Volt Birth Watch 43: BusinessWeek Vs. WSJ in Hybrid Smackdown

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

BusinessWeek's David Kiley didn't take kindly to Holman Jenkins' "pretty tedious editorial" against the gas – electric plug-in Chevrolet Volt. To smack down Jenkins piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Kiley hails the Volt as "a new lens through which the U.S. and world will view" GM. He defends GM's late-to-the-game [theoretical] game changer "because [GM] rightly saw that gas-electric hybrids were an inelegant engineering solution for higher fuel economy." (No comment on GM's eventual hybrid opt-in). Kool-Aid quaffed, Kiley turns on Honda. He lambastes the Japanese automaker for producing "the awkward looking Insight to answer the Prius, as well as the Ridgeline pickup and the Element." Huh? Mr. Kiley needs to get a grip; there are plenty of ways to defend the Volt and/or kneecap his critics. But, like GM, he needs to raise his game, quick.

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  • Davidkiley Davidkiley on May 01, 2008

    I figured I'd respond. I haven't imbibed any kool-aid about the Volt. It is technology, though, that I find terribly smart and usable. Will GM get it done at a cost we can live with? It remains to be seen. But my point is that criticizing them for shooting for it seems nuts. It is true that Honda Insight debuted in the U.S. before the Prius. Not sure, as I write, which one hit the Japanese market first. But I think we know that the two companies knew what the other was up to, and we also know which one was more successful. A gas-electric hybrid drivetrain, in my opiinion, is not a good engineering solution. The Prius is, more than anything else, a huge marketing success, especially in the U.S. But if you look at how successful other hybrids have been, you have to wonder just how good an engineering and value proposition it is. I blogged about the WSJ piece because I found it nuts to chase after GM for pushing to get a plug-in car to market before the competition. Yes, it's the company that killed the EV. History has punished them for that. But it seems like piling on at this point to lampoon them for trying to make the Volt a reality.

  • Robert Farago Robert Farago on May 01, 2008

    Davidkiley: Welcome to TTAC Mr. Kiley. Thank you for posting. I will let Frank and our resident alt. propulsion people (including some VERY savvy commentators) deal with some of the points you've raised. As publisher, I would simply like to say that TTAC doesn't lampoon simply for lampooning's sake. GM has consistently and deliberately mislead the media about the Volt. Either that or they've done it unintentionally-- which is even scarier. We pride ourselves on seeing through the BS, calling a spade a triangular digging implement, and putting our hands up when we're wrong. In any case, we'd love you to stick around and engage in a conversation with our informed, passionate and (mostly) accurate community. Maybe even BEFORE you write an article.

  • Davey49 Davey49 on May 01, 2008

    Isn't GM making a plug-in Hybrid Saturn Vue before the Volt?

  • Engineer Engineer on May 01, 2008

    @Davidkiley : May 1st, 2008 at 11:12 am David, Please explain why you find the Volt technology is so terribly smart and usable. As you may be aware, TTAC's Paul Niedermeyer found the Volt's potential competitiveness underwhelming. Please feel free to comment, or correct, as necessary. As we all know, a serious debate on these issues is long overdue. A gas-electric hybrid drivetrain, in my opiinion, is not a good engineering solution. I have to disagree with that one. The hybrid is a good compromise between economy (electric) and convenience (gas). PHEV, such as the Volt, will ultimately be based on hybrid technology. EVs have, so far, failed to provide sufficient convience to make a serious impact on the market. But if you look at how successful other hybrids have been, you have to wonder just how good an engineering and value proposition it is. The success, or failure, of each hybrid model is a business case in its own, that requires individual analysis. The Prius has obviously won the race to be the halo car of choice. Honda made a couple of notable mistakes in the hybrid race. The Insight, while great i.t.o. economy, was just too odd for major market penetration. The Accord hybrid was a performance hybrid, and might have been successful if gas remained below $2/gal. It did not, and buyers never bought into the performance hybrid idea. We can go on and on. Some hybrids offer negligible mileage improvement over ICE (GMC Sierra comes to mind). That obviously doesn't help. Toyota also seem to be doing fairly well with their hybrids, even if you exclude the Prius: In March, 12% of all Camrys sold were hybrids, as were 18% of Highlanders. 17% of Lexus Rx's were hybrids. Percentage-wise that beats any other maker. Your thoughts on that?