By on September 13, 2012

Five years ago, Chris Matthews said on MSNBC: “Well, The Washington Post is not the liberal newspaper it was.” Today, the Post finally will be condemned as part of the massive right wing conspiracy. In a brutal op-ed, signed by the full WaPo Editorial Board, the paper kills and buries the Volt. Basically, says the WaPo, we have been fooled:

The Energy Department study assumed that General Motors would produce 120,000 plug-in hybrid Volts in 2012. GM never came close to that and recently suspended Volt production at its Hamtramck, Mich., plant, scene of a presidential photo-op. So far, GM has sold a little more than 21,000 Volts, even with the help of a $7,500 tax credit, recent dealer discounting and U.S. government purchases. When you factor in the $1.2billion cost of developing the Volt, GM loses tens of thousands of dollars on each model.”

The WaPo fully subscribes to the story that the Volt is a giant money sink. It also has read the excuses that say that the car is not supposed to make money, that it is a rolling science lab on which greater successes will be built. Says the Post:

“Some such losses are normal in the early phases of a product’s life cycle. Perhaps the knowledge and technological advances GM has reaped from developing the Volt will help the company over the long term. But this is cold comfort for the taxpayers who still own more than a quarter of the firm.

The Energy Department predicted that Nissan, recipient of a $1.5 billion government-guaranteed loan, would build 25,000 of its all-electric Leaf this year; that car has sold only 14,000 units in the United States.

As these companies flail, they are taking the much-ballyhooed U.S. advanced-battery industry down with them. A Chinese company had to buy out distressed A123, to which the Energy Department has committed $263 million in production aid and research money. Ener1, which ran through $55 million of a $118 million federal grant before going bankrupt, sold out to a Russian tycoon.”

If we still believe in the electric car, our savior, then we have been fooled, says the Post. It also says by whom:

“No matter how you slice it, the American taxpayer has gotten precious little for the administration’s investment in battery-powered vehicles, in terms of permanent jobs or lower carbon dioxide emissions. There is no market, or not much of one, for vehicles that are less convenient and cost thousands of dollars more than similar-sized gas-powered alternatives — but do not save enough fuel to compensate. The basic theory of the Obama push for electric vehicles — if you build them, customers will come — was a myth. And an expensive one, at that.”

A year ago, the Washington Post wrote:

“The Volt changes everything – the car itself, the way we think about and use automobiles, and attitudes about energy conservation and fuel alternatives.”

Today, the Volt changed minds again. Not in a good way.

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114 Comments on “The Washington Post Turns Against The Volt, And Bites It...”


  • avatar
    danio3834

    Please, tell me more about the Volt.

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      Yes, please post more political posts on a car blog. Nothing brings the advertising dollars like comment baiting posts like this.

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      The Volt loses money. The space program lost money. The development of jet engines lost money. ALL RESEARCH AND DISCOVERY “LOSES” MONEY! And, so what? Should we stop developing new technology? Answer: No… unless you want the USA to become a third world, non-manufacturing country! When gasoline costs twenty dollars a gallon, then the creators of the Volt will be called “genius” and “savior”. And that day WILL arrive, maybe sooner than we would like– because, whether you believe it or not, oil IS a limited, FINITE resource, and yes, Virginia, the oil reserves WILL run out.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        NASA is not a for-profit company; it is a government agency.

        Technology development by private companies without a viable market for it always ends up as a loss. Jet engines had an instant and eager market.

        I love the fearmongering over gas prices and availability, which has been happening for 40 years. Substitute “$1″, “$2″, “$4″ for your mythical $20 price, and those statements have all been made in the past. Even just two years ago, Volt sales were predicted to take off when gas hit $5, which is is in some parts of the country – not happening.

        And all the while, the F-150 remains the top-selling vehicle.

        “Oil is limited”: I heard that in 1970. Yet somehow, the earth keep producing more of it, even in formerly dry wells.

      • 0 avatar

        Because we don’t eject biomass into space, I personally don’t believe oil is limited. The same processes that create oil do take a long time, but are perpetually going on in places mankind hasn’t even explored yet.

        Even if we ran out of oil, we could run cars off of other fuels such as ethanol or biodiesel. It would force us to retool our infrastructure to work with a different type of energy.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        The problem with electric cars is in the battery. Sure, the volt needs a better range extender, but it wouldn’t matter if the battery issue was solved.

        There is no way that any car-based research program will ever match Apples order for the batteries in the iphone5, much less all the other battery purchases made for all our electric portable gizmos. Subsidizing a battery technology is one of the dumbest ideas in the auto/energy industry (although hydrogen fuel is even worse).

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @bugtrucks:

        You’re technically correct that oil is being formed as we speak. However, you’re far more patient than I am, since you clearly have ten or twenty million years to wait around to fill up your truck. Me, I’ll be lucky to live another half century or so.

        Seriously, it sounds like you have no idea how long geological time is compared to the human timescale.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “There is no market, or not much of one, for vehicles that are less convenient and cost thousands of dollars more than similar-sized gas-powered alternatives — but do not save enough fuel to compensate.”

    I have to agree. The Prius is an obvious commercial failure, as everyone knows.

    Oh, wait a minute…

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      +1 Toyota leads the hybrid market with reasonably priced cars. The early adopters have preened about their hybrid ride; now to see if hybrids gain market share with the average Joe/Jill.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        But hybrid sales are around 2% of total vehicle sales, if that much, and no where near the estimates made by Toyota in 1999 of 25% of the US market, or other analyst projects a few years later of 10% to 15% of the market.

        Take Toyota out of the mix, and hybrid marketshare basically doesn’t exist. So that bares the next question – as hybrids did not live up to the hype – are they a failure also given their total marketshare.

