Jonah Goldberg

Let us compare the Volkswagen and the "Voltswagen."

The original Volkswagen was intended as the "people's car" (that's what Volkswagen means). The idea of a cheap, safe, reliable car for the working man was popular before Adolf Hitler embraced it, but as a self-proclaimed man of the people, he made the idea his own. Whereas industrialists and aristocrats didn't think the common man needed a car ("the people's car is a bus" was their refrain), Hitler sided with one of his heroes, Henry Ford, arguing that everyone deserved his own ride. He ordered the German Labor Front, the union arm of the Nazi Party, to start building a people's car. When it looked like the car might be too expensive, the Labor Front created a savings program that promised a car for even the poorest workers.

At the 1934 Berlin Motor Show, Hitler proclaimed: "It is a bitter thought that millions of good and industrious people are excluded from the use of a means of transport that, especially on Sundays and holidays, could become for them a source of unknown joy."

And then there's the electric-gas hybrid Chevy Volt, aka the "Voltswagen." At $41,000, about as much as the average American makes in a year, this is no people's car. GM, owned by the government and the labor unions, is pitching it to affluent hipsters who don't need a lot of space for a family. Deloitte Consulting says that the demand for such cars is from "young, very high income individuals" from households that make more than $200,000 a year, which is why the Volt will be rolled out in upscale, trendy urban markets. (Meanwhile the Chevy Cruze, the gas-only version of the Volt, has more room inside and is a mere $17,000.)

Because the Volt's sticker price might be too high for even that crowd, the government is offering a federal subsidy of up to $7,500 (Californians have a state subsidy, too), which means that working-class people will be helping to pay for playthings for upper-income people.

"Like the EV1 that GM tried to peddle in the California market," Kenneth Green, an environmental scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, says, "the Volt is a vanity car for the well-off that will be subsidized by less well-off taxpayers at all stages, from R&D to sales and to the construction of charging stations."

Indeed, the Volt's price is $41,000, but the cost is much higher. "Government Motors" is already selling the car at a loss. According to the blogger Doctor Zero, if you apply the subsidies that have gone directly into the car to just the first 10,000 vehicles, the cost is more like $81,000 per car.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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