The Passion and Confusion of 'Big' Ed Shultz

By Bill Moore

Posted: 07 Jul 2010

The right has Rush, the left Ed Shultz. Frankly, I like Ed better, but at times his passion can get the better of him, and today (July 7, 2010) was one of those days.

Ed Shultz, for those of you who aren't familiar with him, is a popular and often brusk radio talk show host and television commentator on MSNBC, the progressive left's version of Fox News. Ed sees himself as the champion of the 'working man.' Hailing from the rural North Dakota and Minnesota border country along the Red River, his show originates from studios New York City.

Today, he got on a tear about GM planning to build all of 10,000 Chevrolet Volts in 2011. He asked his listeners how was that going to make any kind of a serious dent in America's drive for energy independence and reducing our addiction to oil? He raged that GM needs to act with the boldness that saw Henry Ford launch the Model T in 1908 at a price of $825, a price that would drop four years later to $575.

Now, without question, the Model T was a revolution, "transforming the automobile from a luxury toy to a mainstay of American society." However, what Mr. Shultz clearly wasn't aware of is the fact that Ford only manufactured some 10,000 Model Ts the first year it was introduced, according to Eye Witness to History.

Granted, by 1927, when production ended, the company had sold 15 million of them around the world, but it took 18 years to get there. Also, the Model T in 1908 wasn't cheap, even at $825. Today, that would be equivalent to US$19,800, about the sticker price of Honda Insight Hybrid. This would, with scales of production, fall to the equivalent today of US$13,100, but this was a seriously stripped down basic form of transportation with a top speed of around 45 mph, propelled by a 20 hp engine. It could drive further than an electric car of its time, but with nowhere near the comfort or convenience.

By contrast, a comparable 1912 Standard Electric closed Coupe, with an advertised range of 110 miles, sold new for $1,885, today equivalent to $43,000, over $10,000 more than the Nissan LEAF will be selling for later this year. I'd call that progress in manufacturing, if not in range.

While Shultz chided GM and the Obama Administration for what he considers their timorous "dip the toe in the water" marketing strategy, one caller sensibly made the point that GM has to get this car right and that no one is sure what the market for the Volt will be. It makes sense, he explained, for GM to move cautiously with this new technology, which seemed to dampening Shultz's ardor a tad. Still, he reminded his listeners that a few thousand Volts a year won't get America off oil. He opined that we need the electric car equivalent of the Model T, something electric car advocates has long dreamed of, as well.

Finally, GM also has a big education job ahead of it. One caller said he'd never buy the Volt because it only seats two people. No, dear caller, it seats four. Also, the confused caller stated that the Tesla Model S -- which prefers to the Volt -- seats seven, which is true, and costs $50,000, which not true. With the $7,500 federal tax credit, it could cost $50,000, when it goes into production someday, but we're years away from that happening. For his part, Shultz kept quoting the $40,000 price for the Volt, a number based on sheer speculation. GM has not yet said what the car will cost. Period.

So, to Big Ed, if you read this, please understand that we're talking about a major paradigm shift in technology, not manufacturing, which was the real secret of the Model T's success. There was nothing new or revolutionary in what Henry Ford's Model T offered technologically. There is in what Tesla's Model S, Nissan's LEAF and Chevy's Volt will be offering. These company need to be profitable to survive and "bold" leaps of faith simply aren't a part of the automotive industry's vocabulary.

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