        Do a search for the September 1999 article – I’ve linked the damn story so many times I’m not bothering to do it again. Toyota leadership is on the record predicting 25% of cars will be hybrids by 2009.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        APaGttH:

        What “hype” did hybrids not live up to? They offer great mileage. They are (mostly) more reliable than their standard counterparts. If you chose wisely (Altima) fun to drive was even possible. The only issue is the extra cost. For some commutes, the payoff in dollars is there, for others, the payoff is in less tangible means other than money, but it certainly is still there. The cost is the obvious impediment to a higher market share penetration, but the concept is in no way a failure. 25% market share was a stupid number to put out there. Unless gas becomes 8 bucks a gallon or battery costs halve a couple of times over, that number is never going to be met. The Volt is afflicted even more so by the same problem, and can’t pay off directly in money saved. Even people who are environmentally conscious will think twice because of the high cost and the fact that electricity often comes from fossil fuel sources, rendering the net “green” benefit questionable. As I posted before, a technological success but an economic failure.

      • 0 avatar
        Herm

        “Toyota leadership is on the record predicting 25% of cars will be hybrids by 2009.”

        with oil at $147 a barrel in 2008 they came very close at predicting the future, unfortunately the worlds economy collapsed and so did the price of oil.. and now it will start climbing again..

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      Yep, the problem is that too many congressmen pay attention to WaPo columns. Thus the reason having government pick winners and losers doesn’t work. If its agreed that more energy efficiency is in the national interest than use policies that properly incentivize that WITHOUT picking techs or companies.

      Unfortunately, they will always pick, then legislate. They can’t help it. Just like WaPo can’t see that they were part of the problem for expecting government to pick correctly rather than properly lead without picking.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Hatchbacks are MORE convenient than non-so’s. In the US, they long suffered the stigma of being “cheap.” Not so with the Prius.

      And driving past the gas station is more convenient than having to stop there every few blocks. As is cruising down the HOV lanes, while those who cannot afford the latest hipster ride are stuck in traffic.

      Also, the Prius never was priced far out of line compared to vehicles with similar interior room, content and perceived build quality. The Volt was always much more of a stretch.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Also, the Prius never was priced far out of line compared to vehicles with similar interior room, content and perceived build quality.”

        Hybrids have long included price premiums. Those price premiums are necessary for the manufacturer to recover the added cost of the batteries, which aren’t just heavy and bulky, but are also expensive.

        I’m going to quasi-plagiarize a comment that I made on another thread, as I find it necessary when confronted with the sort of nonsense that I quoted from the Post article:

        Comments like this make me wince because they betray a complete lack of understanding about the demand for technology. So indulge me as I try to make this point as bluntly as possible:

        EARLY ADOPTERS DON’T BUY HYBRIDS TO SAVE MONEY.

        Let me try that again, just in case you missed it the first time:

        EARLY ADOPTERS DON’T BUY HYBRIDS TO SAVE MONEY.

        And just to be absolutely sure that the point wasn’t lost:

        EARLY ADOPTERS DON’T BUY HYBRIDS TO SAVE MONEY.

        Late adopters tend to think in terms of pure cost-benefit, plus they demand value. Early adopters are very, very different — they don’t mind paying a premium if they believe that they’re getting leading-edge technology or some other non-economic benefit.

        I would suggest that you read Geoffrey Moore’s classic book on technology marketing, Crossing the Chasm. The lessons of the book and the Technology Adoption Cycle can be readily applied to the Prius, or the Volt, or any of these other cars.

        (Personally, I think that TMC has its game on to a far greater degree than does GM. But the new GM would have been foolish to have just walked away from a new technology that was largely developed by the old GM. It would have taken the new company relatively little money to finish it, and the long term benefits of the R&D are useful to the new business, even if they can’t possibly produce immediate profit.)

    • 0 avatar
      285exp

      The quote you refer to was about battery powered cars, and there is no doubt that they are less convenient and cost thousands of dollars more than similar sized gas powered alternatives, even after the subsidies we give them, and do not save enough fuel to compensate. The Prius solves primarily the convenience issue but, absent the subsidy, most people are unlikely to save enough fuel to offset the premium over a similarly sized ICE powered vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      hifi

      The first Prius WAS a commercial failure. But they were committed to continuous improvement and now it’s a huge success. GM needs to do the same.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    The Washington Post is an authority on nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      You know you’re dealing with someone uniquely (or unfortunately not, in our age of universal publicly funded indoctrination) myopic, when he claims a paper that acts surprised that the government screws up something, is somehow right wing.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    link to the WaPo story?

  • avatar
    dejal1

    WaPo has turned into bitter clingers?

    One difference between 2011 + 2012.

    The 2011 story was written by Warren Brown. Brown was a big cheerleader for the bailouts.

    The 2012 Opinion was written by the faceless Editorial Board. If no ones knows who wrote it, everyone still gets to go to all the Hip Washington parties.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “One Day of the Iraq War = 720 Million Dollars”

    So… the 1.5 billion investment on cutting edge technologies, is a waste of money.
    Let’s find a better place to use that money, let’s start a war with Syria.

    Please note, I’m a voting Republican. And I am against the bailouts, too. And dislike GM a lot.

    But I’m a lifelong engineer who has seen this country technological prowess erode. New technology costs a lot to develop. And not always will one reaps the benefits on a short term basis. And if the intended focus (automobiles) is a commercial failure, one never knows if the skills and talent that was created during the development, will help create the next new thing in the future.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      + 6.023*10^23

      As a fellow engineer, I couldn’t agree more. The beancounters (and I hate that Lutzian term, but it applies), would kill all R&D if they could. The idea that any number that strays from an accountants spreadhseet of planned econmics must be culled is what’s killing this country, more then anything else.

