In November 2011 it became public knowledge that the Chevy Volt could possibly catch fire weeks after a serious accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened its investigation into the matter on Nov. 25. Now General Motors is trying to recall all of the Volts for "enhancements," all while attempting to avoid the word recall. ABC and NBC are also avoiding the topic.
On Jan. 5 Associated Press reported that GM "will ask Volt owners to return the cars to dealers for structural modifications." NPR reported that "GM is fixing the cars under a customer service campaign. That's kind of like a recall, but it comes without the bad publicity or the federal scrutiny of a safety recall."
GM certainly isn't getting much scrutiny from the mainstream news media over the recall of the heavily subsidized autos. Two of the three broadcast networks have so far avoided sharing this story about the Volt, a gas-electric plug-in hybrid vehicle that they have hyped since January 2007.
Many network stories have touted the gas mileage of the vehicle, some even claimed the Volt could go hundreds of miles without gas. Yes, but only if you stop to charge it roughly every 35-40 miles (depending on driving conditions) since the car switches to its gasoline motor after the initial electric charge runs out. That could take four hours, according to one CBS report.
Neither ABC, nor NBC have mentioned GM's decision to fix the roughly 8,000 Chevy Volts by reinforcing the area around the batteryes since that news came out Jan. 5, 2012. Only CBS mentioned it on the "Evening News" that night and again on CBS "Morning News" Jan. 6, according to a Nexis search.
In 2009, Chevy had billed the car "as the great green hope" according to NBC's Phil LeBeau who didn't dispute it back then, although he did note that the $40,000 price tag was "a little steep." He predicted that "a lot of people will be interested in this car" if gas prices are high when it gets rolled out. Two years later, after the car became available to the public, CBS's Chris Wragge spoke of "tremendous demand" for the Volt and the Nissan Leaf. But AP noted in its Jan. 5, 2012 story that GM sold only 7,671 Volts in 2011 - falling short of its goal of 10,000.
In 2009 and 2010, network favoritism for electric vehicles was obvious. While declaring Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) "dying," the networks celebrated the popularity of hybrids. But Edmunds.com showed that over that time the SUV market share grew or remained stable while the hybrid market share declined. In July 2010 alone, SUVs outsold hybrids 4 to 1. Yet the Business & Media Institute found that ABC, CBS and NBC aired nearly twice as many stories about the Volt (42) as they aired on the top five selling SUVs combined (24).
Ironically, in April 2011, the networks reported the first ever safety ratings for electric cars. The Volt and its main competitor, the all-electric Nissan Leaf, got "the highest safety rating possible" for front, side and rear impact crashes and rollovers.
AP reported that the first Volt fire took place in June at a crash test site, three weeks after testing the car. Both the NHTSA and GM say that no fires have happened following "real-world" accidents.
A year before the Volt was ever talked about, the media was promoting conspiracy theories about the death of electric vehicles. PBS examined the death of the electric car from the Michael Moore-like lens of filmmaker Chris Paine's movie "Who killed the Electric Car?" According to Paine, foul play killed the electric car, not the mileage and refueling limitations. Even with tax incentives for electric vehicles, demand just wasn't there.