Back in October 2010, the Wall Street Journal's auto columnist Dan Neil wrote that the Chevy Volt should be a point of “American pride”: “A bunch of Midwestern engineers in bad haircuts and cheap wristwatches just out-engineered every other car company on the planet. And they did it in 29 months while they company they worked for was falling apart around them.”
But since the release of the Volt in 2011, conservative media have seized upon every opportunity to bash GM's hybrid electric car, hyping lower-than-expected sales numbers, distorting its safety record, and even resorting to mockery to undercut the promise of electric vehicles. All in pursuit of a political strategy that involves branding anything associated with energy conservation or innovation as a failed Obama scheme - whether Obama had anything to do with it or not.
New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera highlights how relentless media attacks have transformed an “an innovative car, employing American technology and creating American jobs” into a political punch-line. Nocera describes the scene at a GM breakfast during the New York International Auto Show, where despite positive feedback from Volt owners, GM executives were grappling with how to address nonstop negativity from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh:
Yet there was also an undercurrent of nervousness at the breakfast. A reporter for Fox News had been prowling the auto show, asking nasty questions about the Volt. For months, the conservative propaganda machine -- including Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Neil Cavuto, the Fox News business editor -- had been mocking the Volt, and linking it to President Obama, who has long touted the promise of electric cars. Cavuto, who has called the Volt “roller skates with a plug,” was rumored to be going on the air that very night with yet another Volt hatchet job.
What is the connection between President Obama and the Volt? There is none. The car was the brainchild of Bob Lutz, a legendary auto executive who is about as liberal as the Koch brothers. The tax credit -- which is part of the reason conservatives hate the car -- became law during the Bush administration.
Nocera also spoke with Bob Lutz, the former Vice Chairman of GM, who expressed frustration at the barrage of baseless attacks against the vehicle he championed. As Nocera noted, Lutz, a conservative and self-described “global warming skeptic,” has repeatedly criticized right-wing media in his Forbes column:
In his regular blog at Forbes, Lutz has tried to counter what he has called the “rabid, sadly misinformed right.” But he has largely given up. The last straw came when his conservative intellectual hero, Charles Krauthammer, described the Volt as “flammable.” Krauthammer, Lutz felt, had to know better. Although he remains deeply conservative, Lutz told me that he has become disenchanted with the right's willingness to spread lies to aid the cause.
And Lutz is not the only Fox News fan to blast its Volt coverage. Last month, self-described “drill, baby, drill guy” Lee Spieckerman spoke out against the network's “fetish for demonizing the Volt,” telling Fox's Steve Doocy that “there have been a lot of myths perpetuated” by the conservative media:
But will this criticism be enough to make Fox change its tune? Nocera says yes -- “after November.”