George H.W. Bush buys a Chevy Volt as conservatives rethink car’s image

Chevy Volt sales
Chevy Volt sales

Gas prices hitting $4 a gallon hasn't sent car shoppers flocking toward the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid; there's still a few thousand available at dealers despite a temporary plant shutdown. Yet there's several signs that the controversial plug-in hybrid days as a political football may finally be ending, such as anecdotal word of a sales surge, favorable coverage from Fox News and a purchase by former President George H.W. Bush.

Chevrolet marketing chief Chris Perry told Ward's Automotive earlier this week that sales of the Chevy Volt had picked up in March -- which also happens to be the first month that Chevy offered a zero-percent loan deal for up to five years on the Volt. While a few Volts are advertised with prices including several thousand dollars in government incentives, most of those are tax credits or rebates, which means buyers have to absorb the monthly payment from the full $41,000 sticker, something General Motors has been loathe to discount.

More importantly, the Republican view of the car as a symbol of all that's wrong with President Barack Obama's bailout of GM has come under challenge from other conservatives in the past few days. "The Volt is not an Obamacar or an Obamamobile," said Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard magazine, part of a cover story that was sympathetic to GM's political woes. The more surprising turn came from Fox News, which has been the most reliable repeater of every anti-Volt story regardless of accuracy, yet aired a five-minute piece this week that saw an anchor and guest praise the Volt and rebut most of the criticism against it.

And the Volt won its first Republican presidential endorsement from George H.W. Bush, whom according to a Chevy manager in Houston just took delivery of a Volt as a birthday gift for his son Neil Bush. (Another Volt buyer this month: Obama's former auto czar Steve Rattner, who tweeted that he'd bought a silver one and loves it "even though not financially savvy.") Obama has already pledged to buy one once he leaves office, giving GM a bipartisan set of presidential endorsements.

Even with the shift to summer fuels adding another 20 cents per gallon to gas prices, the Volt's sticker will keep it from being a runaway hit -- but that also makes it just unique enough for it to work as a statement vehicle for those who can afford it, no matter what the polarity of their politics might be.

Photo by jurvetson via Flickr. Thanks to Chelsea Sexton