The Twilight of the Volt
The Weekly Standard, MAR 19, 2012
In July 2010, President Obama paid a visit to a General Motors plant in Hamtramck, Michigan, and gave a speech making the case for a revitalized American auto industry. To paraphrase the former governor of Alaska, how’d that hopey-changey stuff work out for Hamtramck?
That December, the New York Times reported that city leaders were pushing for Hamtramck to file for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy. Aside from the failing economy, 60 percent of the city’s general operating budget went to pay for the salaries and pensions of just the cops and firefighters. The city tried to renegotiate employee contracts, but the union reps were intransigent. “They kind of have the Cadillac plan,” Hamtramck’s city manager told the Times, “and we’d kind of like the Chevy.”
Speaking of Chevrolet, shortly before the Times was reporting on the city’s desire to file for bankruptcy, the first federally subsidized, electric-powered Chevy Volts started rolling off the assembly line at a GM plant in, you guessed it, Hamtramck. Chevy has actually produced an ad called “Morning in Hamtramck” that scans the worn scenery of the town to a plaintive guitar soundtrack. The narrator solemnly intones: “For our town. For our country. For our future. This isn’t just the car we wanted to build; it’s the car America had to build.”
Obama recently declared he wanted to buy a Volt when he left office, but at this rate, it’s going to be a used one. GM announced on March 1 that they’re suspending production of the Volt in Hamtramck — for the third time — leaving 1,300 people temporarily out of work. Despite selling only 7,671 Volts last year, GM had planned to expand production to 60,000 this year. Something tells us that won’t happen. Forget “Morning in Hamtramck.” Truth About Cars editor Edward Niedermeyer has declared recent events to be the “Twilight of the Volt,” and produced a handy graph last week showing that production of the Volt thus far has been nearly twice its sales.
And so, Hamtramck, Michigan, has become a nearly perfect metaphor for Obama’s America. The city’s bankruptcy claim has been denied by the state, so they’re stuck overpaying unionized city employees with money they don’t have. And the taxpayers don’t have any money because the auto plant in town is laying people off en masse. It was manufacturing “the car America had to build” regardless of whether Americans wanted to buy it.
Shockingly, few besides the president have wanted a $40,000 electric car that sometimes catches on fire, in spite of the fact that each new Volt comes with a $7,500 tax credit. (Who benefits from the credit? Rich liberals, mainly. The average annual income of America’s Volt owners is $170,000.) Of course, Chevy doubled down on the Volt because the eco-crazy, energy-prices-must-skyrocket Obama administration all but dictated that GM continue to build an electric car in exchange for receiving taxpayer money in the auto bailout, the same bailout that ended up being little more than a temporary payoff to the unions whose contracts helped bankrupt GM in the first place.
Naturally, as Volt workers were being laid off, the president announced that he wants to raise the electric car tax credit to $10,000, earmark $1 billion for cities to build infrastructure for electric cars, and spend another $650 million for electric car research. Nothing like throwing good money after bad, especially when it’s everybody else’s money.
If only some crack engineer could just develop a car that runs on government failure and union arrogance, maybe things in Hamtramck — and the rest of the country — would finally start to look up.
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