      The people complaining about how NASA ‘wastes’ money trying to go the moon or Mars, yet are completely ignorant about how all of modern society depends on NASA’s achievements from their ‘waste’. The integrated circuit, modern polymers, thin film surface treatment technology, high temperature ceramics, rare earth induction motors. Really everything but lasers, and lasers came about from a ‘wastefull’ IBM R&D project from the 60′s.

      As much as I hate GM (and I hate them dearly for selling me lemon after lemon till I wised up), I agree that they will learn valuable new engineering and production techniques that should make them very profitable in the 2020′s.

      Assuming the bean counters don’t tell them to melt down the tooling and fire everyone associated with the program.

      • 0 avatar
        Dirk Stigler

        Just like they reaped the benefits of one of the first front-drive systems of the postwar era, first multifunction screen in the dashboard, first mass-market fuel injected engine, first American-sized mass market front drive platform, airbags, seatbelts, etc ad nauseum? Sorry, the problem with GM isn’t lack of capital, or bad marketing, foreign protectionism or any of the other excuses people constantly throw out. It’s GM itself. It always has been.

        There is no longer any possible argument for throwing more good money after bad. Time to let GM go.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        It’s easy to justify the great things that came out of NASA R&D in the 50s and 60s.

        What came out of NASA’s hundreds of billions of dollars in the 80s, 90s, 00s?

        10 billion dollars a year to keep the 1970 era shuttle flying occasionally didn’t develop anything.

      • 0 avatar
        dejal1

        Science and tech? Not in the top 3 things since 2010.
        Note, this is the NASA admin talking.

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/7875584/Barack-Obama-Nasa-must-try-to-make-Muslims-feel-good.html

        Charles Bolden, a retired United States Marines Corps major-general and former astronaut, said in an interview with al-Jazeera that Nasa was not only a space exploration agency but also an “Earth improvement agency”.

        Mr Bolden said: “When I became the Nasa administrator, he [Mr Obama] charged me with three things.

        “One, he wanted me to help reinspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.”

        He added: “It is a matter of trying to reach out and get the best of all worlds, if you will, and there is much to be gained by drawing in the contributions that are possible from the Muslim [nations].”

        Byron York, a conservative columnist for the Washington Examiner, characterised Mr Obama’s space policy shift as moving “from moon landings to promoting self-esteem”

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        deja1: “Byron York, a conservative columnist for the Washington Examiner, characterised Mr Obama’s space policy shift as moving “from moon landings to promoting self-esteem””

        The goal of NASA and every other agency should be to help move the US towards a prosperous, happy future. Having NASA launch things is nothing new. Getting NASA involved in stimulating the education of the next generation isn’t particularly new but picking goals that explicitly further advance that agenda is.

        Doing something positive for foreign policy (our foreign policy needn’t *always* be about dropping explosives on people) could be the best use of NASA ever.

        Of course, Byron is probably one of those wise folks who understands real foreign policy, which is that the US is “exceptional” and we can simply kick other countries’ asses until they realize they love and admire us.

      • 0 avatar
        Darkhorse

        What the hell does NASA and the self esteme of Moslems have to do with the Volt? Islam has not made a contribution to science in a thousand years. Most of them think the world is flat anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        KitaIkki

        NASA’s glorious “Saturn V” days died with Dr. Werner von Braun

      • 0 avatar
        Robert.Walter

        Seems many religions have put the brakes on scientific query and enlightenment, some did it more and longer than others though.

      • 0 avatar
        dejal1

        “KixStart”

        I knew Mr. York would get a rise out of somebody.

        But, Mr. York did NOT put words into Mr. Bolden mouth. Pretty tough to twist words in an aired interview.

        Mr. Bolden said that Pres. Obama tasked him with a certain NASA mission. Are you calling Mr. Bolden a liar? If so, then he should have been fired.

        Let me check.

        http://www.nasa.gov/about/highlights/bolden_bio.html

        Nope, still has his job.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “The people complaining about how NASA ‘wastes’ money trying to go the moon or Mars, yet are completely ignorant about how all of modern society depends on NASA’s achievements from their ‘waste’.”

        Agreed Morbo, you should probably destroy them.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Doggone, I thought the space program brought us Tang – the granulated orange drink, but I think Tang brought us the space program!

        One of these days I’ll be right…

      • 0 avatar
        Morea

        @ Morbo

        The optical laser was invented simultaneously at Bells Labs and Columbia University not at IBM.

        Polymers were developed almost exclusively by US corporations (Dupont, Dow, American Viscose), academic and government research came much later.

        Integrated circuits by Texas Instruments and Fairchild Semiconductor.

        I could go on…

        The point is NASA’s contribution to real world technology is far below the proportion of tax money they receive. On the other hand space exploration is way cool, just don’t give them credit for technologies they did not invent.

      • 0 avatar
        Georgewilliamherbert

        Dejal1 -

        You should not take your information on NASA from right wing bloggers.

        Bolden having said that and working on NASA’s PR apparatus to improve various listed things has not detracted from the engineering goal.

        Though anyone working with the organization will still have regular fits of anger over some insanity in the system, it doesn’t resemble the 1990s or 1980s organization at all. It understands and is encouraging innovative prize competitions. It funded and is buying flights to the Space Station by commercial spaceflight providers – SpaceX and others. It’s attempting to figure out how to do the big things – Moon, Mars manned missions, serious robotic exploration further out, deep space science and astronomy, aeronautics – with less money and new approaches.

        The biggest risk to NASA this decade is that a group of Republican senators have decided that the Space Launch System – a gigantic, probably unsafe new space booster rocket – and Orion capsule – which is much heavier and more expensive than the SpaceX Dragon capsule – need $15-25 billion dollars worth of NASA money in the next 5 years, which will kill everything else. They propose to kill the commercial spaceflight contracts to pay for the more expensive government launcher, which is arguably not even necessary for the large manned Mars missions we might aspire to in 15-20 years. Republicans, torpedoing a vibrant and successful private industry, because one of them wants more money for Marshall Space Flight Center in his district, rather than just buying rockets.

