Consumer Reports’ Chevy Volt Safety Double Standard

In January of 2010 USA Today reported that Consumer Reports (CR) temporarily suspended its recommended rating for eight Toyota models. This was in response to the possibility of Toyota models being unsafe as accusations were made that the vehicles had sudden acceleration problems and NHTSA investigated the alleged incidents. In CRs’ words, “Although incidents of sudden acceleration are rare, we are taking this action because the vehicles have been identified as potentially unsafe without a fix yet being available to consumers.” CRs’ response to the Chevy Volt NHTSA fires is quite different from the Toyota response.

Change a few words on CRs’ comments to fit the Volt situation and we would have justification for removal of CRs’ recommended rating on President Obama’s favorite car. That’s not happening. The latest internet headlines to hit regarding CR and the Volt tout that the Volt, as well as the Nissan Leaf, are “cheaper to run” than gasoline cars. CR supplies a chart that uses hypothetical driving circumstances that benefit the Volt and only assumes gas usage as the “cost” of a vehicle. Usually, cost of operating or owning a vehicle would take into consideration the price of the vehicle and depreciation, the most important aspects of net costs. It is ludicrous to suggest that the Chevy Volt, which cost over $40,000, saves owners money over similar gas vehicles which are priced about half as much. CR continues to lose credibility with its apparently biased (or influenced) coverage of the Chevy Volt.

A few months ago, CR gave the Volt a recommended rating based on favorable predicted reliability data. The problem with the credibility of the rating is that the surveys utilized to predict reliability were done early this year at a time when there were limited numbers of Volts on the road. CR, the Obama Administration and General Motors would have consumers believe that Volt reliability could be predicted after having been in use for only months, and in limited numbers!

So, what did CR have to say about the Volt safety issues and how does it compare to their response to the Toyota NHTSA investigation? Regarding the Volt fires, CR stated, “As with any new technology, indeed any safety concern, it is imperative to follow all manufacturer-recommended safety precautions. The public has had more than 100 years to adapt to the safety requirements of gasoline, an inherently dangerous fuel. Now the challenge is to develop the same awareness for electrified and electric cars.” While CR erred on the side of safety for Toyota issues, they continue to promote the Volt, even though they initially denounced the vehicle and stated that it didn’t make a lot of sense. Somewhere between then and now, CR has suspiciously changed their tune on the Volt.

The fact that the Volt utilizes “new technology” is even more reason to be cautious before recommending the vehicle. Lithium-ion based batteries are volatile having unknown environmental consequences and should have been studied further before being thrust upon the public. Apologists for the Volt that bring up limited numbers of fire incidents compared to the Toyota investigation should do the math on the proportion of vehicles with alleged issues compared to total vehicles on the road. There were literally thousands of times more Toyotas on the road than Volts, it would make sense that there would be more suspected issues. The limited number of Volts sold should be all the more reason to be cautious now, before the public is put at a larger risk.

Congress is correct to investigate NHTSA’s delay in reporting Volt safety issues. The Volt has been a cesspool of deception since before its rollout. False claims have been given regarding rated MPG (GM wrongly claimed it would get 230 MPG) along with misrepresentations that the vehicle was a pure EV (it’s a hybrid) and bogus suggestions that demand far exceeded supply. Auto journalists were fooled into believing that there were huge waiting lists of consumers ready to swoop up Volts when they became available. No such lists exist and sales continue to underwhelm even as supply increases. Now NHTSA’s actions reek of a cover-up and mainstream media continues to give Government Motors a free pass.

The Chevy Volt is an embarrassment that has cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Unfortunately, the ones being embarrassed (General Motors, the Obama Administration, Consumer Reports and mainstream media) will not admit their folly as they continue to lose credibility as the Chevy Volt story unfolds. Taxpayers and American motorists deserve better.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.