June 25, 2009
Today the much-lauded, much-criticized Chevy Volt hit the road. The Volt is an “extended range” battery vehicle that uses the battery for about 40 miles and then switches to gas. The vehicle is something new for Chevrolet, but I doubt if it will help revive Chevy from the brink of death. No, the problem I see is not the technology; I’m not an engineer, so I really can’t speak to that. It’s the price tag. I’ve read everything from about $40,000 to $45,000 and up. A few years ago, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich gave a commentary on NPR on what he called the “$64,000 Question,” referring to the old game show as well as the words of Hank Paulson, Secretary of Treasury. You can read an abbreviated version here on Reich’s blog. In essence, Reich was pointing out that, had most Americans participated in the Bush recovery (yes, there was one, although that fact was easy for most of us to miss) as they had in past recoveries, the median family income would be about $64000 instead of the $45000 (or $41000 depending on which source you read). How does this relate to the Volt? More than half of American families make less in a year than the base cost of a Volt. A considerable number of families make at or just above the cost of the Volt in a whole year, before taxes. For whom is Chevy building the Volt? As it stands, Chevy needs to remember that the American public can afford the original Saturn S line better than it can a Volt. Anything over $40,000 is out of reach; $20,000 (like the Prius and Insight) would be much more affordable.
UPDATE, July 27, 2010
Today Chevy announced that the Volt will have a price tag of $41,000. Even with the federal tax credit, the Volt is overpriced for the average American family. The Volt would take such a huge chunk of a family income that at least half of American households shouldn’t consider it in this fragile economy. It’s too bad; Chevrolet does not seem to have learned from its mistakes of the 2000s.