        Stop listening to idiot bloggers.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      yep. the financiers run this country, to the detriment of us all. If it isn’t profitable by next quarter, it’s gone.

      • 0 avatar
        morbo

        And that’s the point I’m trying to make. Mooslimiacs and “Real ‘Murrcans” debates are for another blog. The real point is, Innovation don’t come cheap. Spend it now so you have a tomorrow, or choke it now and stagnate forever.

        The Prius makes Toyo bank now. How much money did they and the Japanese R&D funding that created it lose in the 90′s and 00′s until it was profitable?

  • avatar
    Zackman

    So, if the Volt was developed with corporate R&D funds and if GM had not been “bailed out”, all would be peachy keen?

    Nonsense.

    Perhaps the Volt hasn’t been marketed well, perhaps it’s the economy, perhaps…perhaps…it doesn’t matter to me. Didn’t Toyota lose money on the Prius for several years? That’s OK?

    Toyota’s investment paid off handsomely. I think the GM’s with the Volt eventually will too.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Toyota didn’t invest – just manpower – the Japanese government paid for the R&D.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        That’s what I thought, but as I didn’t have time to research, I’ glad you did.

        For some reason, that’s viewed as wrong here, but OK everywhere else…

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Tokyo says Toyota received no government aid in developing the Prius”

        http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/business/worldbusiness/03iht-toyota.1.11642110.html

        “Chrysler exec retreats on comment about Prius subsidies”

        http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2008-04-02-toyota-prius-subisidies_N.htm

        Just remember — if you keep spinning too much, it’s going to be you who ends up disoriented.

      • 0 avatar
        PintoFan

        Relying on the Japanese government to give you an honest answer about how they prop up their home industries is laughable. Jim Press backed off when Chrysler execs put the heat on him, but the cat was already out of the bag. He never really walked away from the core of his statement anyhow:

        “Though Miller believes Press misspoke, Press has since added, “The Japanese government strongly supported R & D (research and development) investment in battery development, and the Prius and other Japanese models benefited from that investment.” Sounds like he’s not backing down from his claims, and Chrysler is doing a bit of damage control.”
        http://green.autoblog.com/2008/04/02/toyota-vs-jim-press-did-toyota-get-government-help-for-hybrid/

        They might have laundered the money through one or more “research institutes,” but the net effect was the same. But keep believing the delusion that a 37-year employee just “slipped up” if that’s what helps you sleep better at night.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Jim Press backed off when Chrysler execs put the heat on him”

        Er, Chrysler initially backed up Jim Press.

        But each of them changed their position later. While it would be difficult to sue you (a random dude on the internet) for slander, Mr. Press and his former employer were in a very different boat.

        The lengths to which domestic car fans will go to attack the Japanese seem to know no bounds. They simply refuse to accept the fact that Toyota makes a better car, and beat Detroit fair and square. It must be embarrassing to think that short, non-blond guys with funny accents wiped the backsides of the lot of you, and deserved to win.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        @PCH

        You should look a bit more into groups like NEDO and METI in Japan. These are they types of groups Press was probably talking about. I recall you lecturing me recently about ‘not believing what you read from a company.’

        It was reported recently that research has developed a battery that didn’t need rare earths…guess where that came from?

        I’m not knocking it nor am I trying to state that the Japanese govt paid for the development of the Prius. But, its probably not as black and white as either side suggests.

        http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-technology/japan-develops-hybrid-car-motor-free-of-rare-earths-20101001-15zj5.html

      • 0 avatar
        Herm

        Actually the Prius was an indirect result of a US program of 1993..

        “The (PNGV) Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles was a cooperative research program between the U.S. government and major auto corporations, aimed at bringing extremely fuel-efficient (up to 80 mpg) vehicles to market by 2003. The partnership, formed in 1993, involved 8 federal agencies, the national laboratories, universities, and the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), which comprises DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation. On track to achieving its objectives, the program was canceled by the Bush Administration in 2001 at the request of the automakers, with some of its aspects shifted to the much more distant FreedomCAR program.”

        The Feds invested about $1.5 billion and the Detroit 3 invested an equal amount.. 80mpg hybrids were developed but never marketed since the public did not want them.. Toyota was excluded from the funds but decided to develop the Prius to remain technologically competitive, and the rest is history.. hybrids are about half of the Japanese market now.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        @Herm

        So, you are saying Toyota developed the Prius without govt help in Japan after being left out of US cooperative?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “You should look a bit more into groups like NEDO and METI in Japan.”

        I think that you meant to refer to MITI, not METI.

        You’re trying to confuse and distort the subject. I don’t think that anyone who knows what he’s talking about is going to claim that Japan (or for that matter, just about any other country with an auto industry) doesn’t make some effort to assist and/or protect its domestic auto industry.

        However, here, we’re dealing specifically with the issue of the Prius and who paid for its R&D. There is a common meme among Detroit defenders that the Japanese government picked up the tab. They say this even though there is absolutely no evidence to support that position, and a lot of evidence that contradicts it.

        This is part of an ongoing effort for Detroit fans to claim that Toyota et. al. succeed only because of a vast conspiracy. But the sad reality is that Detroit imploded because it made lousy cars. You may not personally think that they’re lousy, but there are enough people who did for their market share to fall through the floor.

        The retail environment in the United States is highly competitive, and the old versions of GM and Chrysler just couldn’t compete. Let’s hope that the new companies learn from those mistakes and do better.

      • 0 avatar

        Spend $500 Billion dollar a year devaluing the currency, allow Toyota to rake in billions in extra profit each year and it doesn’t matter who pays for R&D.

