Maybe George Will should steer clear of car columns

MAYBE GEORGE WILL SHOULD STEER CLEAR OF CAR COLUMNS…. A year ago, soon after the rescue of the American automotive industry, President Obama noted there’s no reason the Japanese can design an affordable, well-designed hybrid car, but we can’t.

George Will was unimpressed. “I assume the president is talking about the Prius,” Will said. “It’s affordable because Toyota sells it at a loss, and it can afford to sell it at a loss because it is selling twice as many gas-guzzling pickup trucks of the sort our president detests.”

As it turned out, Will was confused. Toyota used to sell hybrids at a loss back in 1997, but as industry and consumer trends changed, so too did profit margins. Toyota started making a profit on each Prius sold way back in 2001. Will wanted to take a cheap shot at the president over automotive policy, but he didn’t bother to get his facts straight.

This week, Will returned to his thoughts on cars, blasting the Chevy Volt as having been “conceived to appease the automotive engineers in Congress, which knows that people will have to be bribed, with other people’s money, to buy this $41,000 car that seats only four people (the 435-pound battery eats up space).”

Oops.

The Volt absolutely delivers on the promise of the vehicle concept as originally outlined by GM, combining the smooth, silent, efficient, low-emissions capability of an electric motor with the range and flexibility of an internal combustion engine.

It is a fully functional, no-compromise compact automobile that offers consumers real benefits in terms of lower running costs.

The more we think about the Volt, the more convinced we are this vehicle represents a real breakthrough. The genius of the Volt’s powertrain is that it is actually capable of operating as a pure EV, a series hybrid, or as a parallel hybrid to deliver the best possible efficiency, depending on your duty cycle. For want of a better technical descriptor, this is world’s first intelligent hybrid. And the investment in the technology that drives this car is also an investment in the long-term future of automaking in America.

Moonshot. Game-changer. A car of the future that you can drive today, and every day. So what should we call Chevrolet’s astonishing Volt? How about, simply, Motor Trend’s 2011 Car of the Year.

Jon Chait mocked: “Will sneers at ‘the automotive engineers in Congress,’ though apparently his own automotive engineering sensibility towers above Motor Trend. Why has he been denying us his expert automobile criticism?”

The underlying concern, I suspect, is that Will didn’t like Obama’s rescue of the automotive industry, and hoped to see it fail. Rush Limbaugh was explicit on this point, insisting that conservative Americans “do not want [the president’s] policy to work here.”

But it did work. And if the Chevy Volt is a success, it means the industry bailout really did save GM and generate worthwhile results. It leads to columns like George Will’s, which happen to be wrong.