In the first three months of 2011, twelve hundred consumers in all of America thought that they'd shell out good money to buy a Chevy Volt.
Now, mind you, very few if any of the buyers shelled out the $41,000 asking price for GM's green hybrid vehicle, but rather they took a $7,500 government bribe that they then applied to the astronomical purchase price of the car; a car that might save an average driver $900 per year on gasoline which, come to think about it, will come in handy after five years when the $6,000 battery pack needs replacing.
The Volt has been a glint in the eye of bureaucrats, environmentalists, and regulators for a long time. As the American consumer demanded gas guzzlers, SUVs, big trucks, and an occasional sleek '95 Buick, central planners had different, and more idealistic outcomes in mind.
They assailed all levels of government to force an environment where a Volt-like vehicle was the widely desired product.
They enacted a multifaceted energy policy designed to create expensive fossil fuels. They demanded higher and higher miles per gallon requirements for manufactured fleets. They are enacting emission standards on the same greenhouse gases we exhale while walking to work to avoid driving. And they have demanded that nutritious corn be diverted from the food supply so that inefficient ethanol can be burned in place of fossil fuels.
The problem is, of course, that this vision of government and its parasitic advocates is that it has once again disappointed the American consumer. The geniuses crowding the halls of government have hatched an egg too expensive and impractical for a vast majority of Americans to buy.
But the Volt will have one huge buyer. The US government.
Sadly, Obama is correct. With 600,000 vehicles to replace all too often, the US government has the ability to sustain (and ramrod) these initiatives despite their unpopularity with the general public.
Sales of GM's extended-range Chevrolet Volt and all-electric Nissan Leaf remain small. About 1,200 Volts and 500 Leaf vehicles have been sold in the first three months of the year.
Obama said the federal government — which has 600,000 vehicles — will be buying all "advanced technology" vehicles by 2015.
"This is one place where the government is leading by example," Obama said. "Right now, the government's fleet includes more than 600,000 vehicles, making it the single largest fleet in America. That means we have considerable purchasing power, and we're using it to boost clean energy technologies."
Those vehicles include plug-in vehicles and hybrids, but they also include millions of "flex fuel" vehicles that can run on either gasoline or mostly ethanol, called E85. So the government can continue to buy full-size inefficient SUVs and run them on regular gasoline blends under the policy.
When government leads the free market into decisions it too often arrives at the wrong conclusions, and once set upon a destructive path (as with ethanol) it becomes too difficult to cut off the spigot to those who have become dependent on industry-specific welfare.
It will be a wonderful ride.