        “Toyota didn’t invest – just manpower – the Japanese government paid for the R&D.”

        That crazy tark!! We no bereive that Apagtth is terring the truth. Rook, at this time arr i can say is that we no pay for R&D. It is not my faurt that Chryser say so. We Japanese govt are such a rong history of praying by the rures and not rying at arr. Our car markets are open and arr the foreign companies serring very well. Ask Berter if you no bereive me.

        You americans have biiig penis, we japanese only have smarr penis. So prease bereive us.

        - The japanes govt.

        You heard it guys. These guys are known for their honesty. Can we put this to rest now. Remember when they said the Nanking massacre never happened? Well that obviously had to be true too.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        @PCH

        No, I meant METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry)

        http://www.meti.go.jp/english/

        But, thanks for the condescending attempt to correct me. Yes, there is also a MITI.

        I’m not trying to distort anything and don’t lump me in with the people claiming the Japanese govt completely subsidized the Prius development…I never said that. Did government research help develop any of the components for the Synergy Drive System? Maybe so…if so, good for them.

        Nor do I think that NEDO is working directly on behalf of Toyota when they recently made breakthroughs in hybrid motors. As I linked before:

        http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-technology/japan-develops-hybrid-car-motor-free-of-rare-earths-20101001-15zj5.html

        Is NEDO working to make sure Japan isn’t beholden to China for rare earths? Probably so. I doubt NEDO or Hokkaido University are going to be coming out with a new hybrid car in the next few years though. Is Japan more effective than the US at targeting their govt money to research that supports the ‘home team’ industries? Probably so.

        All I did was suggest the type of thing Press was referring to in his comments. He did work inside Toyota for 37 years and knows way more than you or I do about the matter.

        As I said before, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle between 100% subsidized by the govt and no govt help.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      “Toyota’s investment paid off handsomely. I think the GM’s with the Volt eventually will too.”

      You should have bought some GM stock. As should others who felt like you. But that in no way justifies threatening to throw those who feel differently in jail unless they pony up for stock, too.

    • 0 avatar
      sunridge place

      Edit…see above. This ended up in the wrong place.

  • avatar
    niky

    The problem, really, is developing an electric that does absolutely everything a gasoline car does, as a way of replacing the gasoline car, is like focusing on hail mary passes to win the big game.

    But really, how is this news to anyone? Plug-ins are too expensive for most consumers, the battery bubble is bursting, and sales of really, really expensive commuter cars sucks in a recession. And, by the way, government loans aren’t always well-thought-out.

    When you make decisions on science policy based on arbitrary targets not grounded in scientific or commercial reality, whatever your political stripe, then you’re going to have problems.

  • avatar
    Volts On Fire

    Absolutely beautiful. Hopefully this hits Barry O right in the kneecaps, too.

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me — You can’t get fooled again.

  • avatar
    jz78817

    I wish the mainstream media would stick to reporting things they actually understand, like Justin Bieber’s hairstyle or the Kardashian’s arses.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    You either buy into the big-picture strategy of the Voltec technology or you don’t (big changes in technology are always costly), and yes, for the millionth time, President Obama over-hyped what will never be anything than a narrow niche vehicle as long as it costs as much as it does, only seats four, and gets disappointing gas-only fuel economy.

    Nothing new in this editorial. The nation owes its very existence to those who dared to spend more than was prudent at the time. Ruinously-expensive technology helped us win WWII and land on the moon, and it will also reduce our carbon footprint and dependence on foreign oil…someday.

    If WaPo is saying that day is not yet here, I agree with them. But to say that day will never come is a bit pessimistic, considering how much this country has achieved in its relatively brief history.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      +avogadro’s number

      This utter fascination with short-term profits that our business class has been pushing has real negative consequences. We can certainly argue about how to pay for long-term r&d and about what r&d deserves said funding, but what I really fear is that we have a lot of people feel that we can do without it.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        Wall Street demands quarterly profit and dividends. R&D isn’t an immediate benefit to profitability ergo, it’s bad. Bell Labs, RCA’s labs and Lockheed’s Skunkworks wouldn’t stand a chance if they were proposed now days.
        What about the “Common Good” from out civics class? If Japan gives Toyota a bazillion dollars to research a hybrid car, why can’t the US government give the Big 3 a bazillion dollars to research a hybrid car? Edison didn’t have a successful light bulb on his first try. I had forgotten Avogado’s number, thanks.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I think I’ll come back in January. A shame this has become a political blog.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    GM has a long and (un)distinguished history of coming up with some pretty good engineering ideas – only to either screw them up by letting MBAs ruin the concept, or by letting inept managers (any other kind at GM?) not allow the concept to ripen. Add to that GM’s “let’s beta test on the customer” propensity coupled with the UAW inability to ever insert screw A into Slot B correctly, and we have the undescribable awfulness that has rotted, smelled, and presently constitutes Government Motors.

    The Volt is not a bad idea at all…were it to be done by Toyota, Honda, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Da Coyote..

      It has been done somewhat successfully at least by Toyota..it’s called the “Prius” (in its now various versions). And remember that its early years were bad too.
      But even now, 40-mpg cars with conventional ICE engines exist, and they still PERFORM like real cars without costing $40K to do it.

      ——–

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        40 mpg is easy on the highway. With the right gearing and aero, almost any car can do it.

        Getting close to or better than that in the city, like hybrids do, is very, very hard.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    C’mon TTAC.

    Everyone knows we can make arguments for and arguments against the Volt. We can debate its merits as a car. We can debate its merits as a new technology platform. We can debate its importance as a halo vehicle. And throw all arguments up against its price vs costs and accounting.

    Stories can be written that it’s great. Others, that it isn’t.

    Everyone already has their opinion on all the metrics upon which one can discuss the Volt, I’m fairly sure.

