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Bob Lutz says Volt bashing by right wingers harming American workers

GM's former CEO Bob Lutz publishes another op-ed piece in Forbes defending the Chevy Volt, and this time pointing fingers at right wing media figures, claiming their Volt bashing will cost American Jobs.

A couple weeks ago Bob Lutz, GM's former CEO and Chairman, and Father of the Volt, wrote a piece for Forbes in defense of the Chevy Volt. Today he is back, in Forbes, with a new piece saying that the Volt bashing from right wingers is harming American workers by tearing at an American company, and American ingenuity.

In today's piece Lutz drew a contrast between the dangers of gasoline powered cars, the frequent recalls and fires in gasoline cars, and the hyped up controversy over the single fire in a Chevy Volt three weeks following an extreme crash test. The argument Lutz makes is that the extreme right-wing "gas-bags" in the mainstream media are constructing a false story about the Volt, "for the basest, crassest, politically motivated propaganda assault." The real goal of the propaganda assault is something else (such as an attack on President Obama) but the side effect will be reduced demand for the Chevy Volt, making American factory workers the real victim of these attacks. Along the way Lutz specifically names Bill O'Reilly, Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh while referring also to a chorus of other "extreme-right talking head gas-bags" in the media.

This is strong stuff, and Lutz's piece today reads more like a rant than did his previous piece, but at the same time he raises points worthy of consideration.

The record for automobile safety can look horrendous after studying the number and kind of recalls which occur. Lutz talks about there being 178,000 car fires per year in gasoline cars (other sources name 250,000/yr) which is a rate of one gasoline car fire every 2 minutes. Most of the car fires are the result of "accidents or malfunctions, like fuel leaks or electrical shorts" and they burn everywhere, "on the roads, while parked, while in the garage, while fueling, or after a collision." Here on TorqueNews we've recently reported on a recall of the 2012 Chevy Sonic recall for missing brake pads, a recall of 500,000 cars from VW, Audi, BMW, for Fuel Leaks, that BMW was ordered to pay $3 million for untrustworthy recall practices and much more.

Gasoline car fires are so common they aren't reported anywhere. These sort of safety recalls happen every day, but are barely mentioned in the press. Why? Lutz asks, where is the rage over this? Or, more to the point, why is there the over-blown hyped up controversy over the single Chevy Volt fire.

It's helpful to review the facts of the Chevy Volt fire, as well as the recent congressional testimony by GM's current CEO Dan Akerson, both to understand Lutz' points, and to put the so-called reporting from the right wing media figures Lutz refers to.

In May 2011, crash tests of the Chevy Volt was performed by a NHTSA contractor in Wisconsin for the NHTSA New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). The Volt passed with flying colors, and on June 6 the NHTSA announced the Volt had received a 5-star crashworthiness rating. Unfortunately on the same day, 3 weeks after the crash test, workers at the site of the crash test found that the crash-tested Volt and four other cars had caught fire and burned completely the weekend before. That set off an intensive forensic study by the NHTSA and others to determine the cause of the fire, and later to attempt to replicate the fire. The cause of the fire turned out to be tricky to duplicate, and NHTSA repeated the same crash test a couple times in unsuccessful replication attempts. It wasn't until November that they were able to test the battery packs in isolation, performing a test similar to the crash test, douse the battery packs with extra amounts of coolant fluid, essentially forcing the battery packs to catch fire. Even then it took a week for fire to break out.

What was the vulnerability found by investigators? A piece of metal had punctured the battery pack, breaking cells and coolant lines in the pack, spraying coolant on circuit boards, and apparently causing internal short circuits in the battery cells. The puncture required a combination of crash forces that NHTSA was unable to replicate in following crash tests, even after having identified the flaw. GM developed an engineering fix for the vulnerability and has since been implementing that fix in the Volt fleet, and at the factory.

What Lutz points to is a huge contrast between a hyped up controversy over the Chevy Volt, and the lack of real danger from the Volt, and the clear and present danger of other vehicles in the fleet. They carry around explosive liquids which do catch fire on occasion, and have safety defects for which automakers routinely convene recall procedures.


Aaron Turpen    February 13, 2012 - 8:58PM

What Putz fails to address is the dollars and cents of the Volt. Namely the amount of government (taxpayer) dollars that went into and continue to go into the car. I'd like to see him write a piece refuting the in-depth analysis published a few months ago in the New York Times on the REAL cost of the Volt.

