It’s just a car, damn it

As a lover of all things shiny, new and electronic, I recently leased a new 2012 Chevrolet Volt. I have followed the progress of this amazing new piece of American technology since its auto show concept introduction in 2007. The car is like driving an iPhone with its plethora of electronic components. In fact, the dealership “paired” my iPhone to the car.

I was initially afraid the car would disappear in the meltdown of General Motors, especially since I thought the bailout of General Motors was ill-conceived and poorly executed by the federal government. But the car, like GM, survived.

Yet, the initial high price of the car, $40,000 before a $7,500 tax credit, and the recent decline in gas prices still made me hesitate. My commute pattern, however, fits the car perfectly – 10 miles each way to work equals zero gas in the Volt. The cost of electricity to run the car is about $1 per day. I would rather pay NV Energy than a foreign oil exporter hostile to the United States. I don’t expect to buy gas for the rest of the year.

And, the car has the range to make it to Los Angeles on its battery and a small amount of gas. Recently, an attractive new GM lease program made the car affordable and cost-efficient.

My lease also supported a local dealership, Findlay Chevrolet, and was the first sale for Maxwell Eichbauer, a recent UNLV graduate. American workers in Detroit made the car.

So, what could go wrong? It started on the drive home.

An SUV driver, of all people, made a derisive gesture on the Beltway. I was puzzled since I was cruising along at the speed limit. The car, by the way, goes zero to 60 in 9.2 seconds. I learned why later in a grocery store parking lot, when I was snidely asked if I liked my “Obama Car.” At work, a string of “Obamamobile,” “want an Obama bumper sticker” and “ecowarrior” jokes followed, though all asked to look inside.

For the record, the car was conceived during the Bush administration by a GM executive, a registered Republican, who thinks global warming is a hoax, while spending the R&D funds of a public corporation and taking a capitalistic risk and, besides, I am a political independent who likes saving $3 a day in gas.

The Drudge Report and others delighted in reporting dismal early sales for the car and any minor perceived problem. Newt Gingrich said the car wouldn’t hold a gun rack. My new car, it seems, has become a bellwether for the endless right versus left debate in America.

When did Americans stop celebrating technological progress by our manufacturing sector? I grew up on stories of Edison, Bell and Henry Ford and the genius of our manufacturing base. Now, the left thinks the Volt uses too much gas and should be all electric. The right thinks the car is a product of government bailouts.

If Edison invented the light bulb today the left would dither about the greenhouse gases it would create and blame the right. If Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 2012 would the right worry about its effect on the more conservative telegraph industry and blame the left for all the phone sex that followed?

As Americans, we need to reclaim our prowess in the manufacturing sector. Real jobs, like those held by the middle-class steelworkers I grew up with in northern Illinois are not gone, they have just changed. I am of the age to remember when the unveiling of a new American manufactured product was an event, and new car models were eagerly anticipated as symbols of progress. Now, a GM executive told Congress earlier this year, “Although we loaded the Volt with state-of-the-art safety features, we did not engineer the Volt to be a political punching bag.”

So, to the large black SUVs I see at their $90 fill-ups on my way to work, I will just smile and wave politely as I glide quietly by in my symbol of renewed American manufacturing expertise.

And, no, my car won’t have anybody’s bumper sticker on it.

Mark Hinueber is vice president/general counsel of Stephens Media LLC, which owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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