    But framing this debate so politically in this election period is only inviting debate on this site which devolves to, “Yeah? I know you are, but what am I?”

    Peewee would be so impressed. But to B&B, it’s just troll bait. Waste of money! Fraud on taxpayers! Government Motors stinks! Union workers suck! Obama’s fault! Romney would be worse! George started it!

    Please. TTAC. Stop. Just knock it off. Really.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Gee, Domestic,

      I did not think Bertel’s listing the WaPo article was inappropriate at all. I rather enjoyed it.
      But I must say that precisely because of this political year, I have actually become desensitized or even anesthetized about political considerations and just filter them out…not the other way around.

      Regardless of what one may think of the Volt (pro or con), several facts remain:
      1) The recent development in advanced ICE technology , both gasoline and diesel, that are now comparable in REAL mileage, while retaining cost effectiveness and performance of conventional vehicles;
      2) Renewed interest and emphasis on CNG engines;
      3) Renewed use of CVCC technology (Honda);
      4) Upcoming use of H2 to be generated from waste sludge and sewage (today’s Automotive New NEWSCAST video);
      5) Increasingly successful longer range pure EV’s, like Tesla.

      So, the Volt WILL have competition EVEN among “green” vehicles, and simply cannot meet its projected growth curve in its current form. It no longer has just the “Prius” to go against.

      ——–

  • avatar
    JK43123

    Wasn’t this Volt supposed to be all-electric, then it became just another hybrid? Or am I remembering incorrectly.

    John

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    You know, as a non-American it’s totally possible to read this article in a non political way, since there are some important industry points that it recaps.

  • avatar
    Byron Hurd

    “A year ago, the Washington Post wrote…”

    Warren Brown’s byline is on that, not the Ed Board’s.

  • avatar
    JohnTheDriver

    I’ve got the Volt nomination in the 10 worst cars in America contest. Is it one of the worst cars? Only a fool would think so. On the other hand, Bertel … give me my damn swag byooooootch!!!!!!

  • avatar
    George B

    The main problem with the Chevrolet Volt is it’s battery pack is too expensive for it’s added utility. It will be interesting to see how the shorter range Fusion and Accord plug-in hybrids do in the marketplace. I wonder if the Volt sales would increase if GM sold a cheaper, smaller battery, shorter range version.

    What are the rules for solo access to HOV lanes in California? How much electric capability do you need to buy to get a faster commute?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      ” It will be interesting to see how the shorter range Fusion and Accord plug-in hybrids do in the marketplace.”

      Ford (and Toyota) took an interesting approach to address the shorter range battery issue. Unlike the Volt, the Fusion and the C-Max have a mode that allows you to manually enable/disable the electric mode. That way, if you live in the burbs and have a smooth highway commute to start with, you can hold off electric mode until you hit the city traffic.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        @mcs ‘Unlike the Volt, the Fusion and the C-Max have a mode that allows you to manually enable/disable the electric mode. That way, if you live in the burbs and have a smooth highway commute to start with, you can hold off electric mode until you hit the city traffic.’

        You would be incorrect. Its called the ‘Hold Drive Mode’ and its on the 2013 Volt. So, that feature beat Fusion and C-Max to the market. GM is making improvements on the Volt each year.

        Here’s a link to better educate yourself on the Hold Drive mode already for sale with the 2013 Volt.

        http://www.chevroletvoltage.com/index.php/volt-blog/18-volt/2654-whats-new-for-the-2013-chevrolet-volt.html

  • avatar
    tparkit

    The other day I was reading about the Defense Department buying 1,500 volts.

    The only way to truly evaluate Volt sales is to adjust the figures by backing out buying by government, friends-of-government (like General Electric), and those otherwise beholden to government (like universities), and see what’s left.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      So essentially, only retail and no fleet/gov’t sales.

    • 0 avatar
      dejal1

      I don’t think it was specifically 1,500 Volts.

      I’ll be creamed for linking to “Faux News” but Fox News is one of the few sites that explained it correctly.

      http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/09/11/taxpayers-to-get-charged-as-pentagon-buys-up-chevy-volts/

      “The Department of Defense is planning to purchase 1,500 electric cars including Volts”. So, no reason other makes can’t be in the mix, like Ford, but that remains to be seen.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        I could see a GSA volt used as a “carpool queen” used mostly for one day usage. Plugged in every night and maintained on schedule. Imagine the sad haters if it all works out.

  • avatar
    bd2

    The thing is, the WaPo editiorial board has no idea what portends for the future.

    They have no idea how much the cost of batteries will drop in the coming years or what the price of gas/oil will be.

    If the price of batteries come done to the point where the cost of the Voltec system isn’t much more than for Toyota’s hybrid system, I can see sales of autos with the Voltec drivetrain increasing exponentially as commuters can do their daily commute just on EV power and with the addition of models suited for business, an influx of commercial buyers in urban areas.

    Point is, it’s way too early to come to any sort of conclusion right now about the Volt, much less the Prius.

  • avatar

    Cost of developing the Volt : $1B to $1.2B
    Sales for the first 8 months in US: 13,500
    Global Voltech(Volt, Ampera, Holden) sales for Aug 2012: 4000+

    Cost of Developing the Leaf: $5B
    Sales for the first 8 months in US: 4,228
    Global Leaf sales for Aug 2012: Less than 1000

    Source Motortrend:
    “On the all-electric Leaf, Nissan has spent over $5 billion in development costs (the Prius family has cost Toyota twice that amount over the past decade). ”

    “After performing its own analysis and interviewing a number of automotive consultancies, Reuters added estimated development costs of at least $1.2 billion (For the Volt).”

