Bob Lutz, the Chevy Volt, and the Easter Bunny

Guy in an Easter Bunny Costume src="http://www.hybridcars.com/images/stories/easter-bunny-313.jpg" />

Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman for product development, told a group of automotive journalists that the feasibility of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid concept will be proven by next Easter. By that time, he said that GM will have put the Volt’s electric drive system and lithium batteries in stripped down Chevy Malibu bodies—referred to as “mule” vehicles—and tested the ability of the Volt system to achieve 40 miles of gas-free range. The vehicle is primarily powered by an electric motor, with a small gasoline engine on board to extend its range.

Mr. Lutz made his comments in San Francisco at a meeting of the Western Automotive Journalists association, where he received the organization’s “Anti-gravity Award,” for a lifetime achievement in the automotive industry. The playful title of the award was meant to recognize Lutz for his ability to repeatedly resist naysayers to his plans for producing ground-breaking vehicles.

Fighting Words

Mr. Lutz then took on naysayers of GM’s advanced technology plans—throwing barbs equally at competitors, environmentalists, the oil industry, and Democrats. The most direct attack was levied at Toyota. Lutz referred to comments made by his counterpart at Toyota, Kazuo Okamoto, executive vice president of R&D and product development. Okamoto questioned GM’s ability to deliver on its plans for the Chevy Volt at the recent Tokyo Auto Show. The two companies have been waging a war of words over competing plans for hybrid and electric vehicles. According to Lutz, Okamoto accused GM of using the Volt concept as a marketing ruse, and characterized the lithium battery-powered Volt as “completely wacky” and “nonsense.”

Referring to GM plans to demonstrate extended electric range of the Volt next spring, Lutz said, “Let’s wait for the Easter Bunny. Somebody’s going to have egg on their face. And I don’t like having egg on my face.” He said that Japanese companies were guarding its advanced battery technology research and refused to bid on GM’s battery proposals. “Lithium battery technology is being husbanded in Japan. It’s like a secret weapon.” At the same time, Lutz criticized the U.S. government for not keeping up with the Japanese government’s funding of advanced battery research.

Higher Gas Taxes

Mr. Lutz, considered GM’s product guru, was critical of environmentalists, especially the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) which advocates for using existing technologies—such as better aerodynamics, lower tire resistance and more efficient transmissions—to produce significant fuel economy gains. Mr. Lutz and UCS officials met privately last spring. “I’m not sure if they are concerned,” he said. “But they are certainly not scientists.” According to Lutz, GM and the auto industry has already “tapped out” on obtaining fuel efficiency benefits from conventional technologies. “We are at the very steep part of that curve.”

Mr. Lutz then criticized current Democratic proposals to raise Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards. He singled out Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as a playing a political game of one-upmanship with competing unrealistic plans to raise required fuel efficiency to 40 mpg in the next decade or so. “CAFE is a totally flawed strategy,” said Lutz. “It has never worked and it never will.” He remarked that achieving those levels of fuel efficiency will raise the cost of vehicles by $6,000 or $7,000, which consumers will not be willing to pay. Lutz suggested that raising gas taxes was a more effective solution to getting consumers to drive less and to drive smaller vehicles. “If I were dictator of America, I would gradually raise the price of gasoline by 25 cents every six months or so, until it’s more in line with gas prices in the rest of the world.”

When the floor was opened to questions, Mr. Lutz was asked about the wisdom of producing vehicles that can run on an 85-percent blend of ethanol—based on the questionable environmental, energy, and economic benefits of the alternative fuel. He responded by accusing the American Petroleum Institute of running a multi-million dollar smear campaign against ethanol. “They make it sound like ethanol is taking food out of the mouths of babes. According to them, we’re going to have taco riots in Mexico because of ethanol.” Lutz did admit that the net energy benefits of corn-based ethanol are “not what we would like to see” and pointed to the development of next-generation cellulosic ethanol as a necessary step.

Countdown to Easter

Lutz’s barbs could be dismissed as mere bravado, if it were not for his conviction that GM has a genuine solution to the long-term environmental and energy challenges facing the auto industry. The company is allocating considerable resources to the Chevy Volt. More than 600 employees across the globe are working on the project, and the company is aggressively hiring battery engineers. Lutz said, “Whether you’re talking about weaning us off imported oil, reducing CO2, or cleaning up air pollution in the L.A. basin, the electric vehicle with a gasoline range extender is the ideal solution.” There’s never been so much anticipation for the Easter Bunny in Detroit.


  • TD

    Wasn’t Lutz saying a couple of years ago that hybrids were just a fad for environmentalists and Americans did not want to get out of their big cars? Now he’s a convert. Give me a break. If GM wants to make changes they’ll dump Lutz and half of the rest of their stuck in the past executives.

