In a U.S. presidential election season, anything can become political. Remember the height of trees in Michigan? Well, when you're dealing with such a barrage, it's sometimes good to remember that plug-in cars have been political for a long time and, despite some politicians best efforts, progress will continue.
Still, it's sometimes enlightening to take a look at how the debate over plug-in cars – which you would think would be a non-partisan issue – is being waged, especially the two biggest right-wing punching bags: the Chevrolet Volt and the Fisker Karma. There are plenty of examples conservative attacks on green cars in our archives (see here and here and here) but they quieted down earlier this year after some conservative push-back from people like Bob Lutz. Now, the attacks are back.
First, the Volt. Last month, Chevy started offering long-term "test-drives" of a sort for new buyers, the Chevy Confidence program, which allows buyers to have a new car for up to 60 days, including the Volt. Unsurprisingly, cries of tax credit abuse quickly rose from the same voices that have been attacking the Volt for ages. Namely, the National Legal and Policy Center's Mark Modica, who published an article called "Chevy Volt 60-Day Return Makes Tax Credit Abuse Likely." Not "reported," just likely, which is interesting. Modica describes a way for people to buy a Volt, submit the paperwork for the $7,500 federal tax credit, then return it after 59 days. The "buyer" would get the federal cash, GM would be stuck with a used Volt, and the taxpayers are on the hook. We don't agree with Modica that the government should, "repeal the costly EV tax credits that do little to help with foreign oil dependence and only further enrich already wealthy electric car buyers" but his suggestion that, "The IRS should also consider a minimum term of ownership for buyers of plug-in vehicles to qualify for tax credits" has merit.
We don't agree that the government should, "repeal the costly EV tax credits that do little to help with foreign oil dependence and only further enrich already wealthy electric car buyers."
We tried to get the IRS to clarify if the Confidence program could be abused in this way, but have not heard back. The terms and conditions of the Chevy Confidence program say, "You may be subject to federal, state, or local tax on any benefit paid." The small print on the TV ads say "Not available with some other offers." So, we're not sure if Modica is right, but we do know that his anti-Volt barrage got him invited onto Fox News to talk about "the Chevy Volt village" aka the Pecan Street Partnership (see inflammatory video below).
A more real problem for GM is when people actually take an extended test drive of a Volt and are then turned off from the car. That's what happened with George Anders, a writer for Forbes (a historically anti-EV publication), when he took a media loan of a Volt. He couldn't find convenient charging stations and, when he did the math on his peak-rate electricity charge, he came up with a cost of $3.90 to drive 40 miles on electricity. His peak rate of 30 cents a kWh is higher than average, but the point is that he wasn't happy. And neither was GM, which told Anders his article's premise was "relatively pointless."
Republicans are also unhappy with the federal money that Fisker Automotive has received. This is not a new line of attack, but it was revived recently by Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who said, "President Obama took half a billion dollars of your taxpayer money and gave it to Fisker Automotive because they promised to create jobs at their Wilmington plant and to hire workers here in the Delaware Valley. They promised to build cars here and create jobs here. Their factory in Delaware, which would have created jobs for people both in Delaware and here in southeastern Pennsylvania, was supposed to be open today, but instead it's closed." That's only partially true. The plant is not yet open, but Fisker has only taken around $193 million federal dollars, even though the original grant amount was for $529 million. Also, Fisker hasn't said officially that they won't build Atlantic vehicles in Delaware, but former Fisker chairman and current investor Ray Lane did blame Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delaying the DOE loans.
Romney has picked up the anti-plug-in baton, saying that Obama is giving money to "electric cars from Finland." First off, Finland is the place I most like to be. Second, Romney's statement isn't in any way true. Fisker contracted Valmet to make the Karma plug-in hybrid in Finland, but the federal money was designated for the Atlantic model, which is (was?) supposed to be made in the U.S. You can get a point-by-point breakdown of Romney's misleading anti-Obama, anti-Fisker ad here.
Romney has picked up the anti-plug-in baton, saying that Obama is giving money to "electric cars from Finland." This isn't true.
Or take the news of the recent investment by Chinese company Wanxiang Group Corporation in A123 Systems. In response, Republican senators John Thune and Chuck Grassley wrote DOE Secretary Steven Chu a letter asking about federal money going to A123. They wrote: "Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have flowed to foreign companies through the Recovery Act, and we are concerned that the recent announcement could lead to even more taxpayer dollars going overseas."
Then there are the one-liners, like President Obama's recent jab at a Romney's statement that "you can't drive a car with a windmill on it." Obama, not getting into the reality of such a vehicle, made fun of the story of Romney strapping the family dog to the roof of his car decades ago. Isn't politics fun?