    Number of media sites craping on the Volt in the last 10 days: 35,261
    The Nissan Leaf: 0

    I can most definitely see how the media is not biased. /Sarcasm

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      But this sort of cutting-edge journalistic trolling — I’m sorry, I mean “inspiring a discussion” is much more likely to bring in the page views! Look at that article. Two-thirds of it is copied and pasted off of the Washington Post’s website; there’s no way Bert spent longer than five minutes putting this post together. Now look how many comments this article has compared to, say, the most recent Junkyard Find, for which Murilee had to do actual work? Unique ad hits are undisclosed but are almost certainly in line with comments.

      People *want* to argue endlessly about politics to complete strangers on the Internet, and it’s easy to make some money harnessing that particular perpetual motion machine.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        If only I could come up with a “Vitriol/voltaic” converter that could be installed on a Volt – you’d NEVER need to plug one in.

        In addition to technological hurdles, the Volt still has to contend with political headwinds.

        It’s different than the space program, whose benefits “trickled down” to industry – in order for this advance to be viable, it has to be marketed and used by consumers (early adopters, if you will), and the (much hated) rebate helps with that.
        Of all the things that we piss away tax dollars on, I can agree with this until it can take a foothold and help our national security by lessening our dependance on foreign oil. This should not be limited to GM – I think a higher rebate should be available for plug-in cars with smaller packs (Prius plug-in; CMax plug in); which could enhance fuel efficiency even more.

        EDIT: What people seem to forget is that the “headlong rush” to get 40MPG “highway” ratings is hitting the wall – the BIGGEST real gas savings is raising the “city” ratings, and hybrids are the best way to do that. Yes, the battery in the Volt is too large and heavy to get the optimal “city” rating, but it’s sized just right for an “all electric” commute, and still gets much better real-world “city” mileage than many small sedans.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      I don’t own a financial stake in Nissan and as such do not care if they marken impractical, money losing vehicles. As to the R&D costs, The Prius was new technology so I would expect it to cost more. Your development costs are significantly less when you allow someone else to blaze the trail. I believe Toyota has recouped their invesment though so it is a moot point.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    There are some that refer to the New York Times and the Washington Post as authoritative sources for national level issues. They’re both in the business of selling newspapers folks. Macy’s and Buddy Bill’s 38 Bait Barns are the advertising they need to survive. Controversial copy leads to news stand sales. Over a 100 years ago the newspaper industry figured out more men would buy papers if they included baseball scores. Now they’re fighting the internet, good luck with that.

  • avatar
    Extra Credit

    Interesting opinion piece.
    Lots of comments.
    Ummm, does the fact that the Volt is ugly factor in here somehow? Perhaps a Vellum Venom review would be enlightening.

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    You liberals crack me up. You applaud when our massive government regulates every conceivable aspect of the automobile industry. You encourage Uncle Sam to roadblock the discovery and production of fuel for our cars and trucks. You use taxpayer money to bail out incompetent automakers when they fail. After all this, you have the nerve to complain that a blog about the car business gets too “political”?

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    Talk about belaboring the obvious. The Volt was a bit of vaporware intended to persuade our dimwitted congress to bailout GM on the basis of going green; that they’d gotten religion and intended to change into the enviro-friendly manufacturer of the future. Unfortunately what was just a pie in the sky exercise actually got built; and to no ones surprise doesn’t sell because few really want one. How many times has that been said on this blog and countless others. Oh my, the Wapo stops drinking the ideological cool-aid for a moment in order to maintain their thin facade of inside the beltway credibility. Same old same old modus operandi of the establishment media, they push an agenda, ignore the facts and then tell the unvarnished truth when its too late to matter. Whenever Barak Obama leaves office they’ll probably drop a ton of rhetorical bricks on him-when its safe to do so.
    And Chris Matthews is a tool.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “The Volt was a bit of vaporware intended to persuade our dimwitted congress to bailout GM on the basis of going green;”

    WRONG! The government wanted to scrap the Volt program and GM had to convince them to keep it.

    “New technology costs a lot to develop. And not always will one reaps the benefits on a short term basis. And if the intended focus (automobiles) is a commercial failure, one never knows if the skills and talent that was created during the development, will help create the next new thing in the future”

    +1. I’m also in agreement that one of the biggest problems with US companies is short term planning & business tactics to make quaterly financials look good for the stock holders.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Something to think about here in the Volt vs. Prius R&D cost debate. The Prius pioneered hybrid technology. Toyota knew that there would be a period of loss because people would have to accept the technology. Years later, GM brought out the Volt. By that time they did not have to gain acceptance for the technology…Toyota had already fought that battle.

    The Volt is not revolutionary technology in the sense the Prius was. Yes, it works slightly different than the Prius and has a larger battery, but it is still a car with an engine and a battery. It is evolutionary in that respect. This combined with the years of hype that in the end, failed to be met are powerful issues to overcome.

    In the end, the Volt’s technology does not differ significantly enough from the Prius to justify the added cost. That is not me or the Washington Post speaking…That’s the market talking.

  • avatar
    niky

    Volt techbology IS rather revolutionary. It’s the first serious mass-market application of charge-depleting hybrid technology on the market. There were those of us who felt that this was e optimum way to do it. About the only problem, tech-wise, with the Volt is that the engine is too big. If they’d licensed out the Lotus range extender instead…

    In the end, though, the Volt’s biggest problem is an externality. Due to political reasons, it’s a lightning rod for right-wing politicians looking for an election year edge. Due to political reasons, it’s being marketed as a Chevrolet for the masses when it ought to be marketed as a luxury car for the gasoline averse. And due to reasons of poor global economy, it’s not selling as well as expected… Big whoop-tee-doo… Everything “green” that isn’t a Prius is doing horribly.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “Due to political reasons, it’s a lightning rod for right-wing politicians looking for an election year edge.”

      That’s pretty much irrelevant. This is the least of GM’s problems; most car buyers couldn’t care less about this.

