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Electric cars exploding? That's 'pure fiction'

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt.


Supporters of electric vehicles are getting charged up in their defence of battery-powered cars, citing the pros of plug-ins and attacking critics for ignoring, misrepresenting or misunderstanding the facts.

General Motors, for instance, is now saying Chevrolet Volt owners collectively have "saved a supertanker of gasoline since the electric car with extended range went on sale." Volt owners have gone 40 million miles on electricity and avoided using more than 2.1 million gallons of gasoline, says GM in a new release.

"With each click of the odometer, Chevrolet Volt owners are measuring their contribution to reducing America's dependence on foreign oil and to preserving the environment," said Cristi Landy, Chevrolet Volt marketing director. "Volt owners are also saving at the fuel pump with more than $8-million in combined savings," she adds, based on U.S. fuel prices, which have been spiking this year.

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If you want to keep track of the EV payback, Chevrolet has a rolling ticker on its site designed to keep track in real time with the daily driving statistics for Volt owners based on OnStar data. As of last week, 40 million total electric miles (EV) had been driven, which is equivalent to:

  • 16,373 trips across the United States (2,443 miles from New York to Los Angeles)
  • 1,606 trips around the Earth (24,901 miles each)
  • 167 trips to the moon (238,657 miles each)

In addition, 2,130,000 gallons of gas has been saved, which is equivalent to:

  • 50,714 barrels of gas saved (42 gallons of gas per barrel)
  • $8,000,000 saved at the gas pump (based on $3.80/gallon of gas)
  • One supertanker of gas saved (two million gallons of gas)

Landy adds, "Sixty per cent of the time, our owners are driving electric, but the extended range is providing additional miles when they need it. This shows that you don't have to change your daily driving habits to drive the Volt."

Meanwhile, Bob Lutz, the former General Motors vice-chairman who oversaw Volt development before retiring, is reportedly shooting back at conservative critics who have been saying the Volt is nothing more than a government-backed boondoggle – and a flammable one at that.

Automotive News reports that last month, at a panel discussion on energy security hosted by conservative think tank The Hudson Institute, Lutz said he was tired of fellow conservatives talking about "exploding" Volts that are a "federally dictated confection," in the words of right-wing columnist and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer.

"No electric vehicle has ever caught fire, and yet the political right is constantly talking about the flammability, overheating, fire hazards and so forth," an exasperated Lutz is reported have said. "Folks," said the former Marine Corp. pilot and noted global warning skeptic, "it's a pure fiction. Get it out of your heads."

Bob Lutz is just the latest EV backer to start swinging at critics. Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, a Washington-based advocacy group, told the industry publication that he has directed his staff to book him as many speaking appearances and interviews as possible, "the more hostile the better. We decided to drop the gloves now to encourage our side."

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This being an election year in the U.S., EVs have become something of a political football. It's one thing to criticize the facts related to EVs – government-subsided sales and research and development, range limitations, cost and practicality among them – but it's quite another to flat out misrepresent the facts. Backers such as Lutz are doing their best to set the record straight, even though in some cases doing so means taking on a conservative movement they might otherwise support.

Lutz himself is no friend of left-wingers and liberals on most issues, but when it comes to EVs he's almost in bed with the Ralph Naders of the world. For more on his views, have a look at his recent column in Forbes entitled "I Give Up On Correcting The Wrong-Headed Right Over The Volt."

It's hard to imagine Lutz penning something with "Wrong-Headed Right" in the headline, but such is the juiced atmosphere in the EV debate.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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