The Chevy Volt went out of production last week so it’s a good time for a belated apology to the extended-range hybrid electric car. he Volt actually was built and sold by General Motors. The cars I was paid to promote contained similar technology, but were as real as testimony by Paul Manafort.
Here’s how it went down. For 11 years I was the head of electronic communication at the various permutations of DaimlerChrysler, Chrysler Group LLC, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. My duties covered video, our media website, social media and broadcast media. It was my actions under that last area of responsibility that leads to this mea culpa.
In 2008, when our company was caught in the gates of hell under ownership of corporate slumlords Cerberus Capital Management and on a straight path to bankruptcy, it came up with a trio of extended-range and electric vehicles. They were known as the ENVI vehicles. ENVIronment…get it?
One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?
One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?One was a sporty Dodge built on a Lotus body, one was based on a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, another used an extended version of a Jeep Wrangler. Cool, huh?
We staged a big unveiling of the vehicles in front of Chrysler World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., live on CNBC, followed by a news conference and ride/drive opportunity for the media on our test track.
It was a major deal and the press dutifully reported the company’s stated intentions to put at least one of these on the road by 2010.
My team and I even trekked to SoCal where we were hoping to stoke the “green” media out there with our environmentally friendly “production intent” vehicles–staging a dog and pony at the Rose Bowl parking lot, which included a series of drag races between the Dodge ENVI car and a Dodge Challenger. The electric Dodge won every time.
From there we schlepped the cars to Irvine for the weekly Cars and Coffee event, then up to a Huntington Beach dealership for further fawning. I produced two video features on the attendees at both going gaga over the green vehicles. Apologies on the quality of the videos. They were shot on tiny digital videotapes and have deteriorated over time.
At some point I get a call when I’m back in Michigan from a contact at NBC. I won’t name the person because that person is still working. The contact says, “hey, we’re gonna have the Chevy Volt on the Today Show day after tomorrow out on the plaza. If you can get that sporty Dodge ENVI car here I can probably get it on the show too. I hate for the Volt to have the spot to itself.”
I make the calls to the people who can make it happen….and it does! Next thing I know I’m off to NYC to manage the Dodge EV’s appearance. By that time we were calling it the Dodge Circuit.
Sure enough, Circuit is sitting next to the Volt on the plaza. Matt Lauer comes out to do the spot with CNBC’s auto beat reporter Phil LeBeau. The Circuit is bright yellow/orange. The Volt is a darker green. Phil explains both vehicles to Lauer and everything’s going well. I’m standing next to the PR guy from GM and we’re both happy. Then, as the spot is about to wrap up, Lauer makes some comment about how cool the Dodge Circuit is and that’s the one he’d want! The GM guy’s face drops. I’m smiling because I know neither Lauer, nor anyone else in the world will ever be able to have a Circuit or any of the ENVI vehicles because, well, it’s all bullshit. The chances of any of them actually being produced and sold to consumers was roughly the same as the Unabomber’s shot at parole, but they sure made a good case to Congress and the American people that the company was right on the leading edge of new technology, and therefore worthy of financial help from the taxpayers.
The gang back home watching was ecstatic and, I have to admit, I was too, initially. But once the company finally announced the ENVI program was being killed, and therefore exposed as the vaporware it really was, I felt a bit guilty that, for a moment on network TV, we fooled some folks that what we were doing was real while the innovative Volt was actually being built and sold to consumers. I always wondered if Lauer, now himself exposed for being a creep, would have preferred the Volt if it was painted in a brighter, more exciting color, since that seemed to be his deciding factor.
In all honesty, the whole episode was quickly forgotten. I only bring it up to clear my conscience and tip my hat to Karma. Long after ENVI and Lauer were both shitcanned, the innovative Volt was the last thing rolling.
Whether we like it or not, self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles are in the cards. While they may be useful for any number of reasons, I don’t see them sparking any great tunes.
Let’s think about it for a moment. Some of the greatest songs refer directly to someone whose hands are on the wheel or flooring the accelerator or refusing to drive 55 .
A great example is Golden Earrings’s classic “Radar Love” with the awesome opening lines:
“I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel
There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel
It’s my baby callin’, says I need you here
And it’s a half past four and I’m shiftin’ gear.”
The Doors wouldn’t be caught dead in a self-driving car as they headed for a night of debauchery at the roadhouse:
“Yeah, keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel
Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel
Yeah, we’re goin’ to the Roadhouse
We’re gonna have a real
And before Bruce Springsteen would allow a bucket of semi-conductors to take the wheel, he would rather be hopped up on caffeine and who knows what in order to maintain control of his ride in really crappy weather to see his lady once again in “Drive All Night.” Just another reason he’s “The Boss.”
“Baby I’ll drive all night
I swear I drive all night
Through the wind, through the rain, through the snow”
While I can understand that autonomous vehicles will be extremely useful..especially for those who can’t drive themselves, I intend to hold out just as long as I can before I cede control of my mobility to a machine that’s smarter than I.
And so I offer this ode to autonomy..that you can sing to whatever melody strikes you…as long as you sing it… yourself.
I been riding all night, my butt’s stuck on the seat
Car’s doing all the work, don’t need my feet
I got a place in mind that I wanna go..
Don’t have to steer… this machine just knows
So I sit and watch the world through the windshield
Eyes on everything but what’s in front of me..
No concern about my speed, or any urgency…
No mental traffic when you’re riding in autonomy.
Got a left foot out of work with no clutch to depress
and my right one just stepped in my Taco Bell mess
My idle hands they have no wheel to steer or lever to shift
And I wonder what damn killjoys came up with this
When I’m in real hurry or just wanna go real fast
Don’t wanna watch it happen, I wanna mash the gas
Want my hands real busy, don’t want it done for me
Won’t cede the thrill of driving to a car’s technology
I suppose I could be open to a car that drives itself
operated by a host of smart electronic elves..
I could just sit back, relax and think about my day
Let autonomy just do its stuff
and whisk me in my way
But to whom do I direct my anger and my bile
When a driverless self-driving buggy tailgates us for a mile.
No GPS or LIDAR gives a flying hoot
When you flip them off or swear or give your horn an angry toot.
I’d just as soon stay in control,
On what’s in front of me..
Make all my decisions and mistakes..
Now that’s autonomy!
Ovals have a long history in flight.
The President’s airplane, Air Force One, is often called the Flying Oval Office..even though it’s mainly cylindrical..it’s definitely flying…
The logo for the old Flying A gas stations was a circle that flew in an oval…until the chain crash landed years ago…
While the Flying Squirrel Bakery in Talkeetna, Alaska adopted an in-flight rodent cruising around an oval as its identity.
Some folks are obtuse enough to use an oval to state that they fly…
And others are ostentatious enough to plunk down more than six-grand for a pair of diamond and gold “Flying oval” earrings.
As if bulldogs can fly…well they can if they’re in an oval..
And then there’s Ford’s famous Blue Oval….symbol of the manufacturer of earthbound transportation. For years, it’s flown atop the company’s Dearborn, Michigan headquarters, known as the Glass House…until Wednesday night…….when a lusty gust of wind caused the automaker’s oval to take flight. We don’t know how it was originally attached to the building, but we do know when it’s re-attached, Ford will have to come up with a better idea.