Cross-posted on Right Michigan at www.RightMichigan.com.

Yesterday the world met what could be the future of automobiles.  General Motors unveiled their production model of the Chevrolet Volt, an electric (not hybrid) car that is expected to travel forty miles on a single charge of the battery.  The average American commuter wouldn’t have to pour a drop of gasoline in the vehicle to complete the daily trip to and from work and could recharge it in the garage overnight.

The Michigan automaker is targeting a 2010 release date and pushing it hard but still needs to iron out a few kinks… like creating the battery they’re expecting to actually run the darn thing.  But aside from small details like that (and they’re confident they’ll accomplish their goal) the Volt is all but ready to go.  And it had better be… Let’s just say that after Barack Obama’s roll-out yesterday of his “Great Lakes Cleanup” scheme, Michigan’s automakers are going to need to mine every drop of ingenuity they can manage.  But before we take a look at just how strikingly bad a concept the Democrat’s new bribery plan is (he wants to raise taxes on energy producers, raising your energy rates and fuel costs to generate cash he can use to buy Midwesterners’ votes)  let’s focus on the good news… and maybe even a little bit of mixed news.

The Volt.  Is.  Cool.

Read on…

The bad boy is every bit the car that others in it’s “class,” are, generating 150 horse power and comfortable seating in a four-door sedan.  A gas powered engine is used not to propel the automobile but to recharge the battery in-use should it ever run out of juice, but as mentioned earlier, you keep the thing fully charged and stay within 40 miles and you won’t burn a drop.

Even cooler to the geek inside of me, GM has designed a breaking / wheel system that captures the energy created during stopping and uses that, too, to provide a boost to the battery power.  The Ivory Tower has a great graphic that details many of the other space-aged but suddenly realistic features.  Highly recommended.  

When everything is said and done the pricing on the automobile is a bit out-there in the $30K to $50K range, but after you figure in the fuel savings (it would be easy to save a thousand dollars a year) and likely tax breaks / credits it becomes a lot more practical.

This is precisely the sort of project that can put Detroit back on the map.  Beat the global competition.  Use American ingenuity, know-how, practicality and design and then watch as we dominate a radically redesigned playing field.  High stakes.  And General Motors knows it.  The Ann Arbor Business Review notes:

Ensuring that the Volt reaches the market on time and achieves its fuel economy goals is critical to reshaping GM’s image.

GM has to get it right. It simply can’t afford to fail at the Volt mission – especially given that the company has placed so much of its marketing weight behind the vehicle.

GM CEO Rick Wagoner recognizes the significance of this project and sought to portray the Volt as “symbolic of what General Motors stands for today.”

Of course, part of the trick is ensuring that General Motors survives until the roll-out in 2010.  Toward that end, the Big 3 have issued a full court press of sorts and have everyone from Bill Ford, Jr. to Rick Wagoner in and around Washington DC talking to lawmakers about a $25 billion low-interest loan program they feel they need to re-tool.  

The program itself was approved last year by Congress but the Democrats at the helm have been slow to act while efforts by Senator Obama and Carl Levin have been either non-existent or 100% ineffectual.  Obama still isn’t doing anything to help but the environment on Capitol Hill might finally be changing.  

After all, it’s an election year and Michigan is a swing state.  The Detroit News reports:

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said she was “cautiously optimistic.”

“But it’s not a walk in the park,” Miller said, noting that the government’s decision not to save Lehman Brothers from collapse “has raised some questions… and we are trying to educate members that this is not a bailout.”

That’s the trick.  Convincing folks that a $25 billion loan program isn’t a bailout.  And the hundreds of thousands of what Barack Obama calls Michi-anders who still depend on the auto industry for their livelihood would probably appreciate a little love from the poo-bahs at the Capitol City.  Unfortunately, the Democratic candidate was busy yesterday unveiling a different kind of voter bribe in the form of a $5 billion promise to Michigan environmentalists.

Which would be nice and swell and no more outrageous and dangerous than any other election year attempt at populist bribery except for the fact that the man is very up front about how he’d like to pay for the new program.  The Ivory Tower reports:

Obama’s campaign said the $5 billion over 10 years would come from rolling back tax cuts and other incentives to big oil and gas companies. Heather Zichal, environmental and energy policy director for the campaign, said the trust fund is meant to jump-start restoration of the Great Lakes.

A Great Lakes restoration bill has been languishing in Congress for several years…

A $26-billion restoration plan, called the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, has been kicking around in Congress for nearly three years. Congress has funded little of the plan, which calls for cleanups of toxic areas, restoring wetlands and keeping bacteria off beaches.

In other words, the man who insists he has the experience to lead the nation hasn’t been able to lead inside his own Party to approve environmental spending, normally a slam dunk with the left.  Why exactly does he expect anyone to believe he’d take the task any more seriously from the Oval Office where he’d have plenty of other shiny objects to distract him?

But the discussion of hypocrisy and promises to do things he’s openly and clearly failed to do in the past, despite Democratic control, are really beside the point here.  Take a look at that funding mechanism.

Obama is telling us that he wants to raise taxes on electricity, heating oil and gas.  We’ll pay more at the pump and at the meter.  And not a little more.  He’s talking about a $5 BILLION tax hike on gasoline for our cars,  gas and heating oil to keep folks warm in the Michigan winter and electricity to keep the lights running.  These will be costs born out not only by moms and dads across Michigan but also by struggling job-makers.

Brilliant scheme.  Suppose this is one of those times when all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike, can be pleased with Obama’s inability to lead even within his own caucus.  If the man was both serious and capable we’d be paying higher rates already.

Thank heavens the man is as inexperienced as everyone says he is, because the ideas he’s failed to accomplish would kick Michigan voters in the backside time and time again.