Vroom vroom

The automobile is under attack and one of the victims is the Chevrolet Volt.

Two weeks ago Detroit Free Press reported that General Motors temporarily laid off 1,300 employees who built the Chevrolet Volt, an electric plug-in hybrid. The decision was made to “align production with demand.”

To put it simply, they aren’t selling enough to justify making more.

The Volt uses an electric engine that runs 40 to 80 kilometres using no gas and switches into a regular gas-powered engine when the battery is depleted. The concept was announced in 2007 and sales began in late 2010.

Manufactured by a company that faced financial ruin and bankruptcy in 2008 and 2009, the Volt’s short life has been filled with controversy.

Considering the U.S. government owns about one quarter of General Motors and there are various other incentives to promote greener cars, an analyst in 2011 calculated that an individual Volt was heavily subsidized — costing taxpayers up to $250,000 per car.

There was also a matter of badly-tested Volts that burst into flame weeks after their crash tests due to the battery pack. A federal investigation cleared the Volt as safe but there is political fighting, with claims that the government was lenient due to its stake in General Motors.

The automobile is undergoing an identity crisis due to all the political wrangling of the past few years. Environmental and financial concerns have clashed with the idea and concept of the automobile.

The word ‘automobile’ comes from the Greek word ‘auto’ (self) and ‘mobile’ from the French ‘movable.’

Cars were invented to make it easier for people to move from point A to B faster and more conveniently than on public transit. It was, and is, a symbol of independence, but times are changing.

Improving the automobile to be leaner, faster and more efficient is fantastic. Building cars that use less or no gas while retaining one’s sense of independence is key to preserving the idea of the automobile.

The Volt is an example of something more along the lines of public transit than a car, with too many people involved, too many people with a stake in it.

Right now, it’s a culture about numbers and politics. Not a culture of driving cars to fulfill a need or desire. No longer about a quick grocery run through the suburbs or a midnight cruise along the highway.

It’s just numbers and politics.

What a shame.

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