PR Fail: Former GM Exec Scrambles to Explain Away Chevy Volt Fire(s)

Bob Lutz is a good man. A Swiss-born immigrant American success story.

He’s held big gigs at BMW and Ford. He also worked way up the food chain at (now $85 billion bailed-out) Chrysler and General Motors (GM) – retiring as GM’s Vice Chairman in 2010.

And he has recently written a piece:

Chevy Volt And The Wrong-Headed Right

…in vociferous defense of the Chevy Volt.

You know, the more-than-$200,000 in government-subsidies-per-unit-sold Volt.

The overproduced, unprofitable, unpopular, combustible Volt. (And January 2011’s sales were no less disappointing.)

That Chevy Volt.

Are we on the Right wrong-headed? Let’s take Mr. Lutz’s piece piecemeal and see.

The recent media coverage of so-called “Chevrolet Volt fires,” especially by the conservative talk shows and Fox News, has attracted my attention and ire.

Let’s set out the facts (and feel free to check them yourself):

Don’t mind if we do.

1) Not one Chevrolet Volt has ever caught fire in normal use or in accidents. Not a single one.

Fundamentally untrue, as we laid out in great detail after last week’s House Oversight Volt hearing.

From our piece:

There were in fact three other, private-owner Volt fires. None of which involved Volts that were in crashes.

These three fires involved Volts that were simply garaged or recharging – i.e. “in normal use.”

More from Mr. Lutz:

2) The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), even after the highly artificial crash test (placing the car on its back, even though it did not roll over in the test) nevertheless awarded the Volt NHTSA’s highest crash-safety rating: 5 stars. Volt is supremely safe.

But there wasn’t just one NHTSA fire – there were three.

More from us:

The one NHTSA Volt fire discussed at the hearing was not the only NHTSA Volt fire that occurred. In November, there were two others.

After conducting three different tests two weeks ago, the NHTSA found that the Volt’s battery either caught fire or began to smoke in two out of the three.

So that’s three Volt fires – all in the hands of the Obama Administration, all after crashes.

For a grand total of six Volt fires (about which we know).

And excuse us for being slightly suspect of the Government’s Five Star rating of Government Motors.

Especially when NHTSA, the Barack Obama White House and GM all covered-up the Volt fire(s) for nearly six months.

Especially when President Barack Obama is campaigning for reelection on the $85 billion auto industry bailout “success,” and showing up at car shows to do it. So bad news for the Volt and Government Motors is bad news for him and his reelect.

So, again, excuse our suspicion.

More from Mr. Lutz:

3) The crashed Volt, its battery shorted by coolant from the period unjustifiably spent “feet up,” caught fire three weeks after said test. (I submit that this would provide adequate time for surviving passengers to exit the vehicle.)

Again, what about the other five fires? Three of which were just plugged in or garaged – “in normal use?”

Mr. Lutz:

4) On average, 278,000 cars with gasoline engines caught fire in the U.S. each year between 2003 and 2007, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

True – but gasoline engines are a long-known commodity. Lithium-ion battery cars are not.

And when the Obama Administration and GM have spent half the Volt’s shelf life covering up Volt flameouts, it certainly warrants additional attention.

Mr. Lutz:

5) No factory-produced electric vehicle has ever caught fire, to the best of my knowledge.

As we’ve just demonstrated, Mr. Lutz needs to better his knowledge.

And Mr. Lutz is making a blanket assertion – applicable beyond just the Volt to all electric cars. Is he really comfortable going that far?

Mr. Lutz:

6) The Volt, the most technologically advanced car on the planet, was conceived by me and my team well before any federal bailout of GM.

Is the pride of creative authorship clouding Mr. Lutz’s judgement?

I’m not sure the Volt is the “most technologically advanced car on the planet” – given that the 1891 electric Morrison had a better battery range than the Volt.

The Volt was in fact conceived by Mr. Lutz and his team, in 2007. But I notice, Mr. Lutz, that you didn’t rush to mass-produce it, did you? It existed only as a visual aide for auto shows – not for actual for-sale production.

