Bob Lutz: Small EVs Nonsensical; In Hindsight Would Have Put Chevy Volt’s Tech In Big SUVs First

Automakers trying to make already relatively fuel-efficient vehicles even more frugal through electrification have their priorities essentially backwards, says Bob Lutz.

The former General Motors vice chairman who pushed the compact extended-range Chevrolet Volt and Ampera sister to market and who now is on the board of VIA Motors says if he was to do it all over again, he’d electrify gas guzzlers first.

More specifically, Lutz said if he was back and in charge at GM, he’d apply the Voltec formula to the Cadillac Escalade – which some say is a symbol of conspicuous consumption and alternately this can be seen as a point of pride or others see it as courting wretched excess.

What ever it may be, Lutz says the Volt is practically a wasted exercise – at least at the price GM is selling it for. In his interview with Autocar, it was also brought up that the Volt project was a bargaining chip in negotiating the GM bailout with the Obama administration.

So, it was seen as an expedient also, but Lutz is now marketing GM “glider” chassis vehicles for VIA that have been converted to series hybrids. Their prices are negotiable for fleet orders, and the vehicles are highly configurable, but quoted selling figures have begun in the high 70s.

That sum of money happens to be right in Escalade territory, so does Mr. Lutz have a valid point?

Here is what he said to AutoCar as relayed also by InsideEVs:

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course, and we shouldn’t forget that the Volt and sister car Opel Ampera are the world’s best-selling electric car, but the truth is that even then it’s not meeting sales expectations, and that’s because most customers don’t want to pay out a major expense for the technology to make minor savings.

“Frankly, unless that customer is philosophically, religiously or economically affiliated to buying an electric vehicle, then they can’t be convinced. The first two types of buyer will buy whatever’s built, but the latter is a harder case. The obvious answer is to electrify as big a vehicle as you can, because that’s where the fuel and running cost savings make the most sense.

“If I had my time again at GM then I would have started with the Cadillac Escalade for the range-extender technology, and brought the Volt in later. The more gas-guzzling the vehicle, the more economic sense of electrifying it. Car companies need to get their minds on that: electrifying an Opel Corsa that uses virtually no fuel anyway and then lumping a huge premium on it to cover the battery costs is nonsensical. Why bother? It uses virtually no fuel anyway.”


2013 Cadillac Escalade Platinum.

2013 Cadillac Escalade Platinum.

A base two-wheel-drive V8-equipped Escalade starts with an MSRP of $63,170 and returns fuel economy of 14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway. Prices escalate for the Escalade up through the 60s and 70s, and the 2-mode hybrid versions are $83,295 and $85,845 respectively for the two- and all-wheel-drive versions. The hybrids get a rated 20 mpg city, 23 mpg highway.

What do you think an Escalade would go for via VIA Motors? Would it be a deal at, say, $89,900 or into the $90s or more? Would it be worth it as a series hybrid with 40 miles all-electric range, and 100-plus MPGe?

Could the price be brought much lower if they could sell the value proposition and mass market it? Or, is there something missing in this equation?

The Escalade’s name came up in the interview, but Lutz’s logic could be applied to all gas guzzlers including those that are not triple the cost of the average new car price.

That’s probably good, because it will take some serious incentives to get the Escalade even selling as well as the Volt, and GM is discontinuing other variants as we speak, which is understandable.

If anyone objects to the Volt’s sales numbers – 2,633 in December and 23,461 for CY2012 – look the other way when you discuss the Escalade Hybrid numbers. In December it sold 90, and in 2012 708 happy owners took home their new Escalade Hybrids.

And, this is the way it was with all of GM’s Chevy and GMC variant hybrid trucks. Each one of these sold well under 600 units for the entire calendar year of 2012, so the real market for trucks is the conventional gas burners.

Americans are not going out of their way to net a difference of mileage in the mid teens to mileage in the low 20s. But, what can we peg a fair selling price on an extended-range electric full-size light-duty truck? Or other larger marginally efficient vehicles?

Is Bob Lutz onto something here or does he have a conflict of interest or is the truth somewhere in the middle?

We won’t touch that one, but one could say the idea of electrifying larger vehicles does cater to a mentality of not trying to wean Americans away from them, but simply makes them closer to as efficient as smaller ones.

However it is a fact that saving fuel for the least-efficient vehicles is worth more than making a fuel miser more miserly. Lutz has made this point in marketing VIA trucks before, so it is little surprise to hear what others might think is throwing the Volt under the bus – or is that throwing it under the VIA truck?

Your thoughts?

AutoCar via InsideEVs

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