    GM could increase fuel economy by moving to V6 instead of V8 engines and reducing the horsepower. Car companies have been completely focused on increasing horsepower at the expense of fuel economy. A lot of this was Lutz’s doing.

    As for his attacks and blame everyone but himself strategy he won’t win any customers that way.

    What a jerk.

  • Elliot

    Ok, Easter 2008. Let’s see what you’ve got Lutz.

    Don’t get me wrong, I WANT GM to succeed with the Volt. I want to buy one as soon as possible. However, given GM’s track record, I think he is full of it.

  • baird

    Well, he did have one thing right,if fuel prices were raised significantly we’d all get religion real quick.

  • PW

    All GM does is talk, talk, talk. Lets see if and when the Volt comes out, and if it even gets close to the 40 miles on battery power alone. If it’s true I would consider buying one but they’ll have to prove it. Until then it’s all talk, talk, talk from GM.

  • RA

    Mr. Lutz is correct. It is only a matter of time before the Volt is here. We need to be Toyota. We need “death to oil”.

  • AP

    Lutz was right a couple of years ago, when he said hybrids didn’t make sense. When fuel prices were low, they weren’t worth the cost (unless highly subsidized).

    He is also right that CAFE is NOT the way to reduce fuel consumption. It makes manufacturers build fuel-efficient vehicles, but it doesn’t make anyone want to own them. Raising fuel taxes instead would make people want fuel-efficient vehicles, and ALSO drive them less.

    We are the only country I know of that has CAFE, and we use more fuel per capita than anyone else. Everyone else uses high fuel taxes, and it works.

  • CLD

    In one sense Bob Lutz is right. If the federal gasoline tax were raised, the American motorist would be more likely to either curb their driving habits or purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles. Raising CAFE in the absence of a fuel tax increase might have the unintended consequence of tempting motorists to just drive more in their increased-efficiency vehicles, thus offsetting any reduction in overall fuel consumption.

    That being said, to call CAFE a failure is way off the mark. During the first ten years of the CAFE standard (1977 – 1987), CAFE rose from 18.8 mpg to 28.5 mpg, or a savings of 1.8 gallons per 100 miles for every vehicle. (An increase from 28.5 to 35 mpg, however, would only save one third of that.) The real problem, as everyone knows, is the light-truck standard. As Keith Bradshear chronicled in “High and Mighty…” the light-truck CAFÉ standard was created specifically to keep Chrysler Corporation, whose only profitable division at the time was Jeep, from going out of business. The argument was essentially that only forest rangers were buying Jeep Grand Cherokees anyway, so these vehicles for the most part wouldn’t even make it onto public roads, and if they did they would be few and far between. Of course that gave the Detroit automakers a loop-hole large enough to drive through with a… Well, you get the idea.

  • Elliot

    AP,

    I disagree about hybrids. Vehicles make sense at some level if people want them. People clearly want hybrids. Do Hummers “make sense”? People buy them for the size, power, “status” and in some cases their offroad capabilities. People buy hybrids for fuel efficiency, low emission, and to a lesser extent the “statement” that they make. What is the difference?

    I agree that a fuel tax makes more sense, but the political reality of our country is that a large fuel tax is not possible. Americans hate anything that even smacks of a tax. So, I agree that a fuel tax would work, pushing through a large fuel tax would be political suicide.

    Funny given GM’s past that they would ever use Europe as an example. There is a word that begins with “h” that comes to mind.

  • AlienEggSac

    I just bought a 2004 Toyota Sienta here in Hong Kong where I live. 1.5 Liter car with… get this… seating for 7! cute car looks a little like a mini and it is currently getting me 30+ mpg IN THE CITY. Oh yeah, you can’t buy this car in the US. If it’s not 5 liters in the US it must be crap I guess.

  • Parani Vins

    Guys/Girls
    Politician and Business people are same when they come to screw people. In this case they all talk about how environment friendly and so on. Its true when is come to emission releases? But we need to look at other side too. I don’t know how many people know that how much waste they (car makers) produce for this to make. That is more harmful than fuels. Secondly, look at battery side. No one talk about the cost and replace of the battery. As you know these ones need to be change after certain km. THAT IS MORE EXPENSIVE and NOW we start creating a problem in different angle. From GAS to BATTERY (SOLID WASTE like uranium). I don’t think we are finding any solution here. My understanding I think next solution might be Hydrogen.

  • Mike

    “I agree that a fuel tax makes more sense, but the political reality of our country is that a large fuel tax is not possible. Americans hate anything that even smacks of a tax. So, I agree that a fuel tax would work, pushing through a large fuel tax would be political suicide.”

    The sad thing is you are correct. Raising taxes on gas is the best thing to do, however, when a politician talks about the deadly T word, people go nuts, and that politician can commit suicide.

