Of all of the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as a writer, my favorite is the First Amendment, the one protecting the right to free speech. But that right doesn’t cover everything we speak, does it? Even as children, we learn that lying is wrong and that hurling insults is bad manners. That’s why it’s so annoying when adults, grown-ups, choose to air their opinions, regardless of how well-founded, swaddled in a slur. Especially when that grown-up is otherwise an upstanding, articulate member of society, not a surly child who hasn’t yet mastered the English language.
Why this mini-tirade? MSN is reporting that Johan de Nysschen, President of Audi of America, has labeled the Chevrolet Volt a “car for idiots.” When I read this, I immediately bristled, not necessarily because I found his reasoning to be unsound, but because I loathe that word. My five-year-old knows better than to use that word.
Mr. de Nysschen explained to his MSN interviewer that he predicts the Volt will not sell well, mostly because consumers won’t pay the “premium” price of $40,000 for a vehicle that competes with non-luxury sedans. “No one is going to pay a $15,000 premium for a car that competes with a (Toyota) Corolla,” he said. “So there are not enough idiots who will buy it.” MSN’s Lawrence Ulrich quotes de Nysschen as saying.
de Nysschen expressed frustration that the U.S. media, policy makers, and consumers ignore the technology that Audi is embracing: clean diesel. He states that diesel is a better alternative to electric vehicles or hybrids because the U.S. power grid still generates most of its power by burning coal. Studies have shown that diesel engines can emit 25 percent less carbon dioxide than traditional gasoline engines, while using only a quarter of the fuel.
Like I said, his reasoning may be sound, and he's certainly entitled to express it, but did he have to offend consumers who are considering the Volt? I don’t think any of them will read his quote, ponder it for a while, and decide to buy an Audi. In fact, I’m sure the opposite will happen. Lyle Dennis, long-time champion of electric vehicles, in particular the Volt, said in response to de Nysschen, “I may be a lot of things, but idiot isn’t one of them. I will also say it is commonly accepted good business practice not to speak poorly of your competitors or their customers. I can say at least now I know of one car brand I won’t be buying.”