Is the Volt the latest green whipping boy?
When the Chevy Volt first debuted at the Detroit Auto Show several years ago, I was pretty supportive. At that time Volt founder Bob Lutz suggested that the Volt would probably only cost a few more thousand than the Toyota Prius. Today, it costs almost twice as much and, consequently, I've become a bit of a Volt critic.
However, that doesn't mean I believe the Volt was a bad idea, but its costs do suggest that GM needs a bigger fuel efficiency-focused tool box if the company is truly serious about fighting US foreign oil dependence.
Nevertheless, for those individuals compelled to end their personal foreign oil dependence, the Chevy Volt is an outstanding tool that is not just about rich, smug greens making a statement.
Then again, for those of us somewhat obsessed with US foreign oil dependence, the Volt's high costs coupled with GM's poor CAFE fleet ratings are disappointing. The Volt simply cannot cover up those facts.
Ultimately, GM needs to sell millions of Volts every year to have any real impact on US foreign oil dependence. Moreover, if it's going to take a decade or more – if ever – to make the Volt's powertrain a base powertrain for a majority of GM vehicles, or at least a significant percent of them, then many believe that GM's fleet CAFE rating is more important than the Volt.
Essentially, the Volt cannot diminish the fact that GM is not a CAFE leader in the real world, and GM's fleet CAFE rating has far more impact on US foreign oil dependence than does the Volt.
Of course, that begs the question: How much power does GM have to make the war for US energy independence a war that resonates with average Americans? I'm not sure, but I'm positive they have far more power to help lead this battle than is currently being used.
Regardless, if gas prices aren't at around $4.00 or so, most Americans simply won't do anything to fight foreign oil dependence in terms of changing their car-buying habits – regardless of any of GM's actions. Most probably believe it won't matter anyway, and in many ways they are right. Even if only Volts were sold in the US today, it would still decades to replace the current fleet of US vehicles.
So consumers shouldn't do anything? They should just give up?
Consequently, not everyone that has bought a Prius is a green snob. Some are. No doubt about it. Many, however, actually believe they are doing their part to fight foreign oil dependence or to reduce their CO2 emissions. These Prius buyers simply want to do something, to take some kind of proactive action. Even more interesting, according to Forbes, Kipplingers, JD Power, Consumer Reports, etc., the Prius can actually be a value-driven purchase.
Likewise, many Volt buyers are going to buy a Volt because they believe they are putting their money where their mouths are. Many know full well that the Volt isn't cost-effective, but many Volt buyers believe that their investment will help make the Volt cheaper, so that one day the Volt will also be a value-driven buy for average car consumers. In the interim, however, they are taking action.
Are Volt or Prius buyers changing the world? No. But they are trying to help create change. And, even if some of them go on about this change a little too smugly, most – if not all – are motivated by good intentions.
Ultimately, it seems insane to me to believe that US foreign oil dependence can proceed decades more based on just the last decade of foreign oil dependence. Perhaps neither the Prius nor the Volt are the solution to US energy independence, but at least the buyers of these vehicles are trying to do something. They are taking action. And that's certainly no cause for hate.