Monday, April 09, 2012

The Conservative Case Against the Volt

In a recent column, Froma Harrop asked why conservatives hate the Chevy Volt? She throws around a few numbers, mentioning that Chevy sold twice as many Volts in March as in February but she mixes her figures. Examine the following paragraph:

Lo and behold, U.S. car sales were hot last month, with General Motors selling over 100,000 vehicles that get at least 30 miles to a gallon. And sales of its Chevy Volt more than doubled from the month before.

So, how many Volts were sold last month? She doesn't say. That 100,000 figure includes all high-mileage cars. The actual figure for the Volt is 2,289 - just 2% of the high-mileage cars sold. Something else that Harrop doesn't say is that this was the most Volts sold in a month. GM was hoping to sell 45,000 of these cars per year so, even if they continue to sell at the March rate, sales will be half of what was projected. Normally a car that sells so far below projections would be dropped but Chevy is committed to producing the Volt as part of its bailout deal with the government.

Before I go further I have a question of my own for Harrop: why would a liberal support the Volt? The car is basically a Chevy Cruze with an exotic powertrain. At $40,000, it costs more than twice as much as a Cruze. It only seats four and has a tiny trunk (the batteries take up a lot of space). This is not a family car unless the family never leaves town. Even if you want insist on a hybrid you can get a Prius Compact for $19,000. The Volt is a car for the 1%.

But no one pays $40,000 for the Volt. They pay $32,500 and the government pays $7,500. Even with this government incentive the Volt is an expensive car - too expensive for most people.

The Volt's main selling point is that you can go up to 35 miles on battery power. But, it takes hours to charge and you have to have a special charging station (for $2,000). This means that you can save, at most, a gallon of gas per day over a Cruze or Prius. At $4/gallon, it would take you ten years to save enough on gas to recover the extra you paid for a volt. Even if gas jumps to $5/gallon, it will take you eight years to recover the extra cost. And I'm not figuring the cost of electricity into this calculation. Note - if you drive at least 35 miles each way and your employer has a charging station then the cost-recovery figures would be halved.

A couple of other considerations - not many people who can afford a $32,500 car will keep it 8-10 years. They tend to trade every 2-3 years so they would never recover the extra cost. There is also the question of long-term value for the Volt. Batteries have a limited life. Ten years would be amazing. Once the batteries die then so does the car. A new battery pack for the Prius costs $2,000 and the Volt has a lot more batteries so figure that battery replacement will cost a few thousand. How much would you pay for a used car knowing that you would have to pay for this replacement? I suspect that the trade-in value for the Volt is going to be low which must also be counted against the cost of buying it.

For those who worry about greenhouse gas emissions, I should point out that building a car creates a lot of CO2. The longer a car stays on the road the fewer replacements are needed. When you figure this in then the Cruze probably has a lower life-time emission than the Volt.

And that is the conservative case against it. It isn't that much more efficient and it costs far too much for most people to buy. The government is subsidizing a toy for the rich. Drop the subsidy and the mandate for GM to produce it and let it stand or fall on its own. If GM decides that they can keep producing it then conservatives would have no objections.

No comments: