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July 19, 2010, 10:06 am
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aka the "Short Circuit"
Chevy Volt doesn't get Leno charged up
It's 'a people mover, not a people impresser,' comedian says -- but GM
begs to differ
Robert Snell / The Detroit News
Late-night comic and "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, who has been courted
by General Motors Co. to help build buzz for the Chevrolet Volt, zinged
the automaker with a backhanded compliment to the highly anticipated
GM executives gave Leno a Volt late last year to test drive, but the
noted gearhead -- who says he is excited about the Volt launch later
this year and hasn't ruled out buying one -- likened the extended-range
electric car to an underwhelming compact model being phased out by GM's
"If you didn't know, you might think it's a Cobalt or a Camry," Leno
said in an interview with The Detroit News to promote a Saturday charity
performance at the Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills. Leno will be
inducted into the Walter P. Chrysler Legacy Circle along with former
Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, NASCAR champion Richard Petty and the
late Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner.
"I don't think there's a lot of cachet in having the first one," said
Leno, who owns a 17,000-square-foot garage stocked with rare and exotic
vehicles. "It's meant to be a people mover, not a people impresser.
"It's not like when you pull into Bob's Big Boy parking lot with the
Volt, you're going to open the hood," Leno said, referring to a landmark
classic car hotspot in Burbank, Calif.
Yes, you do, GM spokesman Rob Peterson said.
"We've pulled into Bob's Big Boy parking lot, opened the hood and drawn
some great attention," he said, noting the Volt was at the diner late
last year in conjunction with the Los Angeles Auto Show.
"There is a particular audience that is all about advanced technology
and green transportation," Peterson said. "For people like that, the
Volt has that cachet. It's kind of like an iPhone. An iPhone is still a
cell phone with a lot of capability in it."
A lukewarm endorsement from Leno likely won't have much impact on Volt
buzz, said auto analyst Erich Merkle of Autoconomy.com in Grand Rapids.
"If I were GM, I don't know if I would be courting Jay Leno for the
purpose of getting an endorsement on the Volt," Merkle said. "Don't get
me wrong, Jay's a big car guy, but he's not your Prius, your Volt, your
green car guy."
Leno's Big Boy dig rings hollow, he added.
"The typical Volt driver might be a vegan," Merkle said. "They may be
opposed to a Big Boy altogether."
Leno said GM needs to wow the public with the Volt's performance.
"For the Volt to be a success, it can't be equal. It has to be
superior," he said.
The Volt, which will get up to 40 miles on electric power alone, will
have a range of 300 miles on its gasoline engine. The Volt's engine
kicks in after its battery is drained by about 70 percent to sustain the
battery's remaining charge to keep the car running for several hundred
"I think it's great technology," Leno said.
The comic also praised Ford Motors Co. CEO Alan Mulally and GM Chairman
and Chief Executive Ed Whitacre Jr.
"For years, they were building crappy cars under the reputation of
building good cars. That caught up with them," Leno said. "Now, they're
building world-class cars."
GM says other celebrities are clamoring for it, although the automaker
declined to name them.
"There are celebrities who would like to have it," Peterson said.
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