  • Justin

    I think GM will succeed in producing the Volt. I’ve never seen a company committing to a revolutionary product, all the while purposely opening themselves up for criticism. I’ll buy one if when they arrive. And shame shame to Toyota for poo pooing this. What a bunch of two faces. I mean come on, this is potentially a way to reduce emissions from vehicles…Why not support that.

    Go GM!

  • qqRockyBeans

    Yeah, but I bet GM will take it to the desert and CRUSH IT. AGAIN!!! Just like the EV1!!!

    AT LEAST Toyota and Honda let their customers KEEP their RAV4 EV and EV-Plus, respectively.

    Who killed the electric car… GM!!

  • qqRockyBeans

    this car BETTER be available in NJ!!

  • Joseph

    I hope the Volt will someday be 100% oil free (e.g. http://www.teslamotors.com).

    Anything powered by oil = corrupt political system, oil wars and a degraded environment.

    Out with the oil!!!

  • Stan Peterson

    Bob Lutz is is quite correct; the UCS has no scientists in its Senior extremely well paid staff. There are couple low ranking types who are allowed to turn out the lights at night, but not much more, and definitely can’t control any policy.

    The lawyers and fundraisers took over that “environmental organization” in the late 70s, and turned it into their personal piggy bank. But then that not much different than what happened to other so-called environmental organizations, as Patrick Moore will affirm, the founder of Greenpeace when it happened there.

    Paying themselves healthy stipends while spending all the other money doing more fund raising, is a fine way to line your pockets. Plus you get to travel widely to nice foreign locations like Rio, Kyoto, and Bali, on unlimited expense account. Especially, when you control the piggy bank, and are cynical and don’t really give a damn about anything else.

    They may be lots of things at the UCS, but Scientists they are not
    GM will try to bring the electrified auto to market, sooner than it would otherwise be ready. Hooray for foreword thinking auto executives like Bob Lutz.

    There are always a couple of conspiricists who are free to criticize an American company since they hate America so much. Only GM actually had the resources to waste a billion dollars designing a ground-up electric vehicle in response to the perfect cloacal cavities ensconced in the governmental sinecures demanding exactly that. Everyone knew the technology was not ready in 1980, but that made no difference. In response to a phony request for a phony car, Toyota treated it as a joke. Toyota jury rigged a clumsy conversion of a handful of RAV-4s and could afford to allow for such conversions to be sold at under cost to their drivers, when the farce played out. Except that the power train was unwarranted,

    GM would have had to provide parts for all 100% its custom vehicles, that cost more than a million dollars or so apiece.

    Yet some left wing dingbats blame GM rather then Toyota’s fake effort, or the governmental left wing true believers, who are so damn ignorant they think that you can repeal the Law of Gravity, if they take a vote and want to do so. The YoYos had to back down then, but they are still at it, demanding to play with other people’s money. Such are the CARBite fools. They have a pet desire for H2 powered FCEVs and by God they don’t care that its is unrealistic and unaffordable. The CARBite idiots want it and that is that.

    But the automakers don’t have th surplus to waste on their pet wants. They will supply electric vehicles that are almost as affordable as more primitive ICE powered vehicles to their customers, and CARB can go hang. The automakers have called CARB’s bluff, and don’t give a fig that CARB’s mandate that an electric car is only as good as one tenth of a fuel cell vehicle.

    Whatever happens with GM, the world’s automakers will have no permanent advantage vice each other. The electric technology is not unique to any manufacturer. Whatever one does, others will doe shortly thereafter. Within a decade petroleum will have lost 50-75% of its market to electricity substitutes, and the Oil Sheiks and Commissars will be sucking wind and begging people t take the icky goo off their hands at any price.

    Since the residential cost of a gallon’s worth of gasoline equivalent is about 75 cents, that is the natural floor for refined oil prices. It is also an economic price, that would afford a profit but not the obscene ones, that they have commanded since the early 70s.

    It has taken the world about forty years to find a suitable substitute for petroleum; and we are nearing the end of that trying time. Already almost a million electrified vehicles have been built and sold, with better ones coming in the beginning of a flood.

    I find it amazing the unprobed desire of some supercilious convinced true-believers to dictate how others will live. Large or small vehicles are not intrinsically good evil. When energy is essentially unlimited, as it soon will be within few decades, people can return to selecting whatever they wish to pay for and to drive.

    Especially since it will take until the IPCC’s Interim Report 5 due in 2012 or so that will finally drive the stake in the AGW hysteria. Once again Bob Lutz is correct. While AGW is inded true, it is miniscuel 1% of what was/is feared. The damaging effects are miniscule, and largely beneficial. AGW IS “a crock of $h!t”.

    .

  • robert cassidy

    Your obscene language is out of place on this forum and throughout the civilized world …please confine it to your NJ slum.Your internet service should be revoked.