Car Guy

Leaf Blowers

Get ready for another clunker bill to subsidize buyers of the shockingly pricey and suspect electric Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.

By 4.29.10

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Here's the thing: No one except maybe a few blockbuster-fattened Hollywood celebs is going to buy a new Chevy Volt -- GM's $40,000 electric "economy" car. Or the almost-as-pricey Nissan Leaf, which will carry an MSRP sticker price of $32,780 -- which is about what you'd pay for a new BMW 3-series.

It doesn't matter that they don't burn any gas at all. Filling up a normal $15k car with $3 unleaded is still a whole lot cheaper. And isn't the whole point of the exercise to save money? A person who hates paying $30 to fill-up is surely going to chafe at making car payments of $400 per month for the next 5-6 years, right?

You'd have to drive a new Volt or Leaf for six or seven years, at least, before you approached "break even." And who besides Leo DiCaprio is going to do that?

But that won't save much gas, let alone the planet.

So, in steps Sugar Daddy -- that would be the gray-bearded pimp in the red, white and blue-striped suit -- to juice the deal by paying people to buy the Volt and Leaf. To the tune of $7,500 per comer.

Every penny of it financed by the rest of us, via the IRS.

Bush the Unfortunate launched the subsidy idea but Obama the Mack Daddy ran it into the end zone -- as part of his "plan" to see that 1 million of these electric lemons are on the streets by 2015.

In other words, Obama is itching to pitchfork out 1 million times $7,500 of your tax dollars to git 'er done. How much does that add up to? It hurts my head to try to add it all up but I know it's a really big number.

And all this boodle won't merely "help" some Americans get a new car for 30-plus percent off sticker (an even better deal than last summer's "cash for clunkers" giveaway) at the expense of other Americans. It will also help GM and Nissan and whoever else builds one of these things pad their bottom line.

That's how business gets done in latter-day America. Instead of building cars that people might actually want to buy on their own (and which they could buy on their own if they so desired) the automakers now cater to government, building the cars government wants -- and expecting us to cover the tab.

Benito Mussolini, phone home!

Absent the subsidy -- absent government pressure -- the Volt and Leaf would never be more than one-off show cars or engineering demonstrators. The execs know they're otherwise unsalable and, not being complete idiots, probably would never authorize their mass production.

The same is true of the much-loved Toyota Prius, by the way.

Toyota sold each one at a net loss. The difference was made up by marking up the price of other models -- and via the payola ladled out by the Japanese government, which is very much in bed with Japanese big business.

Just like here.

But the joke is apt to be on the people who end up buying a Volt or Leaf as much as it will be on the rest of us who get to help them buy one. Even with Sugar Daddy's subsidy, these are still hardly "economical" cars. Already, there are standard cars on the market priced under $10,000 (such as the 2010 Nissan Versa 1.6) that get 30-plus miles-per-gallon. Indian and Chinese-built cars with window stickers under $8,000 are coming, too.

And it's a good bet these cars will work just as well when it's 30 degrees outside as when it's 90 -- which may not be the case with electric cars. Battery efficiency can decrease by as much as 40-50 percent when the air temperature gets close to freezing. Running accessories like the heater will gimp things a bit more.

The much-touted range of the Volt and Leaf could end up being a lot less than advertised.

So, we may get the last laugh after all. You'll be able to smile to yourself when you pass a conked out Volt or Leaf by the side of the road come this January.

If you're feeling generous, you can use your cell to call Obama and ask him to send out AAA.

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About the Author

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.