The decision to buy a Chevy Volt may have a lot to do with whether the buyer is a Democrat or a Republican. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich criticized the Volt because he thought it couldn’t hold a gun rack. Now, Chevrolet’s extended-range electric vehicle is getting a ringing endorsement from President Obama.
On Tuesday, the day of the Michigan Republican primary, Obama told a United Auto Workers conference that he would buy a Volt after he left office. “Five years from now, when I’m not president any more, I’ll buy one and drive it myself,” he said. Obama was at the conference to defend his administration’s bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. The President said that, without the bailout, factories would have closed and employees “would have been hung out to dry.”
Obama also referred to Mitt Romney’s infamous 2008 New York Times editorial “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” saying that letting the car companies fail would have had major ramifications. “Think about what that choice would have meant for this country, if we had turned our back on you, if America had thrown in the towel, if GM and Chrysler had gone under. The suppliers, the distributors that get their business from these companies, they would have died off. Then even Ford could have gone down as well,” Obama said.
Republicans seem less enthusiastic about American cars. Romney was ready to “let Detroit go bankrupt” in 2008, and had to answer for that comment in the Michigan primary. Two weeks ago, Newt Gingrich said that, “you cannot put a gun rack in a Volt” at a rally in Georgia, then went on CBS’ “This Morning” with Charlie Rose and accused Obama of wanting higher gas prices.
It is interesting to see a car become part of a major political debate over the economy and gas prices. Both parties seem to view the Volt as Obama’s pet project, even though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently investigating battery fires in the Chevy. The Obama administration did not design the Volt, but its bailout of GM did make the car’s production possible.
Nonetheless, Obama is probably better off having the Volt on his side. General Motors recently announced a record $7.6 billion profit for last year, the highest in the company’s history. The Hamtramck plant where the Volt is built would have been shut down if the bailout hadn’t infused GM with the cash to start production. Gun rack or not, losing all those jobs would not have been good for the economy. In that context, it seems like Republicans will have a tough time convincing independent voters that the Volt was a bad idea.
Most of the time, a particular car is not a controversial issue, but in this election, everything seems to be fair game. Any hope of reconciliation between the two parties is looking dimmer. They can’t even agree on what to drive anymore.