General Motors earned considerable enmity in 2009 when it declared bankruptcy and accepted a $51 billion bailout from the U.S. government. Some GM customers have since discovered that they’re in the crossfire as well.
A few owners of the Chevrolet Volt, GM’s innovative plug-in hybrid, report that they’ve been booed, heckled and vandalized, presumably because they own a car deemed offensive to fellow taxpayers. These tales of Volt rage were uncovered by the car-research site Edmunds, which runs several online forums where owners swap stories.
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A Michigan Volt owner, Dave Muse, told Edmunds that he drew boos when driving his Volt in a famed Detroit automotive parade — a town, of all places, that gained as much as any city from the auto bailouts. Another time, a stranger insulted his car in a parking lot, then slammed the door shut while Muse was trying to get out. Muse also says his plug-in generates occasional family arguments.
Scott Leapman, a Volt owner in Florida, once stopped at an intersection next to a pickup truck whose driver rolled down his window and asked, “How do you like my car?” When Leapman asked what he meant, the driver answered, “My taxes paid for it!” then sped off.
It’s not very often that a presidential candidate promises to promptly write off $15 billion in taxpayer money if he’s elected. But that’s what Mitt Romney has done.
Romney told the Detroit News recently that as president, he’d quickly sell the U.S. government’s stake in General Motors, which is valued at about $10.6 billion, based on GM’s current stock price. But GM still owes the government about $26.4 billion, so selling at the current price would leave taxpayers out roughly $15.8 billion.
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The Obama administration would dearly love to end its involvement with GM as well, and reduce a glaring liability among voters opposed to the 2009 auto bailouts. That would suit GM just fine. But taxpayers taking a loss on the deal would be an ugly ending. Besides, the government can hold onto its shares as long as it likes, waiting to sell until it can get its money back in full. It can also do that as a passive investor with no involvement in the company’s day-to-day operations.