General Motors Co. (GM), after a two- month federal safety investigation cleared its Chevrolet Volt plug-in vehicle of danger, is beginning a marketing effort to tout the car as safe and innovative.
Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson said in a full-page newspaper advertisement that the company “couldn’t be prouder” of the Volt ahead of his testimony at a U.S. hearing today. The Detroit-based automaker also introduced a new television spot that first appeared on News Corp.’s Fox News channel.
Scrutiny of the Volt has caused “collateral damage,” Akerson told reporters today after testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “We’re going to have to go about reconstructing that image and we started that today.”
Republicans on the committee released a report before today’s hearing calling President Barack Obama’s relationship with GM “unnatural” and a possible explanation for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s delay in disclosing a potential safety defect in the Volt. The panel is probing the response to a June 6 fire in a Volt three weeks after the car was crash-tested.
The Volt is “the most significant step in GM’s history to give customers a choice beyond oil” and “a technological ‘moon shot,’” Akerson wrote in the newspaper advertisement, which ran in 19 daily newspapers today including the New York Times and Gannett Co.’s USA Today. “The world is learning from Detroit again. And we couldn’t be prouder.”
The television advertisement, which will be shown on other outlets, features actor and comedian Tim Allen speaking about the importance of innovation in America as workers assemble Volts on the production line at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck factory, said Rob Peterson, a spokesman.
“It’s a message that gets lost in these recent discussions,” Peterson said in a phone interview. “What made our country great is innovation, and we believe Volt represents exactly that.”
GM rose 0.5 percent to $24.92 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 23 percent this year after a 45 percent drop in 2011.
Akerson, 63, said today’s hearing was a positive for GM’s efforts to get its message out that the Volt is safe. Tests by GM and NHTSA found battery coolant can leak and catch fire in a simulated rollover crash that punctures the battery compartment.
GM, 32 percent owned by the U.S. Treasury Department, and NHTSA disclosed the fire after Bloomberg News reported it in November. The agency opened a formal investigation that month and closed it last week, saying electric cars posed no more of a fire risk than gasoline-powered models, after GM announced a fix for current and future Volts, avoiding a formal recall.
GM denied the House committee’s allegations that the Obama administration is involved in its operations.
“The administration’s been true to their word from the start and has not interfered in our business,” Greg Martin, a GM spokesman, said by telephone. “As our actions with the Volt have demonstrated, we’ve always put our customers’ safety and peace of mind first, above all else.”
Obama took credit in his annual State of the Union speech yesterday for saving the U.S. auto industry from the “verge of collapse.” Republican presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, have criticized his rescue of GM during their campaigns to be nominated for November’s election.
‘Back on Top’
“Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number-one automaker,” Obama said to applause. “Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company. Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories. And together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs.”
Akerson, in written testimony for today’s hearing, said politics are behind the “disproportionate level of scrutiny” of the Volt.
“The Volt’s entry into the market came soon after GM’s emergence from its government rescue and restructuring -- and during this political season,” Akerson said. “As such, the Volt seems, perhaps unfairly, to have become a surrogate for some to offer broader commentary on General Motors’ business prospects and administration policy.”
The Volt sells for a starting price of $39,145 before an $850 destination charge a federal tax credit of as much as $7,500.
To contact the reporters on this story: Craig Trudell in Southfield, Michigan, at firstname.lastname@example.org; Tim Higgins in Washington at email@example.com; Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org