Surely George Will Really Isn't This Cosmically Myopic

By Bill Moore

Posted: 15 Nov 2010

Remember that famous Ronald Reagan campaign line, "there you go again" in his 1980 debate with President Carter? It's perhaps the most memorable thing the "Gipper" ever said. Okay, that's unfair. The "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" was pretty good too.

When I read George Will's column GM's electric-car fantasy running out of gas, "there you go again" immediately came to mind. I mean, what's with these "people" ? And I use that term loosely. First its that bloviating windbag Limbaugh, and now this esthete, bow tie-wearing Washington Post blogger is taking cheap shots at the "Automotive Engineer in Chief," General Motors and the Chevy Volt. Don't these people have better things to do with their time then spew distortions and lies? Permit me to illustrate.

To begin with, he and his conservative cronies, like to refer to General Motors as being an "appendage" of the government, because the Treasury Department opened up a $50 billion line of credit to GM in exchange for a controlling interest in the company, which seems to me a better idea than handing over $700 billion in TARP funds to the banks with zero accountability, must less a controlling stake. But, hey, I guess that's okay with Mr. Will. Banks don't make a damned thing. Car companies do.

Now, I've personally asked both senior GM executives and U.S. Treasury staffers how much influence the government imposes on the company. The response is little if any in terms of telling the car maker how to run its business. It is definitely not "Government Motors" or "Obama Motors," as the some like to claim.

Next Will accuses GM of lying about the Volt, asserting "the Volt is not quite an electric car, or not the sort GM deliberately misled Americans into expecting." He writes…

It is another hybrid. GM said the Volt would be an "all electrically driven vehicle" whose gas engine would be a mere range-extender, powering the Volt's generator, not its wheels: The engine just would maintain the charge as the battery ran down. Now GM says that at some point when the battery's charge declines, or when the car is moving near 70 mph, the gas engine will power the wheels.

Like America really cares how the Volt's electric drive system works. Here's what interests them: what happens when the battery depletes after 25, 30, 40 miles? Guess what, Mr. Will: nothing happens. The car just keeps going, and going and going. I drove it and I know. When the engine-generator turns on, you barely notice it. The car will go as long as you've got fuel in the tank, just like any other car, and from my experience the fuel economy wasn't that far off what the Prius delivers, and certainly comparable to the Fusion Hybrid, Honda Civic or Toyota Camry.

The genius of the Volt is that it seeks to balance the real world-commuting of 85% of the population with those occasional trips beyond the battery's range. With a car like the Volt the majority of Americans will drive all week on electricity and never use a drop of imported oil. How it happens isn't anywhere as important as that it does happen. Oh yeah, and GM earned a wall-full of patents for the technology that makes it happen. Or would Will and his ilk prefer to see the Toyotas and Hyundais of the world corner all the technology.

Okay, next on Will's hit list is the fact that for the first year, the Volt will only be available in six states and in limited numbers. I thought conservatives understood how business works. If you are rolling out brand new technology and you're trying to be financially prudent with those federal funds Treasury loaned you, I would have thought Will would expect GM to move forward with careful deliberation. My god, every other business does this, but I guess our beltway blogger thinks GM management should do something cosmically stupid and build a 100,000 Volts the first year, which not only means committing suppliers to ramp up their production all the way back down the chain on a brand new -- and yes, admittedly unproven -- product, but also to costly dealer training and support in all 50 states. Doesn't this guy know anything about the car business?

And of course, because of the size of the battery, the car only seats 4, Will complains, like everyone loves to sit in that rear middle seat. Sure there are the odd occasions when you might like to carry five, but then once upon a time, you could also put three in the front seat. Bucket seats eliminated that possibility shortly after the first Mustang hit the streets. Need more seats? Buy a Prius, but bear in mind, you'll still be shackled to gasoline. The Volt offers us the possibility of freedom from gasoline, Mr. Will. That's obviously a choice you seem to want to deny us.

Then there's the outright lie that you and I are helping a few yuppie tree-huggers buy the Volt with "our money." How many times do I have to point out to these mendacious SOBs, that it's the taxpayer's money, the guy or gal who's buying the Volt, that is getting some of their tax money back. Maybe if we called it the "Volt Tax Cut" people like Mr. Will would get it. You and I aren't contributing a damned dime to help them buy the car. A tax credit is NOT a grant or a government handout, George. It's me getting my money back; you know, all those dollars our employers takes out of our weekly paycheck and sends off to the IRS quarterly. Guess, what? If I buy a Volt, it get some or maybe even all of that back next year when I file my tax return, depending on my tax bracket and such, of course.

The thing that constantly perturbs me about uninformed criticisms like this that that they offer zero alternative except, presumably the status quo. Rush's retort? Spend a few more bucks and buy a Bemmer, buddy. I wonder if Mr. Will even bothered to read the IEA's World Energy Outlook 2010 that just came out. You notice that chart on world oil production, George? You see who are becoming the dominate oil producers in the coming 25 years? Also, did you happen to catch the part about energy demand from China and India?

So, Mr. Will, what's your solution? Diesel?

Okay, where's that fuel going to come from? Algae? Maybe, someday. You like gambling, I gather. Sure, electric cars are powered by energy produced at coal-fired power plants, and nuclear fission… and methane (natural gas)… and hydro power… and yes, a bit of wind and solar. Ah, did you know that a lot of the coal-fired electricity is run to ground at night because you can't dial down a coal-fired plant more than maybe one-third of its peak capacity. Simply put, utilities produce electricity for which there is no demand. We now throw away enough electricity ever night to power something like 75% of all the cars and pickups in America if they were plug-in hybrids like the Volt you criticize.

Think about, George. Apparently you seem perfectly happy to have America mortgage its future to oil producers in the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and South America, because if GM hadn't invented the Volt, that's the only option open to your grandchildren? There's a reason Dick Cheney's energy task force collected all those maps of Persian Gulf oil fields back in 2001. They knew back then what's at stake; they just aren't admitting it.

I am waiting, sir? What's your solution? You have a better idea, let's hear it. In meantime, why don't you give GM a call and ask for a Volt for a couple days. I can give you the telephone number of the guy to call there in DC, if you like. I think you may have a different view afterwards. Oh that's right, guys like you and Rush never admit you're wrong.

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