Witnessing Madonna's age-defying performance at halftime of last night's Super Bowl, I was reminded of Bob Lutz, the erstwhile vice chairman of global product development for General Motors, who retired last year only to start a company called Lutz Communications, which does consulting work for GM. Like Madonna, Lutz is a flashy performer whose prime is long past. But rather than hang it up, the controversial octogenarian (or soon-to-be octogenarian, at least—his milestone birthday is next week) is again making headlines. In fact, he's writing his own.
As a guest columnist for Forbes last week, Lutz authored "Chevy Volt and the Wrong-Headed Right," a harangue largely about Fox News giving short shrift to his beloved Chevrolet Volt:
"What on Earth is wrong with the conservative media movement that it feels it's OK to spread false information, OK to damage the reputation of perhaps the finest piece of mechanical technology our country has produced since the space shuttle, OK to hurt an iconic American company that is roaring back to global pre-eminence, OK to hurt American employment in Hamtramck, Mich., as long as it damages the Obama administration's reputation?
While as a conservative Republican I may well share the goal, I deplore the means employed to attain it. The conservative cause damages itself, destroys its credibility through the expedient spreading of untruths. The public will figure it out.
The right-wing "talking heads", O'Reilly and Limbaugh at the forefront, have managed to make me embarrassed to describe myself as a conservative.
Come on, you guys. Shape up! There's plenty of legitimate fodder out there. Let's leave the "invention of facts" to the left-wing climate-change alarmists."
That's a lot to unpack.
For starters, calling the Chevy Volt "the finest piece of mechanical technology our country has produced since the space shuttle" can be excused for its hyperbole, but it's an unfortunate comparison considering that the shuttle was scuttled when the federal government stopped funding America's space program in favor of bailouts for too-big-to-fail car companies like General Motors. (As a side note, wasn't Cadillac supposed to be in charge of setting the "standard of the world?" Affixing a couple of Caddy's wreaths and crests to the grille and trunk of the Volt might have justified the partially electric car's steep $40,000 sticker price. Also, the Volt's non-UL-certified standard charging cord, which has been found to be prone to melting, certainly isn't the finest piece of technology I've come across in recent years.)
Disturbingly, Lutz reveals that one of his goals is damaging the Obama administration's reputation. Judging by laggard Volt sales, I'd say: "mission accomplished." Still, the fact that one of the highest-paid shills for GM seeks to damage the reputation of the country's commander-in-chief is an odd admission. Good thing Democratic car buyers don't read Forbes, eh Bob?
But the coup-de-grace in Lutz's recent column comes with his kicker: "Let's leave the 'invention of facts' to the left-wing climate-change alarmists." With that, one of the car world's most recognizable industrialists appears to be referring to "Climategate," the conservative media's favorite faux scandal that FactCheck.org describes thusly: "Hacked e-mails show climate scientists in a bad light but don't change scientific consensus on global warming."
Lutz appears to enjoy when his favorite conservative talkers attack other targets without ceasing, but he gets hurt when they turn their uninformed screeds against his favorite project. If they're so careless in attacking the Volt, then, why should anyone listen to them on global warming—or anything else? Lutz is in effect asking conservatives to stop spreading intentional mistruths about something GM's own advertisements call "the car America had to build," and instead concentrate on spreading intentional mistruths with which he agrees.
His displeasure with Fox News may be new ground for Lutz, but his personal war with climate science isn't. In "Car Guys and Bean Counters," you only have to get to page 35 to find this:
"Nowhere has my faith in media integrity been destroyed more thoroughly than in the so-called "global warming" discussion. Resolutely parroting the now-discredited prophecies of Al Gore and his absurd movie, An Inconvenient Truth, hardly any of the so-called mainstream media ever gave fair coverage to the large and growing army of CO2-caused AGW (anthropogenic, or human-caused, global warming) skeptics. Every network (Fox excepted) and every major newspaper gives endless coverage to disappearing glaciers (they've been melting for almost four hundred years), polar bears on ice floes (hello—they can swim! And far from being "endangered," the population is up sharply [if you compare today's figures to the all-time low when the bears were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1950s—Ed.]), rapidly rising ocean levels (they aren't) [NASA would beg to differ—Ed.], and higher ocean temperatures (they're actually lower) [again, see NASA—Ed]."
Since this comes from Lutz, it's like General Motors itself is telling those of us concerned about CO2—the sort of people who might be in the market for a Chevy Volt—not to worry, everything's going to be OK if we all buy Chevy Silverados, because according to the Mayan calendar, the world's going to end this year anyway.
What Lutz fails to discuss is the overwhelming evidence that has lead climate scientists to the conclusion that the industrial revolution's unmitigated production of CO2 is at least partially to blame for climate change. I would like to direct Lutz to Stanford University's intro course in climatology. Or just read this "Cliff's Notes" version: "It's like I tell my 101 students," says Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford climatology professor. "'Climate change is not a belief; it's an observation. If you believe in thermometers, you believe in global warming.'"
Apparently, Bob Lutz doesn't believe in thermometers. It makes me wonder if he even believes his own cautionary words: "The conservative cause damages itself, destroys its credibility through the expedient spreading of untruths. The public will figure it out." The same is true for spokesmen of car companies who destroy their own credibility through the expedient spreading of untruths. It's time to stop pretending that manmade CO2 isn't a greenhouse gas.
The problem for GM in continuing association with a high-profile personality who spews anti-Obama, anti-science rhetoric is one of credibility. Why should an educated consumer with a basic understanding of climate science buy a supposedly "green" car like the Volt from a company whose loudest spokesman describes 99 percent of climatologists as "left-wing climate change alarmists?" Noah Diffenbaugh is one of the most apolitical people I've ever met, and despite having the ability to drily recite the overwhelming evidence supporting science he describes as "settled 20 years ago," flatly refuses to proscribe public policy such as carbon caps. The left-wing conspiracy bogeyman is just a bogeyman.
Insulting the intelligence of an educated public is no way to sell cars. Lutz says that conservative talk-show hosts "have managed to make me embarrassed to describe myself as a conservative." Likewise, Bob Lutz has managed to make me embarrassed to describe myself as a car guy.
- Bob Lutz
- General Motors
- Chevrolet Volt
- climate change
- global warming