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It Runs in the Family: Volt’s Cousin, Chevy Cruze, Investigated for Fires

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The Chevy Cruze, which is the same car, right down to the lug nuts as the Chevy Volt- minus, you know, the voltage- is being investigated for engine fires that Reuters says “in many cases completely engulfed the vehicles in flames.” 

So, let me be the first to apologize to General Motors.

I’ve been complaining about the negligible environmental benefits of the Volt, of the federal tax subsidies for the Volt and of the $23,000 difference in sticker price between the Cruze and the Volt.

And I’m willing to state here and now: I was wrong.

Quite obviously you were right, General Motors.

The environmental benefits of the Volt- which reports have shown only create relatively small fires contained in the engine compartment of the Volt- far outweigh the fires in  conventional General Motors cars, like the Cruze, which we now know may engulf the entire vehicle in flames.

“A driver in a 2011 Cruze Eco said the car started smoking near the engine bay,” writes Reuters. “The first flame appeared soon after the driver stopped the car and within five minutes, the Cruze was ‘totally engulfed,’ the complaint said. A warning light on the dashboard illuminated only after the first sign of fire.”

Compare that to the Volt, where fires only broke out after being left unattended subsequent to crash tests when apparently coolant mixed with the Volt’s unique, lithium-ion battery to cause the fires.

Sure, the battery of the Volt still has enough power to kill a man, but at least death would be instantaneous.

Also, you can see another way that "green" works: Just in the case of BTUs (British Thermal Units) created by the comparative fires, the Volt fire would tend to produce a lot less global warming than a fully engulfed Chevy Cruze would.

Good thinking GM.

What a progressive, forward thinking company.

The question then becomes: Is $23,000 worth it to prevent the entire vehicle from being engulfed in flames?

I have not done the math that General Motors design engineers did in coming up with the ergonomics and economics of fire protection.

But yeah, all things being equal, I think my life is probably worth at least $23,000 of MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price).

And I applaud GM for putting pen to paper and figuring out scientifically the value of a human life not incinerated by being totally engulfed in flames.  Lest we forget, it’s probably one of the benefits of the Obamacare death panels that GM was able to have that data right at its fingertips when calculating MSRP.  

But I recognize that there are others out there who would disagree with that assessment- at least as to the value of my human life.

Now that we’ve covered global warming and personal safety aspects in comparing the Volt and the Cruze, let’s compare the environmental benefits of the two cars.

I’m not an environmental scientist, so I’m going to have to rely more on back of the envelope calculations along with some internet research. But consider this: By my estimation the Chevy Cruze comes with a couple hundred pounds of plastic parts including body panels. According to Women in Europe for a Common Future, burning plastic is one of the most environmentally unfriendly things you can do, producing some of the most toxic chemicals known in the environment.

“A few of these pollutants such as mercury,” writes WECF in a fact sheet not written specifically about the Cruze, but certainly might be applicable  “polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and furans persist for long periods of time in the environment and have a tendency to bio-accumulate which means they build up in predators at the top of the food web.”

So count me a changed man.   

John Voelcker of Green Car Reports has hailed the turnaround of conservative opinion on the Volt in his piece Right Wing Volt Flip-Flop? Now It's An Energy Security Hero! (Video).

Citing a FoxNews story that didn’t rip the Volt for the bailout, the engine fires, slow sales and the news that former president George HW Bush bought a Volt for is son Neill, the Green Car author was left writing: “We've always believed that energy security is one of the little-understood benefits of plug-in cars,” said Voelcker, “but could the more reactionary parts of the right be waking up to that very patriotic argument?”

Yes we are, John.

But forget energy security. The more reactionary elements of the right think more about personal security. 

Count me as all red, white and blue for any car that won’t engulf me in flames before the little indicator light on the dashboard starts blinking.

As the Chevy Cruze just proves, when it comes to design, the federal government can do worse than the Volt.


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