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EDITORIAL: Get a horse

Nobody wants to buy the president’s favorite automobile

- - Thursday, August 8, 2013

The apt symbol of the Obama presidency is the Chevy Volt, stalled on the open road. Like Barack Obama, the Volt presented itself to the public with the lofty promise of a better future, but delivered a future not as good as the past and present. Chevy announced this week it would cut the price of the Volt by an additional $5,000.

The Chevy Volt (i.e., the Obamacar) is a classic tale of top-down thinking, the story of subsidy, crony engineering and rejection by the market. Car buyers, always eager to buy something new, expected a peach and got a lemon. The Volt is the president's economic policy on four wheels.

When General Motors teetered on the edge of insolvency in 2009, it had an opportunity to go bankrupt, allowing a renegotiation of crippling labor contracts and legacy costs. President Obama didn't want to admit his woeful lack of economic smarts, so he rode to the "rescue" with billions of dollars in taxpayer money to put the government in charge of what was once one of America's iconic companies.

The administration declared that the car to power GM's turnaround would be a plug-in hybrid-electric, and the Volt debuted as a 2010 model. Though described as a marvel, the Volt can travel just 35 miles on a single charge, as reckoned by the Environmental Protection Agency. That's not as far as pioneering electric cars of the 19th century could travel on a single charge.

The marketplace rejected electric power as impractical more than a century ago, but Mr. Obama thinks he knows better. He insists there must be 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015. His Democratic allies have been singing to the same tune for years. "We need a business model based on cars of the future," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, at a congressional hearing in 2008. "We already know what that future is, the plug-in hybrid-electric car."

The White House and its congressional allies created a fund to lavish subsidies on favored electric-car manufacturers. Venture capitalists who supported the president's 2012 election campaign feasted at this public trough. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the subsidies cost the taxpayers $7.5 billion. Washington's infusion of the people's cash was not nearly enough; Volt sales never caught fire, although some of the cars did. Rather than put a million environmentally conscious liberals on the road in electric cars, as Mr. Obama said to expect, Chevy sold 7,671 Volts in 2011 and 23,461 last year. It's lonely out there in a car with a dead battery.

To put this in perspective, the Electric Drive Transport Association says there are fewer than 120,000 plug-in vehicles of all types in the country. Taxpayers have thus paid more than $60,000 for each one. Volts continue to stir up so much apathy in showrooms that Chevy invents ever more generous incentives to buy the cars nobody wants. GM loses thousands of dollars with every sale. Having spent billions, GM still hasn't put a smile on Barack Obama's face. The only incentive GM hasn't tried is a 40-mile extension cord, but don't laugh. That might be next.

The Washington Times