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In testimony before a Congress earlier this year, General Motors CEO Dan Akerson called the Chevy Volt “a political punching bag”―a characterization that few who have followed the vehicle since its release could argue with. Whether the sedan is being tied to the controversial auto bailouts, targeted by Darrell Issa investigations, or called “a car nobody wants” by Rush Limbaugh, the Volt has been subject to an undeservedly high level of bad press. (The car did top the Consumer Reportscustomer satisfaction survey and pick up an impressive collection of awards in its first year on the market.)
In an effort to cut through the noise, GM has reportedly been loaning out Volts to select individuals in Southern California through its communications team. According to Green Car Reports, the program has been active for several months, providing nearly 300 short-term loans, which last anywhere from three to seven days. The scheme has been tagged “Cars to People,” and as GM representative Shad Balch told GCR, it helps to bridge the gap between the public’s misconceptions about the Volt and reality. “On any given day, we encounter literally dozens of folks who either have an interest in―or a misunderstanding of―the Volt,” said Balch.
Indeed, an informal sampling of dialogue about the Volt inevitably yields a few poorly-informed statements regarding the Volt’s propensity to leave drivers stranded after its electric range runs out―a blatant mischaracterization that has nevertheless been repeated over and over again in the media. As much work as Chevy has put in to explaining the Volt, the fact remains that it’s a new technology, and the only ironclad way to express to someone how similar the car is to most traditional ICE sedans from a driving standpoint is to put them behind the wheel.
According to Green Car Reports, the program has so far been successful in converting at least one future buyer, a Prius owner who had been on the wait list for the new Prius Plug-in before getting the chance to tool around in a Volt for a few days.
Regardless of its immediate sales impact, public acceptance of electric drive vehicles is going to be a gradual process that includes the visual presence of plug-ins and charging stations in people’s neighborhoods, word of mouth, and―for those who are curious enough to pursue them―test drives. In loaning out the Volt, particularly in an influential early market like Southern California, GM will help to get the good word out about plug-ins that much quicker, which is good for everybody.