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.

33 thoughts on “AMERICA FIRST”

  • Gaussian Maximum Likelihood says:

    Oy vey….if I weren't so depressed about the sheer number of douchebags on the right and the dismal future I envision for this once great country, I'd laugh.

  • Darrell Issa is the representative for the district immediately to the north of me, within the same county. I've hated that asshole for years and my anger toward him grows every year as he gains more power. I drive by his office occasionally and always curse it.

    By the way, he is (if I'm not mistaken) the richest man in the House and made his fortune mostly through car alarms. I'm wondering if there's any conflict of interest here….

  • c u n d gulag says:

    It's an election year, so how long before Ralph Nader feels the need to fuck with the Democrats again.

    No, I don't think he'll run.

    I'm waiting for his new book about GM and the Volt:
    "Unsafe With Any Charge."

    And that smarmy fuck Issa is the poster-child for what's wrong with American politics.
    A, now rich, political asshole, with a criminal background, out to make more money by using insider knowledge, and have more power, by being the voice for criminal capitalists who care nothing about the country, only how much is in their wallets, and in offshore accounts.
    And of course, for services rendered, they give money to his campaigns so that the knuckle-dragging authoritarian cave-people who who support them, can endlessly reelect him.

    Party over country!

    If republicans gain power again anytime before some semblance of sanity returns, you can stick a fork in the USA. We're done!
    We'll be The Dominionist Christian Corporatist (read Fascist) United States of America.
    An aggressive, religious-and-self-righteous, nuclear-armed madhouse.

  • VW diesel much better.

    Any car with lots of batteries is a toxic brew in the mfg process, in any wreck a haz mat team is likely to be needed. Then the disposal of batteries when they must be replaced is toxic. For now, battery cars not so good.

    Volt is overpriced and underperforming. Did not make one tenth of first year estimated sales.

    And yes, Issa sucks big time too…..Zeb, keep the bad vibes flowing when you go past his place. Can't hurt.

  • I rented a Renault Laguna diesel the last time I was in France. This isn't some little shoebox of a car. It would at least be considered a midsize in the States. I was getting 40 mpg on the highway when I kept to the speed limit (130 kph ~ 80 mph).

  • The trade off for the equivalent '93 mpg' is that when you charge her up about 60% of the energy is coming from burning coal.

    This is the worst choice according to the Left and our President.

    In fact I have seen video from his pre-Presidential days where BHO says that under his plan, power companies that choose coal fired operations will go bankrupt.

    In comparison, the pollution levels associated w/ burning refined petroleum are lower and better controlled.

    We need to be charging our electrics w/ alternative energy sources before it really starts to make sense.

    I really liked T. B. Pickens idea about converting commercial vehicles to natural gas.

    Recently, micro hydro has been getting some buzz though the profitability of the mostly small scale, low head operations is in question.


  • Oh..BTW

    battery recycling is one of the nastiest enterprises on the face of the earth. I can only imagine what it will be like when we move beyond the horror that is lead-acid batteries to whatever gems we have in the hybrids.

    Y'all social justice types have a term that might apply – environmental racism.


  • Heard mention of the Chevy Volt fire after crash testing several times, this is the first I've heard of how long after the crash the fire occurred. Not very likely someone would be burned to death after a crash.

    Those opposed to the auto bailouts were hoping to kill the unions, if the car companies went under that would just have been collateral damage. All they care about is that people don't earn a decent wage.

    I survived three nights on an auto assembly line and the fourth night quit twice. The lines run a lot faster now than then, so IMHO those working the assembly lines earn every bit of their wages.

  • @bb

    I never heard a conservative make so much as a peep about coal-burning power plants until we started talking out electric cars.

  • "We need to be charging our electrics w/ alternative energy sources before it really starts to make sense."

    Wow, bb knows his environmentalism.

    I am a fairly extreme environmentalist. I'm happy to be alive when even the D&D-nerd libertarian right is starting to STFU with the climate-change denialism. But I have no doubt that Barack Obama will always place corporate profits over the long-term human prospectus.

    But how fucking infantile is the GOP these days? Their whole thing used to be defending corporate profits. But they won't even do that anymore if it interferes with their new sole reason to exist: kneecapping Obama. At this point, I think they'd raise taxes to 90% and gang-rape fetuses on the Capitol steps if it caused Barry the slightest ping of discomfort.

