Automakers talk more about fuel economy and new technologies now than ever before, which is less impressive than it sounds given that they didn't give a flying crap about efficiency or evolving their technology until about 2005. The public is now regularly exposed to messages about how this-or-that new technology has heralded the arrival of the efficient, non-polluting car, which is largely ridiculous. Some cars are more efficient and less polluting than others, but regardless of whether you drive around in a Nissan Leaf or one of those "I have a small dick" Ford Super Duty trucks you're still consuming energy that originates from fossil fuels. We haven't seen a true technological breakthrough in this area until there is a vehicle that consumes no fossil fuels and can be refueled without being plugged into a charging station for several hours. Hybrid cars, for example, use less gas than a normal car (excluding diesels, which are popular in Europe but still pariahs here) but the basics of how they get from point A to point B are the same. You put in gas, you go until you run out, and you put in more gas.
All that said, if you're gonna drive it's obviously better to have a vehicle that uses less rather than more. Hybrids and plug-in hybrids, even though they are technological stopgaps at best, make sense. Last year Chevy (part of "Government Motors", as our rapier-witted colleagues on the right call it, especially those ignorant of the fact that the first bailout payments came from George W. Bush in an effort to push the automakers' bankruptcy into the Obama administration) released the first plug-in, range-extended vehicle, the Volt. It's expensive because the technology is new, but for those willing to take the plunge it offers the ability to travel about fifty miles on electricity and then engage a small gasoline engine to recharge the batteries. The end result, accounting for the power that it draws from your home, is a vehicle that gets the equivalent of 93 mpg. That's pretty impressive.
So we have an American-designed vehicle, built in Detroit and its suburbs, that represents a substantial leap forward in technology. And it's probably going to be a flop because Republicans are desperate to see anything related to GM fail. Because they love America so much, they want to kneecap the company and its products in an effort to score cheap political points against Obama to the presumed delight of their legion of mouthbreaters.
Last year a Volt's battery pack caught fire after a crash test. And by "after a crash test" I mean three full weeks after the vehicle was totaled in a side-impact crash. Just so we're all clear: the thing didn't burst into flames on impact (as cars full of flammable liquid sometimes do, of course). It was crashed, left outside in a parking lot for three weeks, and then developed a fire in its smashed battery pack. Non-story.
But the House GOP, led by Darrell Issa – yes, the only convicted felon currently serving in your Congress – have decided that they can accuse the administration of conspiring to conceal this incident, supposedly to protect their cronies at GM (who, for the sake of their argument, let's pretend actually exist). Their theory is apparently that the NHTSA failed to disclose the fire "quickly enough"…what exactly that means is neither clear nor, for Republicans, relevant. In the process they have publicized the hell out of this crash test incident, culminating with televised hearings before a House committee today. There a GM higher-up patiently explained to Inmate Issa that the battery fire could only be reproduced in testing by impaling the battery pack with a steel rod and waiting several weeks for the fire to start, leading to this revealing exchange:
GM's Akerson stood up for the Volt, saying that the fire that's caused so much commotion only happened "after putting the battery through lab conditions that no driver would experience in the real world," according to his prepared remarks. Strickland said NHTSA "pulled no punches" in the Volt fire investigation – which recently ended after finding the Volt to be a safe car – but Issa was having none of it. He told Strickland: "I hear you, I don't believe you."
In other words, "The facts don't align with my talking points, so you must be lying. Also, Obama bad."
The end result of all of this, if today's flurry of news items about the hearings is any indication, is that the buying public will probably associate this model with fires. Every headline contains some combination of the words "Chevy Volt" and "fire", and products that develop reputations for being unsafe, whether or not it is warranted, tend to have a hard time shaking it. Like everyone over the age of thirty automatically associates "Ford Pinto" with "exploding gas tank", our Country Firsttm GOP wants to make sure that Americans think of Chevy Volts as giant bombs that will, like, electrocute your kids and then set their corpses ablaze.
It's pointless, it's counterproductive, it's selfish, and it's a great example of how scorched Earth tactics are the sum total of what the modern GOP is capable of doing. The party that exists solely to suck up to corporate interests is proving that it will even throw those under the bus if they happen to be between it and more power.