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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Myth Of The Volt

“…every individual necessarily labors to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.” — Adam Smith

The system in which the invisible hand is most often assumed to work is the free market. Adam Smith assumed that consumers choose for the lowest price, and that entrepreneurs choose for the highest rate of profit. He asserted that by thus making their excess or insufficient demand known through market prices, consumers "directed" entrepreneurs' investment money to the most profitable industry. Remember that this is the industry producing the goods most highly valued by consumers, so in general economic well-being is increased.

One extremely positive aspect of a market-based economy is that it forces people to think about what other people want. Smith saw this as a large part of what was good about the invisible hand mechanism. He identified two ways to obtain the help and co-operation of other people, upon which we all depend constantly. The first way is to appeal to the benevolence and goodwill of others. To do this a person must often act in a servile and fawning way, which Smith found repulsive, and he claimed it generally meets with very limited success. The second way is to appeal instead to other people's self-interest. In one of his most famous quotes:

“ Man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favor, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me what I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is the manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love.”

For Smith, to propose an exchange is to attempt to show another that what you can do, or what you have, can be of use to the other. When you carry out the exchange, it means the other person recognizes that what you can do or that what you have is of value. This is why so much of a person's self-esteem is bound up in their job — a well-paid job is supposed to be a sign that others value your contribution and find it worth exchanging their own resources for.

Last week President Obama gave appeared at a campaign rally at the GM plant in Detroit where he praised the bailout and the wonders of the Chevy Volt, GM’s electric car. He claimed that after he left the White House in 2017 he would buy a Volt.

The next day GM announced it was closing the Volt line and laying-off 1,400 UAW workers. You see the $42,000 Volt is just not selling, at least to the general market.

General Motors reported Chevy Volt sales of 1,529 for the month of December. The still unimpressive number is an improvement over previous months, but the gains were mostly driven by fleet sales. According to GM, 992 of the Volts sold were to retail customers while 537 went to fleet purchasers.

GM says the fleet sales were to corporate buyers and not to rental companies. The number of Volts sold to townships receiving federal grants remains unknown. The corporate sales claim makes sense as crony company, General Electric, starts to make good on its promise to buy thousands of Volts. Of course, GE benefits by selling charging stations for the vehicles.

Another interesting statistic on Volt sales can be derived from the inventory figures and number of Chevy dealerships with available Volts. GM now claims that 2,600 dealerships across the nation have Volts for sale. Given the 992 figure for Volts sold to retail customers, we come up with an average of approximately one third of a vehicle sold by each dealership per month. It is ludicrous for GM to continue to tout Volt sales figures as a success given the fact that about two thirds of dealerships offering Volts were unable to sell even one during the month! With supply now well over 4,000 units, lack of inventory can no longer be blamed for the dismal sales figures.

It remains to be seen what type of tricks the Obama Administration and GM might have up their sleeves when it comes to fluffing Chevy Volt sales figures. Both the Administration and GM have staked a lot of credibility on the vehicle claiming that it was to be a game changer for GM as well as a "moon shot." Considering that taxpayers are subsidizing vehicles like the Volt to the tune of billions of dollars, it is understandable that critics of the vehicle want to know the truth about the projected high demand for the car that has yet to materialize. GM is sticking to its guns claiming that 60,000 Volts will be sold in 2012 after having missed 2011 sales goals by a wide margin. They have not, however, said who will be buying them.

Anyone who has observed the hype revolving around the Chevy Volt since the time preceding its rollout to now should question the credibility of sources that proclaim the vehicle a success despite evidence that indicates otherwise. A further instance of suspicious support for the Volt was evidenced when Consumer Reports (CR) recommended the vehicle, which is based on the Chevy Cruze platform, only to report that the Cruze expected reliability is well below average. In fact, the Cruze was rated the worst value for small cars by CR. And while the recommended rating for the Volt had been highly publicized, there are few internet articles referencing the worst rating for the Cruze.

How can CR recommend the Volt based on reliability expectations when such a limited number of Volts have been sold and they have such a negative opinion on a vehicle with the same platform? And why has CR changed their opinion since the time they originally proclaimed that the Volt "didn't seem to make a lot of sense?" In addition, CR has displayed a double standard regarding how it responded to battery safety issues for the Volt (CR stated the public had to adapt to a new technology) compared to how it responded to Toyota's unintended acceleration investigation when it pulled the recommended rating from Toyotas.

Speaking of suspicious activity, an interesting statistic was revealed on GM's sales conference call. Government purchases of GM vehicles rose 32% from last year. This represents yet another conflict as the Obama Administration has a vested interest in GM's success as it spends more taxpayer dollars to help support the company as 2012 elections near.

For those Volt apologists who want to celebrate the insignificant sales growth of the car, have at it. The wealthy retail purchasers of the Volt can afford the high price tag of the vehicle. The country, however, no longer can. The $7,500 tax subsidy that goes to wealthy buyers should be ended. If this car and others like the Fisker and Tesla offerings which cost close to $100,000 each are as popular as advocates say they are, taxpayers should not have to give buyers $7,500 to drive sales. And if they are not popular, then all the more reason to stop bilking taxpayers out of billions of dollars to enrich crony corporations under the guise of green initiatives.

The Chevy Volt was just given the European car of the year award at the Geneva auto show. So what. No one in the U.S. is buying the car. The market is rejecting this government sponsored vehicle. On the other hand truck and SUV sales are up. No matter how Obama touts this “green car” the people are not buying it even with gasoline at $5.00 per gallon. This is just another way of the government masterminds coercing the people to buy something they do not want.

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