In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News, General Motors spokeswoman Michelle Malcho denies rumors that the government financed car company used federal grant money to bolster sales numbers to reach their goal of selling 10,000 electric vehicles last year.
“If you’re trying to make the assertion that the only people buying the Volt are from the Obama administration that’s completely false,” Malcho said during a telephone interview from GM’s corporate headquarters in Detroit, Michigan.
According to GM, the $40-45,000 Volt is primarily being bought by private consumers not government grants. But that is not the whole story. Some of the cars and charging stations are in fact being purchased with federal funds, part of which comes from a $30.5 million grant administered by the U.S. Department of Energy's Recovery Act Transportation Electrification Initiative.
Our investigation was prompted by a November piece written by the National Legal and Policy Center that alleged ‘Government Motors’ were including purchases made by local municipalities with federal grant money in their sales numbers. Inquiries made by Breitbart News show those claims are valid, but that the car is reportedly also becoming popular at various dealerships around the country.
Last year, the town of Deland, Florida bought five Volts and the town of Babylon, New York purchased charging stations with federal grant money—a fact which both municipal governments proudly confirm.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Deland bought their five Volts with money from “a $1.2 million federal grant that was earmarked partially to help with the purchase of alternative-fuel vehicles and other energy-efficient upgrades.” Deland government officials say the grant was funneled through the State of Florida from the federal government. “The grant we received was from the State of Florida, but the state got that money from a grant that came from the U.S. Department of Energy,” according to Michael Grabosz, Assistant to the Deland City Manager. “The grant was a competitive grant that we applied for and it was all things green basically, it was energy,” he added. “We had a few facets, and they were community outreach, energy efficient upgrades for buildings and some private and commercial buildings called sub-grants and then also the green vehicles. So those were the facets of the grant received. The total we received was… $1.2 million.”
The online site for the Town of Babylon also proudly boasts that local officials “added four 2012 Chevy Volts to its municipal fleet,” and paid for charging stations with money that came from a special federal grant known as the ChargePoint American Program.
The charging stations —according to Chevy dealerships contacted by Breitbart News—help expedite charging time from as much as 14 hours down to four hours. Those four to 14 hours will get a driver about 40 miles of tread before the automobile’s gas engine will have to kick in.
Michelle Malcho, a GM spokeswoman in Detroit, Michigan specially assigned to the Chevy Volt talked to Breitbart News and said that the overwhelming majority of sales come from the company’s “retail side” as opposed to the “fleet side,” which would mean they’re supposedly selling to ordinary consumers—not government agencies.
“We do have some municipalities that buy Volts for their Fleet cars,” Malcho admitted. “I just saw some in New York, I know some municipalities are using them, but I can’t give you any numbers at the moment… out of our total sales for Volt the large majority are retail, they’re not fleet, but I don’t have a list of municipalities.”
Malcho said that from GM’s perspective the local government Volt purchases make sense because the car serves their purposes since most government employees do not drive public use vehicles more than 40 miles a day. “I don’t know which municipalities are buying fleets,” she said while flipping through pages of records. “It actually makes sense for a municipality to put the Volt in their fleet. I’m not aware of how they fund it, that would be up to each municipality, that’s not something GM is involved in.”
Malcho mentioned offhand that Google Corporation had bought 10 of the Volt automobiles and said that many of their fleet sales have been to private companies and utility companies. She said that in 2011 the company sold 7,797 Chevy Volts total.
“We had our best month in March 2012 with over 2,000 in sales – we sold 2,289 Volts. I can’t break it down into sales to government agencies but from a retail perspective, 2,129 to private retail sales and 160 fleet sales,” she explained.
Mark Modica, of the National Legal and Policy Center, says these sales are still insignificant compared with conventional gas powered vehicles. “Despite heavy subsidization, Volt sales dropped to a dismal 1462 in April,” Modica told Breitbart News. “This pace falls far short of General Motors' goal for Volt sales, which is 45,000 in 2012. The disproportionate amount of ad spending by GM on the Volt did not seem to greatly contribute to sales, nor did the $7500 federal tax credit that goes to the wealthy purchasers of the vehicles whose average income exceeds $170,000.”
Malcho says that not all of the private sales are to individuals. Some of the fleet sales are corporate. “Of the 160 fleet sales, nine percent of total sales, would be broken up into utilities, municipalities, and private companies. Google has about ten of them. Many of those fleet sales have been to utility and private companies.”
The Lehigh Valley Morning Call, a newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania confirmed in November that the PPL electric utility “is one of 28 utility companies participating in the three-year Volt test program sponsored by the Electric Power Research Group, a trade organization of which the company is a member. In the three-year study, 64 Volts purchased by the group will be driven by utility company employees in the U.S. and Canada to help determine how rechargeable electric cars might affect aspects of the electric industry…”
And where does that money come from to pay for the 64 Chevy Volts that are part of the Electric Power Research Institute’s project? [The Call article incorrectly refers to the “Electric Power Research Group.”] The Morning Call reports they are federal funds from the stimulus package formerly known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. A July 18, 2011 statement released on the General Motors site states:
The GM/EPRI/Utility collaboration with more than 30 major utilities nationwide was announced at the Plug-In 2008 Conference…The program is made possible in part by a $30.5 million grant administered by the U.S. Department of Energy's Recovery Act Transportation Electrification Initiative… “Together with EPRI and leading utility companies such as Duke Energy and Progress Energy, we will transform transportation and make electric vehicles relevant and available to the mass market,” said Britta Gross, GM director of Global Energy Systems and Infrastructure Commercialization.
Malcho was quick to add one fact about the Chevy Volt for Breitbart readers about the $7,500 federal tax credit for purchasing an electric vehicle: “If you’re talking about the federal tax credit that came up that was passed under President Bush not President Obama.”
Michael Grabosz, Assistant to the Deland City Manager said the Volt is working out well for the city:
So far the Volts have been working out really well. We use four of them for our utility readers, which they go out daily and they read all of our water accounts and the average mileage per utility reader is about 40 miles so the average range of the Volt is the same—40 miles. Most of the time they will run on electric only. We don’t have any real fuel savings yet because we received them in February so we’re still in the initial phase of seeing how much the power costs. It’s about 40 cents an hour per vehicle from what we can tell and they take about five hours to charge because we have the Level Two chargers—but we’re having a savings, I can tell you that. We haven’t had any issues at all.
On April 3, Malcho reportedly confirmed for CarFanatatics Forum, an online site that Volt production was idled for a five-week stretch through April 23 because dealers had a surplus of the electric vehicle. “This is (a) normal part of business as managing to market demand,” Malcho reportedly said in an e-mail to the forum.