  • @Major Kong:
    To be fair, a lot of hardcore enviornmental activists have been talking about that for awhile and have serious problems with electric cars as a panacea. And while it may be an issue of convenience for bb, Reason is still trotting out Bjorn Lomborg to insist that we should all stick with vehicles designed for armed ground combat.

  • I'll just add, in answer to doug and bb in ga's comments, that an IC motor vehicle in it's manufacturing, operation and after-market disposal isn't exactly a paragon of environmental friendliness. So I don't quite get what your points regarding electric and hybrid vehicles are, other than scoring points IYKWIMAITYD.

  • What's bad for GM is good for America!
    Also, nobody's really going to take this "safety-hearing" seriously: GM is a lightweight – it's Ford that has spent the better part of 40 years perfecting Spontaneous Auto Combustion. They've got it down so well they don't even need to involve the gas tank any more. So, it's not any sort of crackpot safety issue; Ford's vehicles, including the Ford "Continent" short-bus-sized SUV-and-barrel-roll-champion, continue to sell about as well as they have since the mid-70s. It's that nobody wants to actually market a vehicle that was obviously designed only for coastaliberelitist DFHs. Let the Japanese have that market; look how stupid "Toyota" and "Datsun" looked trying to sell their ridiculous little 35 mpg tin cans back in the 70s. Why, those things rusted out in mere minutes over here, sometimes even before they got crushed by a side-swiping Ford pickup. No wonder nobody bought them over such sturdy American cars as the Plymouth Volare and Horizon.

  • I actually saw a Chevy Volt on the road the other day. Not a bad looking car. It looks like a Malibu only a little sportier.

  • @MajorKong

    I see Chevy Volts probably every other day. One of the things I like about the recent iterations of electric cars is that they finally got the design right–the Volt is a nice-looking car. I've seen a few Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) too, and they look pretty good as well.

    Even better, I see the occasional Tesla or Fisker on the road. Now those are some sporty cars.

    I just don't get how anybody could be reasonably upset by the increase in efficiency these cars (and hybrids) represent. Isn't efficiency one of the things libertarians and conservatives supposedly like to champion?

  • Basically we think cheap gasoline is our birthright in this country.

    What people don't realize is, if you factor in what we've been paying to keep a military presence in the Middle East since the Carter administration, we're paying way more than 3 bucks a gallon.

  • Hmmmm. I wonder if Darryl Issa would catch on fire after having been in a crash and left outside for three weeks. I am willing to sponsor a study…

    And, yes, bb, electricity comes from coal in this country. Coal IS bad. But we can generate electricity from other sources, which it is not altogether terrible that car companies are developing cars which will operate on electricity. Maybe they'll even come up with a totally viable solar car someday.

    As for natural gas, I am sure you've heard of fracking? Not really a clean source of energy…

  • @bb, that depends on where in the country you are—even right now, there are several parts of the country that get more of their electricity from nuclear, wind, and/or hydro than from coal or natural gas. (Some people lump nuclear in with coal/gas as "problematic", some don't.)

    But even if that weren't true, shifting to electricity-from-coal can be an improvement over gasoline, in that it's now *possible* to power the car from alternative fuels, as soon as they come on line. A gasoline-powered car needs gasoline, and it will still need gasoline in twenty years if it's still running then. But an electric car in an area currently dominated by coal—hence currently a "coal-powered car"—will magically transform into an alternative-energy car whenever the local grid does. And local grids all over the country are shifting towards alternative generation (some faster than others, of course).

  • The Volt's a POS…40k MSRP for that? Get the leaf starting at 32k.

    Just a small point, but if you're going to say "it offers the ability to travel about fifty miles on electricity and then engage a small gasoline engine to recharge the batteries" you may not want to provide a link to the EPA site that lists its range as 35 miles. Now of course we can argue about EPA testing of electric or hybrid cars, but it's still the standard and 35 is hardly "about 50".

    I agree with your premise, though — the "Volt fires" is a non issue and frankly it's upsetting that they've already had to implement new plans for going out to crash sites and actively draining the batteries.

  • re: electricity needed to recharge the batteries:

    this might have been mentioned, but on NPR I heard someone talking about this very issue, and he pointed out that to make a gallon of gasoline in a refinery requires a VAST amount of ELECTRICITY. So you are still ahead when you use that electricity to save the gas. Made sense to me.

  • Their theory is apparently that the NHTSA failed to disclose the fire "quickly enough"…

    NHTSA – sounds kind of socialist to me.

  • A coal-fired power-plant can be run near its thermodynamic optimum point for long periods of time, and is vastly more efficient than an auto engine that has to keep changing speeds constantly. This is also why ocean transport (very large engines) is much cheaper than hauling by truck.

  • Hey Sadi, how's your cycle these days…? It always has been my standard.

    Modern coal fired power plants show about a 30 – 35% thermal efficiency while IC engines tend to run in the 15 to 20% range.

    Some other thoughts:

    If we converted just 20% of our non-commercial vehicles to electric propulsion, we would completely wreck our power plant construction growth curve.

    Where’s that extra capital going to come from? And what kind of plants are you going to build? Remember that the lowest cost (operating) alternative energy is wind @ about $0.12/kwh. All the rest are still way out of sight.

    If you build coal fired capacity there will be a net increase in sulfur dioxide emissions and, of course, everybody is scared off nuke power since Fukushima.

    @mike @blahedo

    The grid in the US is tied together coast-to-coast. “Not where I live” doesn’t count except for some of the local pollution.


    Some of the by-products of refining gasoline are consumed on-site to produce vast amounts of electricity. I would imagine most refineries are net positive on electric power production.

    We can start down that resource road. How about water? How many gallons to produce one gallon of gas, ethanol (~1700), solar panels, wind turbines, electric motors etc.?


    What fraction of natural gas is currently produced by “fracking”? Fracking and gas production are not forevermore tied together.


    Nothing about the manufacture and disposal of IC engines is as nasty as recycling batteries. Engines have a crankcase full of oil that has some heavy metal residues and the oil itself. Not difficult to deal with relative to the nasty acids and lead compounds in current lead-acid batteries and wait for those battery packs from the future.


    I was old when D&D came along and thought it was a waste of time besides. To quote Hank, Jr “I can skin a buck, I can run a trot line” – got my anti-nerd libertarian cred on the line here :-)

    And who says I have totally bought in on anthro climate change? Back on the nerd side, I posted a short engineering analysis here last year on Climate Change 101, the “Wedge” on Wind Energy. Their solution did not look encouraging from a capital, technical, and industrial health standpoint.

    @major kong

    I was quoting the Left. I’m not now complaining about coal fired plants. I worked in the industry and am familiar w/ their plusses and minuses.

    In fact, you better get comfortable w/ them because no matter what we do, I hear the Chi-comms are starting up about one per week for the foreseeable and I would imagine they are in the 500 – 1000 Mw range each.


  • Well, let me start off saying, I drive a Nissan Leaf, and I have a large solar array on my roof, so I think it's safe to say my car is a little greener than the average Prius. Don't mean to sound smug, that's just the facts. But also, a0 many of these EV charging stations are solar powered, and b) we have a lot more ways of generating electricity via green technology than we do fueling ICE's. We may not be there yet but there's at least a potential that doesn't exist for the old style ICE. So yeah, I've drunk the EV Kool-Aid.

    Okay that said, we all know the typical Teanut doesn't give a crap what's good for America they just care about what's bad for Obama. At least, that's what they say when it comes to answering polls or mouthing off on comment threads and Twitter. Who cares. Most reasonable, thinking people are a little more bread and butter than that. As I drive around my red state in my Nissan Leaf (soon to be made here in Tennessee, thank you very much), I get more thumbs ups than I do snarky "you must be an Obama socialist" comments. In fact, so far none of the latter.

    Here are some more facts. Gas is $3.50+ here. No one really gives a shit about the politics when they're filling up the gas tank. They're gonna do the math. If someone says you can spend $10 a month on transportation versus $100, they're going to pick the $10 option. We've reached a place where electricity is way cheaper than gasoline. That's just reality.

  • Just Say NO! like a good Republican does. Just Because! the infamous line in the War against Drugs/the War on America? Just Say No!

    now that is the total reason for being A Republican today. To just say No to Obama/the Other Guy! To Just Say NO!! Republicans don't ever need a reason, though Obama gives them a perfect target.

    and gosh does it work!!! so funny to watch the heads spin back and forth, controlling the message and conversation. the DRAMA is endless.

    Just Say NO! to Republicanism, the Democrats will fade away after the Republican Scam ends. Just Say No! a gift from Reagan the Saint to which all Republicans humbly bow in deference/ to everyone of us. in perpetuity.

    Never mind finding a technology that could lead us out of the Depression. the killing of the Golden Goose is more important than working towards a solution. A Solution without a Republican WIN, WIN,WIN is not a solution.

    irony lol so Just Say No! if anything works, we can Just Say NO!

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