I agree that the crash-test hype (as well as the b.s. about Fisker's "outsourcing" jobs on the Karma, which is more American-made than most "American" cars) is all just propaganda.

Hybridhype (not verified)    February 13, 2012 - 9:49PM

Why doesnt Putz, I like that one, tell the American public that GM took taxpayer money and had the engines made in Austria. They didnt even use an American plant to build the engine.

His real issue is that no one is buying the hybrid trucks from the company he founded after leaving GM. But he did get government money for starting the company

Nehmo Sergheyev (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 7:26AM

In reply to by Hybridhype (not verified)

All cars nowadays have parts, even engines, made in several countries. A car is a complicated undertaking. If you don't like cars with non-American made engines, then you don't like most cars on the road.

scottf200 (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 9:15AM

In reply to by Hybridhype (not verified)

Nov 2011 webchat
1:21 - Comment From Patrick
When do you expect to see the battery and engine being made in Michigan instead of overseas?

1:22 - Andrew Farah (GM): Patrick: The battery pack is already made in Michigan at GM's Brownstown, Mich., battery manufacturing plant. Additionally, LG Chem, the company that supplies our battery cells will begin manufacturing cells in Holland, Mich., next year. *Also, the 1.4L engine used in the Volt is now manufactured in Flint, Mich.*

David Herron    February 14, 2012 - 2:42PM

In reply to by Hybridhype (not verified)

You're talking about Via Motors - a company that just recently unveiled their trucks, and which hasn't entered full production/sales as of yet. Via's launch did include PG&E as a design partner and customer. Via's products are geared more towards construction/utility users than it is to the general public. It's way too early in Via's history to say "no one is buying [their] hybrid trucks" .. give them a few months of history before you leap to such a broad conclusion.

Hybridhype (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 9:19PM

In reply to by David Herron

Purly a government play using my money(taxpayer)rebates to fund an overly expensive vehicle. Look up the price and remember most full size contractor trucks run around $25'000 on the high end. I' ll save you the time of looking it up. Via's full size Siverado P/U conversion with an estimated 40 mile battery range is a whopping $79,000. No wonder Lutz is crying the blues

Anonymous (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 10:08AM

I know facts are not important to Volt bashers, but to set the record straight the Volt engines are now manufactured in Flint, Michigan. It was only the early production units that came from Austria. The batteries are now assembled in Michigan as well, although the cells themselves are still produced in Korea.

Nehmo Sergheyev (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 12:31PM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

That's interesting info, but for me, it doesn't make a bit of difference. I don't believe most other consumers care either.

Furthermore, protectionist-consumerism makes no sense philosophically. If you advocate buying only form local suppliers, then what do you advocate to the people in those other countries? Should they only by locally too? The system of Austrians only buying Austrian goods and Americans only buying American goods is inefficient nonsense.

`~- Nehmo

David Herron    February 14, 2012 - 2:39PM

In reply to by Nehmo Sergheyev (not verified)

The answer to what you ask starts to veer off on a tangent -- however -- in some circles what you talk about is called "relocalization", in other circles "buy local", in food circles it's called "locavore". Relocalization taken to the extreme you say probably isn't doable. Where are people to get their coffee and chocolate from if they're forced to grow it locally?

However - a huge amount of resources from transportation fuel to ship construction etc goes into globalization and globalized commerce. This causes environmental problems. Globalization should be minimized for environmental reasons.

Globalization should be minimized because it expands use of fossil fuel, and the reality of peak oil says we must seek ways to decrease fossil fuel use in order to have enough time for world society to develop adequate alternatives to fossil fuel.

Last reason to minimize globalization is the harm it does to local economies, by sending local GDP to other countries.

However as you say it's not viable to be 100% localized, and it makes sense to localize the things that can be localized and leave other things to global producers.

Hybridhype (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 10:32PM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Made in the US or not the car is still overpriced. Why not a Prius C for $19,000

Obama Hikes Failing Chevy Volt Subsidies

AP Graphics By Neil Munro, The Daily Caller The White House intends to boost government subsidies for wealthy buyers of the Chevy Volt and other new-technology vehicles — to $10000 per buyer. That mammoth subsidy would cost taxpayers $100 million each ...

