Chevy Volt doesn't get Leno charged up

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 electric car.
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 Chevrolet brand.
"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 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 miles.
"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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