Confessions of a Car Man


Chevy Volt: A "Star Trek" Moment

A couple of years ago I wrote a post called “Chevy Volt: When They Build It, Will They Come?” or something like that. It had to do with the general acceptance of an American car company doing something innovative and new. At the time my opinion was that the propeller heads out there would never accept a new vision from Detroit simply because they are politically opposed to American cars in general.

Well, the Volt is here, and I have some new thoughts. When I first sat in a Volt and turned the sucker on—that’s right, you don’t start it, you turn it on like a flat screen television—I was struck by the impression that for the first time in 40 years of selling iron, I was sitting in something that was brand new: the automobile reimagined.

When I drove the car I was not only impressed by its performance, I had a Star Trek moment. GM is taking us where no man has gone before, and I’m freaking impressed! It drives like a dream, handles like a sports car (well, kind of) and goes about its business with efficiency and grace. A truly impressive ride.

Critics have pointed out that the Volt is impracticable from a financial standpoint, and they are right. It’s impracticable as hell! At $43,000 or so its price is a mind bender even taking a possible Federal tax credit in consideration. But that’s not the point. If we are going to someday rid ourselves from foreign oil, if we are going to be (and I HATE this terminology) going to be a truly “green” country, the Volt and its successors are going to lead the way.

When people first bought cars more than a hundred years ago, they, too, were impracticable as hell. It was a rich man’s hobby. It wasn’t until Henry Ford brought his Model T to the common man that investing in the new technology of the automobile made sense. So too with the Volt. At the beginning it’s going to take a few visionaries with some extra cash to get this sucker on the road, put it through its paces and figure out if it’s really going to work.

When GM filed for bankruptcy it was a wakeup call for them. It was do or die. And by God they are finally doing it! With new vehicles like the Cruz and the Equinox leading the way, they are broadening their sales base and inspiring people who wouldn’t have been caught dead on a domestic lot ten years ago to come in and see what’s happening.

I know things are changing. I sold a Cruz to a Chinese guy! When I started selling Chevys fifteen years ago, one of their appeals was that Chinese people don’t buy them. I’m not going to turn this into a rant about the Chinese—let’s just say they’re a little hard to deal with. If they start coming in, it’s a sure sign that the “times they are a changin’”. (It’s also a sign of future headaches!)

Back to the Volt. Last Saturday I took an environmental scientist from U.C. Davis for a ride. He and his wife were impressed. She kept asking me, “Are you sure the engine isn’t on?” Yes, I was sure, and I’m also sure of this: regardless of what Consumer Reports Magazine says, the Volt is the way of the future. The Volt is here to stay. And with it the Chevy bow tie.

I’m just glad I’ve lasted long enough in this business to see it.


Anonymous said...

one word: POIGNIANT!

Quentin Sanz said...

It sounds like you've had an "I'm driving a futuristic car"-kind of experience. Some people dreamed of flying cars in this age, but we've still got a long way to go. At least we have technology like this that will pave a way to (pardon the term...) a "greener" future.

William Pietschman said...

The first time I heard about the Prius Hybrid, I did a quick mental calculation of fuel to weight ratio, energy density, and conversion losses. And suddenly it hit me: Gone were the heavy, inefficient, and troublesome transmissions. This alone, before everything else, meant that this was a superior system. And I realized that the Hydrid System had obsoleted everything else on the road. Now, every car manufacturer offers one. Or more than one.
Electric is the next step. Fuel Cells and Hydrogen and Compressed Natural Gas, and all the rest are just Circus Sideshows. Very soon now, we will see electric charging stations everywhere. The "why" is a no brainer: Every steet light is a potential "gas station!" The "fuel lines" are already there! And wwre there are none, it's quite a sinole business to install. That's not the case with hydrogen. Or any other fuel source:Especially gasoline.
But what drives this, no pun intended? It seems that Consumers have finally "gotten" it: For the short term driving that most if us do, the Electric Car simply makes the most sense.
We used to say in the High Compression engine days, that a car was worn out at 100,000 miles. Then came the Civics, and 250,000 (or more) miles became the new mark. But with these electric cars, with no transmissions, no ring jobs, no timing belts, no fuel pumps, and all of the other troublesome things means lower maintenance costs and much much easier to restore. Just four wheels, a battery, a charge controller, and a motor. Or sometimes, four small motors. And maybe, soemmetimes, a simple gear box. The prices will come down. There will be a whole aftermarket rehabbing these electric cars. Some are going to come from China. And India. We won't think anything much about this shortly, just as the Daewoos and Rios and Hyundais that arrive daily.
And I am not as convinced at the Death of the Salesman as you are.