Only with the arrival of President Obama – and We the People’s $50 billion – did Volts find their way to the mass-assembly line.

Mr. Lutz:

These are the bedrock facts.

Yours aren’t. Ours are.

Mr. Lutz:

Now, how did the U.S. right-wing media choose to report this admittedly headline-tempting news?

A nationally syndicated editorial three-panel cartoon stated (I believe I remember the sequence): “Thomas Edison discovered electricity;” then, “Alexander Graham Bell discovered the telephone;” and, in the third panel, “But it took the US Government to discover fire!” (accompanied by a drawing of a burning Chevy Volt).

Come on, that cartoon is just FUNNY.

Mr. Lutz then goes into some detail about Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs (appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News Channel show) publicly decrying the Volt.

Then Mr. Lutz writes:

Much air time was spent on the $50 billion-plus (GM) bailout, which, the audience was left to assume, “funded” the Volt, doubtlessly at the whim of Obama’s known army of evil enviro-Nazis, intent on forcing vehicle electrification on a good-ole’-boy, V8-lovin’ populace.

Again, the Lutz-era GM created the Volt – but never mass-produced it. Obama and the bailout arrived – and suddenly Government Motors is (sort-of) selling Volts.

Clearly there is some electric vehicle forcing going on. GM in 2011 produced about 10,000 Volts – and sold only 7,671. And until very recently – when finally hounded into submission-to-sales-reality – Akerson and GM were planning on upping 2012 Volt production to 60,000.

Sounds forced to me.

Mr. Lutz:

To top it off, these two media pros lamented the fact that the same government that had forced GM to produce the Volt was now extending $7,500 tax credits towards its purchase, thus squandering even more of “our taxpayer” dollars on this failed Socialist-collectivist flop. Truth? The $7,500 tax credit was enacted under the Bush administration!

True. But again, you, Mr. Lutz, never produced the Volt for sale under the Bush Administration. Only after you left, under Obama – when General Motors became with our coin Government Motors – did the foolish tax credit apply to the foolish Volt.

And we Right-wingers have long acknowledged – and publicly decried and lamented – many terrible Bush Administration policies. The $7,500-per-foolish-car is but another.

Mr. Lutz:

But who the hell cares about facts when you’re in O’Reilly’s self-described “No Spin Zone?” (The fine print might as well read, “We said ‘no spin,’ not ‘no deliberate misstatement of facts.’ “)

Again, as we have thoroughly demonstrated, it is the esteemed Mr. Lutz that is misstating and omitting facts.

Mr. Lutz:

What on Earth is wrong with the conservative media movement that it feels it’s OK to spread false information, OK to damage the reputation of perhaps the finest piece of mechanical technology our country has produced since the space shuttle, OK to hurt an iconic American company that is roaring back to global pre-eminence, OK to hurt American employment in Hamtramck, Mich., as long as it damages the Obama administration’s reputation?

It is Obama that is staking his reputation – and his reelection effort – on the $50 billion GM bailout and the Volt.

If our pointing out egregious, inconvenient facts is harmful thereto, it is simply happy collateral damage.

Mr. Lutz concludes:

While as a conservative Republican I may well share the goal, I deplore the means employed to attain it. The conservative cause damages itself, destroys its credibility through the expedient spreading of untruths. The public will figure it out.

The right-wing “talking heads”, O’Reilly and Limbaugh at the forefront, have managed to make me embarrassed to describe myself as a conservative.

Come on, you guys. Shape up! There’s plenty of legitimate fodder out there. Let’s leave the “invention of facts” to the left-wing climate-change alarmists.

Unfortunately for Mr. Lutz – and the Obama Administration – there are plenty of inconvenient truths about Government Motors, the Obama Administration bailout and the absurd Chevy Volt.

And we “wrong-headed” Right-wingers are the only ones delivering them.

Mr. Lutz is in need of but a minor recalibration. The Chevy Volt he’s defending may be unrecoverable.