By on July 19, 2010

If you didn’t know, you might think it’s a Cobalt or a Camry. I don’t think there’s a lot of cachet in having the first one. It’s meant to be a people mover, not a people impresser. It’s not like when you pull into Bob’s Big Boy parking lot with the Volt, you’re going to open the hood.

I caught some flack from TTAC’s Best and Brightest for suggesting that Jay Leno was less than entirely impressed by the Chevy Volt when it showed up at his legendary garage back in December. Today though, Leno’s ambivalence towards GM’s wundercar hit the front page, when the auto-obsessed comic gave the Detroit News a withering reaction [above] to the extended-range electric car. Maybe next time GM will give Team Coco a try…

Like Conan, however, GM is simply letting Leno’s words slide right off it. Spokesman Greg Peterson tells the Detroit News that the company has already tried “the Leno test” and that the results were universally positive.

We’ve pulled into Bob’s Big Boy parking lot, opened the hood and drawn some great attention. There is a particular audience that is all about advanced technology and green transportation. For people like that, the Volt has that cachet. It’s kind of like an iPhone. An iPhone is still a cell phone with a lot of capability in it.

Despite this prima-facie evidence that Leno doesn’t know what he’s talking about, the DetN continues its home-team defense by hauling out’s Erich Merkle to point out that Leno really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

If I were GM, I don’t know if I would be courting Jay Leno for the purpose of getting an endorsement on the Volt. Don’t get me wrong, Jay’s a big car guy, but he’s not your Prius, your Volt, your green car guy. The typical Volt driver might be a vegan. They may be opposed to a Big Boy altogether.

They might, but if you’re really going to slice-and-dice the market for new cars into Jay Leno fans and vegans, column “A” is going to be a considerably better populated than column “B.” Even if you’re talking about potential EV buyers, vegans remain a pretty small sector. And the fact that analysts believe the Volt doesn’t need to be accepted by folks at that traditional haven of American automotive appreciation, the burger drive-through, is yet another indication of how tragically niche this product is shaping up to be. Leno’s a guy with a lot of cars, not an automotive oracle… but if Chevy wants the Volt to approach the kind of volume it needs to pay for itself, it can’t afford to alienate one of the most prominent American interpreters of automotive culture.

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15 Comments on “Quote Of The Day: Leno Re:Volts Edition...”

  • avatar
    George B

    Jay Leno isn’t anti-green. Check out this Jay Leno video of Honda Civic GX natural gas powered car.

    He’s definitely pro-car and asks practical questions about fuel availability, cost, and refueling time. Not excited about the Civic GX itself, but seems interested in alternative fuel.

  • avatar

    I think his comments were taken out of context. The fact is that the Volt isn’t egg-shaped like some of the earlier and uglier EVs and hybrids means that it won’t necessarily draw attention. And, he’s comparing it to vehicles that have some of the highest volumes in the industry. I just don’t see an insult here…

  • avatar

    EN, I think your analysis is right on.

    Leno can usually find redeeming qualities in both people and cars. If he’s bored with the Volt, so will many other people be.

    I’ll bet he responds better to the Leaf, or maybe not.

  • avatar

    Buyers rarely care about how their engines work after deciding if the current cars have enough power to meet their expectations. They don’t want a noisy engine. They don’t want a weak engine. They really don’t care if the engine has one or two tail pipes, except for how well two tail pipes appear under the rear bumper.

    Americans have been divorced from what makes their cars move for a couple of generations. Leno is correct when de talks about how most used cars under 20 years of age, often have mint-perfect manuals. In our daily life over many years, our relationship to cars has gone from regular shade tree hands-on maintenance to complaints about the convenience found within them.

    For all the incredible hype, electric cars and hybrids are not doing anything new. For all the costs with these vehicles, you expect a pleasant surprise as revolutionary as it’s engines, but discover that these cars do what cars costing $10,000 less could do.

    What has made the Toyota Prius sell better than the Ford Fusion Hybrid is the fact that the car isn’t available except as a hybrid. So driving one makes a statement. But eventually, that statement has to meet fiscal reality. Impressing strangers or boosting your righteousness quotient eventually levels off and you are stuck in reality with a car that doesn’t do anything better than it’s regularly propelled neighbor’s car.

    So the Volt will generate some interest as long as GM and Greenies keep telling people how Volts are something worth the extra loot to drive them.

  • avatar

    Volt may not be a “people impresser” for enthusiasts, but as the Prius has shown, people are impressed with an ecological “people mover”. The Prius justifiably gets a lot of hate from the enthusiast community. But it has been a better halo car for Toyota then any Supra or LFA-like supercar would have ever been.

    These ‘green’-cars after all that flys in the face of what enthusiast motoring is about; it sacrifices power for economy, shape for aerodynamics that seats 4, handling for the sake of thin low-rolling resistance tires.