      “Due to political reasons, it’s being marketed as a Chevrolet for the masses when it ought to be marketed as a luxury car for the gasoline averse.”

      This is 110% wrong. There is a reason why the Prius was not launched in that way.

      It made sense to launch the car with a mainstream badge attached. To launch it initially as a luxury car would have harmed the badge to which it was attached and compromised whatever chance that it had of commercial success.

      Like any early adopter tech product, the Volt should be sold based upon its technological attributes. Early adopters understand that they have to a pay a premium for new technology. The luxury buyer is in a different category — they pay for prestige, not for the privilege of being uber-geeks.

      GM’s main problem is that most of the early adopters already bought a Prius. Most of those buyers will see the Volt as an evolution of the hybrid, not as a unique, new and disruptive technology.

      The market for hybrids is small, but Toyota pretty much owns that market. It will be very difficult for anyone else to take that away from Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      “Due to political reasons, it’s being marketed as a Chevrolet for the masses when it ought to be marketed as a luxury car for the gasoline averse.”

      Considering GM announced it as a Chevrolet in 2007, I’d like to know how Bush was expecting to profit by it. Please, explain it for us.

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        It’s not a slight against any particular party… but there is the problem of what target market the car is aimed at.

        PCH101: Fair, enough, it’s hard to second-guess Toyota, who knows better than anyone how to market ridiculously expensive hybrids… But selling one as a luxury toy has its merits. Worked for Tesla, somewhat (though they are also still in the red in terms of recouoing development costs). With cars like the Volt, with much higher costs in batteries than the Prius, this is a logical way to go.

  • avatar
    mmarton

    There’s a similar discussion on another car site this morning. Interesting to realize how much government money other makes have received over the years to develop new technology, including Japan and Korea. Much of the hybrid technology on the road today was subsidized by government funds.

  • avatar
    2012JKU

    The market has spoken. People simply dont want to pay $40K+ for a 4 seat vehicle. Most people would get rid of the car before they drove it enough to recoup the extra cost in fuel savings.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Tell that to BMW, Mercedes, and Cadillac. They must not have gotten the memo, and kept selling cars.

      Pch101s analysis about early adopters is spot – at least from my perspective as an early adopter who couldn’t care less about prestige (whatever that is). I drove the Volt and loved it, and thought it was worth the money as a kind of ubergeek’s Corvette with a really pleasant interior and an unbelievably smooth ride. No single aspect of the car justify the pricetag on their own, but the whole car is a compelling package.

      Anyway, people in my demographic buy this car, and I would love to – as soon as I finish paying off my 20s.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Thank you, Bertel, for a good article. Don’t let the ideologues get you down. The WaPo piece is newsworthy because that newspaper has been one of Obama’s best journalistic pals, and also because D.C., having a vested interest in interjecting government into everything, doesn’t want to hear the Volt is less than perfect.

    Personally, I wonder if any GM director ever said: “When the Mustang came out it made tons of money for Ford. So we rushed a low-cost clone, the Camaro, into production and also made tons of money. Couldn’t we license technology from Toyota and Ford, turn the Equinox into a hybrid like the Escape, and actually start making a profit on a car?” No, I guess not. It would have hurt Lutz’s ego.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      I’m perfectly OK with Bertel calling our attention to this.

      However, the Volt is something of a sideshow, so was it worth the Post’s time to blast it? Our energy policy, or lack thereof, is much bigger than the Volt. And, as we see from today’s BMW hybrid article, pretty much every automaker wants to get into this. Ford’s doing it, too. Looks like Honda is going in.

      From a vision perspective, GM was not far off the mark; maybe we can migrate to EVs by starting with practical short-range EVs that use an ICE to take over for long-range trips. And, to GM’s credit, they started in on this fairly early.

      But you are so right about Lutz’ ego…

      I’m a longtime critic of the Volt, not because it’s a bad idea (vision thing is, as I said, OK) but because it’s obvious that it couldn’t sell, even with the big tax credit. As Lutz originally bragged on it, it would be great… 50 miles EV, 50mpg, 600 mile total range, sub $30K. I might buy one. However, as they started to develop it and Lutz got the bad news about the physics and the costs… they simply ignored reality and pressed on, anyway. And the result is cramped, has poor range-extended fuel economy and (absolutely astonishingly) requires premium gas.

      GM, Lutz in particular, had a great deal of zeal for leapfrogging Toyota, when it was pretty obvious to everybody else that Toyota could simply stand up in the middle of GM’s leap and that would crush GM’s nuts. HSD is a great platform for doing exactly what the Volt does. But Toyota wasn’t doing that, at least not to that extent, starting with a 10-15 mile range vehicle. It should have occurred to GM that Toyota must have good reasons for this.

      And there are… the idea of a $40K compact car is absurd. The Prius PHV is troubled enough at $32K but Toyota has the advantage of a JDM market that really, truly cares about cars that use very little gas, so their sales don’t look quite as bad and they’re not catching the same kind of flack GM is catching.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        I agree with a lot of what you have said KixStart but Toyota isn`t crushing GM’s nuts as you state when you look at actual sales – the last few months (not just the “high” in August) the Volt has easily outsold the Prius PHEV. I would have expected the Prius to have outsold the Volt because it has the brand name associated with hybrids. I am sure there would have been articles run on the lack of sales if that had been the case. Much like last year when the Leaf (fleetingly as it turned out) outsold the Volt.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @mike978: you’re making the same mistake that GM made when they thought that the hybrid-image would sell the 33mpg Malibu hybrid and that Tahoe monstrosity.

        Hybrid owners typically do their homework, so the numbers are part.of the image. If the car ain’t got the numbers, it ain’t got the image.

  • avatar
    PRND21

    Interesting, as ex GM CEO Rick Wagoner is on the WaPo Board.


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