorly defined term (not to mention looooaded). Does it have to exist within the strictures of the post Second World War welfare state? What about necessary transitions that take place as North America moves (moved, for all intents and purposes) to a tertiary, services-based economy? Sure, we can deride some of these positions as “McJobs”, but eventually all the things we deride and sympathize with as the economy undergoes transition iron out (more or less).

      Creative destruction, if you will, can only be mitigated to a degree. Protecting workers against the “pink slip of Damocles” is asking for the law of unintended consequences to reach out (with its invisible hand, naturally) and smack ya one. The wage cushion you speak of has to come out of somebody’s hide. These costs just get passed along, I will hasten to add.

      It’s certainly better than kicking that person out of work and handing their job to someone in another country with no human or environmental rights to speak of, and then putting the western worker in the impossible position of trying to “compete” on a playing field they didn’t design and can’t play in without serious compromise.

      How much longer do you think these unnamed countries would remain dreadful places of unspeakable human and environmental sins without the jobs that were punted over to them? All in good time, my friend. I’m no more a fan of these abuses than you are, but I don’t see how maintaining an inflexible view of the western economy is of benefit, at large.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      * The cheap goods you buy at Walmart doesn’t include the cost of destroying middle class jobs in your own country
      And neither do they include the benefit that lower prices confer upon people of the middle class. Which, sum total, is by economic necessity larger, in a truly free market. And to the extent that non free peculiarities of our “markets” changes this calculation, honest accounting would assign that cost to the maintenance of those peculiarities, not to the freedom to trade, per se.

      * Cheap oil from the middle east doesn’t include the cost in money and blood to extract it
      Yes it does. It’s not like those Middle Easterners are selling at a loss. And I can’t imagine Halliburton et al are subsidizing their drilling and service costs.

      * Foods packed with HFCS don’t include the cost of treating diabetes
      That’s because HFCS are inert, and don’t, as a rule develop diabetes :) The price of shoes doesn’t include the “cost of treating ran over pedestrians, either.

      * Gas burned in cars without emissions controls don’t include the cost of treating lung damage in cities prone to air-quality problems.
      And neither does gas burned in cars with such emissions controls. The two gas’ are in fact pretty hard to distinguish. Also, the cost of air doesn’t include the cost of treating whatever ailment may result from it participating with gas in combustion, in too rich a mixture, resulting in CO and NOx’s.
      Gas (and air) isn’t the issue, how someone burns it is; or more precisely, what toxins someone puts together and dumps into “other people’s” air. To get rid of the externality subsidy, ding the toxin emitter, not someone providing inputs that can be burned either cleanly, or less so.

      And your whole slave argument would indicate white, non plantation owning, Southerners were somehow losing out from slave labor in production processes. Just imagine all the middle class cotton picking jobs them white folk were missing out on, due to the low cost competition. Which makes it kind of surprising so many of those supposed economic losers, would go to war to protect that particular institution.

      In reality, to the extent China is employing slaves (as in sub market rate labor) in production processes satisfying our needs and wants, we’re the ones benefitting, while the slaves are the ones getting stiffed. But then again, stiffed is what non Partymembers in communist countries are supposed to be, isn’t it?

  • avatar

    The Volt has all-new, and in some ways dangerous technology beneath its uninspired styling. I’d be apprehensive enough if this were a Ford or Honda — but the fact this comes from Gov’t Motors, whose track record implementing advanced ideas is laughable at best, makes me downright fearful.

    With that in mind, I have no problem whatsoever letting government workers play the role of lab rats.

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      I agree. one need not go back more than a couple of years to discover GM’s “mild hybrid” disasters which garnered very little mileage improvments over their base 4-cylinder counterparts as well as needing to be recalled for leaking batteries.

      http://forums.motortrend.com/70/6798636/the-general-forum/gm-hybrids-battery-failures-and-internal-leakage/index.html

      http://www.egmcartech.com/2008/06/02/battery-glitch-hurting-gms-hybrid-sales/#more-21445

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      What is so new and dangerous? Batteries? A generator? This isn’t exactly rocket science.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Steven02, it’s GM.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    100 cars isn’t worth fussing about. The government buys lots of cars, all the time. They should buy some Volts, just as they should buy lots of other cars, too. If nothing else, it will serve as a good field trial.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    100 cars? Tip of the iceberg. The Volt is predestined to be a government fleet queen. But whether the sale is to a fleet or to an individual buyer, the outcome will be the same: a massive taxpayer subsidy, true extent concealed, of a vehicle no one would otherwise buy.

    BTW, notice that actual delivery of the Volts is up to nine months away. The timing of this announcement is intended to rain on the Leaf parade.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Really Edward? Since when is the government purchase of 100 cars newsworthy?

    As for the “waste” angle, your outrage would carry a lot more weight if there had been the same reaction at the previous administration’s waste of money on no-bid contracts, unnecessary and unwanted products for the military and oil industry subsidies costing billions.

    Our political parties seem to differ only in their preferred way of wasting taxpayer money, but either way, the government purchase of 100 cars is never really newsworthy unless you’re got a political axe to grind.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “The Federal Government Will Buy 100 Volts”

    Ninnies, don’t they know that it takes 110 volts?

  • avatar
    njdave

    Actually I think they should mandate that ALL government employees especially congress drive Volts. That way they get to experience first hand what the industry they forced us to buy and the policies they are trying to cram down our throats produces. I don’t think they would like any better than the rest of us will. I have no hope for a successful Volt.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    More executive branch window dressing. This will provide a sound bite and a photo op and nothing more. Hope they all go to IRS auditors.
    Beta testing first gen GM technology should be very ‘interesting’ as the old Chinese curse goes.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Part of this is the buy American initiative that the gov’t has and they desire to have more hybrids. 100 cars is a drop in the bucket for sales of the Volt and cars that the US gov’t will buy this year.

  • avatar
    WEGIV

    There’s more to this news item than TTAC carried.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/31/AR2010033103892.html

    GSA is also buying 5600 hybrid vehicles as a part of their annual purchase.

    Edward Neidermeyer – care to put in a FOIA request to get the list of what GSA is purchasing for their total fleet sales? I think Farago did that last year to see what the spread is, what they mean by hybrids, which manufacturer, etc.


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