    However this isn’t the late 90s when the Prius/Insight was released. We’re having a ton of new hybrids coming out; Hyundai, Mazda, Mercedes, VW, etc. We have ~$32k EVs such as the Leaf (before $7500 rebate), and we have the PHEV Prius (which seems to be aiming for a cheaper car with a smaller battery, with the goal of increasing mileage rather then having an EV range). And we have the Volt with EV range + extended range.

    What’s important for the Volt is that it “impresses” the green buyer that shops at Whole Foods Market that has disposable income for organic foods rather then average motor enthusiasts (which GM has a Corvette & Camaro they want to sell to).

    The question is if the Volt’s ‘extended range’ is a attractive proposition for those green buyers? That’s whats unique about the Volt, but it adds weight and price. Will those green buyers prefer a Leaf that has no petroleum engine at all and has a longer range, or will a more pragmatic person choose PHEV Prius that uses electricity of improving mileage. Or is the Volt the best of both worlds?

    • 0 avatar

      The Volt and the Leaf really aren’t competitors due to their different applications. It’s a little like asking whether someone will opt for the Dodge Cummins turbodiesel or a Ford Ranger – they’re both trucks, but made for different purposes.

      To your point, if the buyer must have the best of both worlds, they should not buy the Leaf. Nissan is betting that many people won’t need a long-distance car, particularly in 2+ car households.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree, I think they are competitors and are going after the same eco-conscious buyer.

      Let’s face it, neither the Leaf or Volt really makes sense in terms of practicality nor economics. The car isn’t going to be purchased for utility reasons, rather it will be a car that will sell to the environmentally concerned consumer. The ‘green-then-thou’ crowd that like the thought of an EV.

      As far as the Leaf and a Volt, we need to consider what the consumer wants. GM’s approach with the Volt is adding a massive amount of weight that is obviously hurting its range (its rumored to be over 3,500lbs). Th 16kwh battery has a claim of 40 miles, the Leaf has no of the ICE bits, and has a 50% larger battery at 24kwh but travels over twice farther at 100 miles (in the real world we’re likely to see a lot less for both).

      The success of the Volt will depend on what they price it, but ultimately both cars will likely sell out and have a waiting list the first couple years since they are aiming for around ~10k vehicles (with a lot of that going to government fleet sales).

      Either way, both cars are merely a PR tool as it stands right now.

  • avatar

    I saw a Volt with manufacturer’s plates about a month ago, headed east on I-96 in Novi between the Milford proving grounds and the GM Tech Center in Warren. It was not masked off or camouflaged, and it looked like just another Cobalt going down the road. No breakthroughs in styling here, nothing distinctive, nothing to keep under wraps.

    I think prospective customers for the Volt will expect something that looks different, because it propelled by a different technology. GM obviously did not want to spend money on new styling for this vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 to DIYer

      I think that what you’re saying is exactly the point that Leno was making:

      What’s the point of having all this fancy early-adopter technology if nobody will notice when you drive up?

      The Prius design shouts “I’m not your ordinary car, I’m special!”.
      Your wife who doesn’t care about cars will notice a Prius and so will her friends when she drives up in one.

      However, the Volt looks like a Cobalt. $40K and her friends are going to ask her if her husband lost his job and they had to buy a cheap car.

      Is this cynical? Yup. Is it true? Yup. Styling matters.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    I was very impressed , both by the Volt , and by Leno. I haven’t watched an American TV channel for 30 years or so , and didn’t realise how good he is – he asked all the right questions.

  • avatar

    I think Ed being too sensitive. I mean I thought that as a positive yet realistic review. Its not a miracle its an electrical car which could be best compare to a modern day diesel locomotive.

  • avatar

    Man, when Leno showed the 1916 Owen Magnetic, I thought he was trying to make cry the poor GM Engineer… The basic design was almost exactly the same down to the reg-braking, all in 100-yr old tech.

  • avatar

    Leno’s ambivalence is striking because of the many colaborations he and his garage have had with GM over the years. It’s one thing if Leno were simply giving his opinion on the Volt. Its quite another that GM brought one to his garage for a review, and now must dismiss his comments.

    Leno is simply stating a car guy’s opinion, the Volt’s debut will be met with a yawn.

  • avatar

    GM is going with an 8 year warranty on the battery. My wife’s Kia Sorrento has a 10 year warranty. I’m with Jay.

  • avatar

    One problem with the Volt and other plug-ins is that if you live in an urban area with mostly on-street parking, you’re not going to be able to plug it in. For example Cambridge Massachusetts would be a prime market for these types of cars, but it’s mostly on-street parking. When you have to park on the next street over, there’s no way you’re going to reach the car with an extension cord.

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