Anonymous (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 1:10PM

GM is a bad business, regardless of politics.

I bought a new 1999 GM vehicle and brought it back to the dealer a week later with 500 miles on it and it was down a quart of oil. GM told me if I paid an additional $3,000, they would replace the brand new car I had just bought. In the Lemon Law Hearing I won six months later, the GM representative actually stated burning a quart of oil every 100-200 miles "was normal" in a brand new vehicle. Since then I've purchase three VW diesel vehicles that average 40MPG and get over 50MPG on a trip if you go 65MPH. No thanks, Government Motors.

Laughable (not verified)    February 14, 2012 - 6:26PM

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

*** Test vehicles did catch on fire, and with 8,000 Volts sold, how long before this happens in real life?

BL "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 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."

*** This is a load of crap, and the NHTSA is in bed with the Obama administration. Even Consumer Reports uses hypothetical driving circumstances that benefit the Volt and only assumes gas usage as the "cost" of a vehicle. Usually, cost of operating or owning a vehicle would take into consideration the price of the vehicle and depreciation, the most important aspects of net costs. CR gave the Volt a recommended rating based on favorable predicted reliability data. The problem with the credibility of the rating is that the surveys utilized to predict reliability were done early this year at a time when there were limited numbers of Volts on the road.

BL "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.)"

*** Allowing 3 weeks to exit a burning car does not justify a $40k price tag and billions in tax subsidies.

BL "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."

*** This is a non-sense statistic, not one of these cars started a fire by themselves in a garage. Not one of the manufacturers recalled the entire line of Volts on the road to reinforce the battery and make changes to protect an oozing battery casing. If there was not problem with the Volt, then why have a recall?

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

*** False ... False ... Lie ... Lie ..., sounds like Obama' former budget director blaming GOP for senates failure to pass budget because of 60-vote requirement when in fact it only requires 50-votes to approve and there are 53 democratic senators. Head fake and lies.

BL "The Volt, the most technologically advanced car on the planet, was conceived by me and my team well before any federal bailout of GM.
These are the bedrock facts."

*** OMG, the most technologically advanced car on the planet!!!! What a freakin joke. I will put my Benz up to that pile of plastic any day. You do not see NASCAR racing volts ... and for good reason!!!

David Herron    February 14, 2012 - 9:46PM

In reply to by Laughable (not verified)

One test vehicle caught fire. Lutz and GM characterizes the crash test as extreme, and not reflecting the real world. I, as the author of the article, tend to disagree with their stance a bit in that cars do roll over after crashes and I believe the NHTSA test is meant to simulate rollovers.

It was one test vehicle, not multiple vehicles. There were further crash tests after they'd done the forensic analysis and had a working hypothesis to the cause of the fire. But they were unable to replicate the conditions (puncture of the battery pack, leading to coolant leakage) and hence did not replicate the fire. This indicates two things - either NHTSA is inept at running their tests, which is rather unlikely, or - that the conditions to cause the fire are extremely hard to come by. You would have to have a crash strong enough to break the battery pack, then create a condition of leaking coolant, or otherwise cause a short circuit. Even then it takes awhile for the battery pack to catch fire.

The Volt was cleared of responsibility in all the garage fires.

It is not nonsense to refer to the number of gasoline car fires. Instead it is a key part of the story-line. Why is there such a hype about a single fire in a single Volt in a crash test, when gasoline car fires are so common they're never reported in the news? This demonstrates that the people pushing the controversy over this one fire, primarily right wingers who are clearly bent on hurting the Administration, have a political axe to grind rather than acting out of altruism warning us about a supposedly unsafe car.

As for factory produced electric vehicles catching fire ... that is somewhat incorrect depending on whether you consider the EV1 to have been produced in a factory. A couple of them caught fire in garages while charging, due to faults in the charging circuit. GM did a recall of the EV1 to fix the issues. However - where have other EV's caught fire? Can you name one? And if you name some of the hobbyist conversion EV's that have caught fire, they were not produced in a factory by a proper manufacturer.

bibes (not verified)    February 15, 2012 - 12:09AM

The government didn't give me a dime to buy the Volt. I got a tax credit. As Republicans are so fond of saying, The government allowed me to keep my own money"

Why is that credits are good for multimillionaires, but not good to allow people to drive without sending money to Iran and Venezuela?