Wimpy Hamburger Syndrome

The auto industry is feeling the heat on climate change. How do you know? Earlier this week, GM’s Bob Lutz opened his door to David Friedman, head of the Clean Vehicle Research program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The unusual meeting came about after Mr. Lutz, GM’s vice-chairman and product guru, repeated his claims that his company does not have affordable technology to significantly improve vehicle efficiency. The auto industry is not happy about proposals in Congress to increase fuel standards, the recent Supreme Court decision regarding greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, and the widespread acceptance of the reality of climate change in other business sectors.

“This is a challenge I want to put out to people who think they have a solution, and are so much smarter than we are,” Lutz told the Wall Street Journal. "Let them come and see us. If the technology were readily and easily available, what on earth would our motive be for withholding it?" So Friedman picked up the phone to see if Lutz was really interested in hearing about UCS’s research into off-the-shelf technologies that could increase efficiencies and reduce tailpipe emissions for a few hundred dollars per vehicle.

Lo and behold, Lutz agreed to the meeting. The significance of the meeting was not the subject matter of the discussion. GM certainly knows about direct injection systems, camless systems, low friction lubricants, idle-stop, displacement on demand, better aerodynamics and reduced friction tires. The importance of the meeting is that it occurred at all—opening up more dialogue between GM and environmentalists. Friedman said, “Nothing radically changed. I don’t think I convinced them of anything. And they didn’t convince me.”

Friedman was appreciative that Lutz made the time for him. “I felt the meeting was worthwhile, but if things are going to change, someone will need to lead.” Later in the week, Friedman was in Washington meeting with lawmakers to discuss how readily available conventional technology—rather than so-called breakthrough technologies such as hydrogen, cellulosic ethanol, and next-generation lithium batteries—could help achieve higher efficiency standards more quickly.

“From our perspective, conventional technology is the answer in the next 10 years. One way to resolve our debate is to build a prototype using the best of conventional technologies to show what it could mean in terms of fuel economy,” said Friedman.

GM and other carmakers have unveiled a number of very promising high-efficiency low-emissions concept vehicles—which lack definitive production timetables because key components are not yet available. “It’s the Wimpy thing,” said Friedman. “You know, I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. That would be fine if we weren’t living in a world where climate change is a reality, not to mention all sorts of problems associated with oil dependency. Climate change is happening faster than we thought.”

Friedman said that a follow-up meeting is likely, but could not discuss the details due to confidentiality. He said, “They’re open to taking this conversation to a next step. That’s a good sign. They want to talk.”

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  • Dan

    Why does GM keep claiming that the tech does not exist? All they have to do is visit a Toyota or Honda show room. They have the resources and have had them for sometime, to bring to market what they now clame cant be done. Same old Same old BS … again. To many old people in positions of power and to set in their ways, to think. much less think out of the box. I’m not one but perhaps the stock holders should take a stand! otherwise they may see GM in bankruptcy court. Meanwhile Japan laughs all the way to the bank….Okay I’ll stop now.

  • Patrick

    In Europe GM builds fuel efficient cars under the brands of Opel and Vauxhall. So GM, you have the technology. And Ford does too!

  • AP

    Of course GM and Ford build smaller, more fuel-efficient cars in Europe. Those cars sell (profitably) there! With $6 or $7/gallon fuel, consumers DEMAND high fuel efficiency and will pay for it. Everybody wants them. They will pay extra for a diesel engine because they know it pays off in the long run. In the US it’s iffy at best. Fuel might drop in price again. You still make more money, in general, on larger cars in the US.

    The average US consumer won’t care as much about fuel conservation as readers of this website until they pay more dearly for fuel. Sad but true.

  • georgy paul

    petrol and diesel engine will be history in 15 years.
    future cars will be produsing fuels than drinking fuels . with the help of fuel cells transformer and generators
    this can be done .kinetic energy produaed by cars in motion is wasted now energy during breaking & kinectic energy can be absorbed to fuel cells to make future automobiles scientista in the world will do it

    with regards
    georgy paul

  • byron

    The technology does not exist says GM ? Come on. Buy a Toyota
    Prius and tear it apart and see how it works Mr. Lutz.

    I refuse to believe you give a shit. The greatest (now 2nd greatest) car company on earth, as FDR said “the arsenal of democracy can’t fiqure this thing out. Unbelievable !!!!!

    Maybe you should look at the plans for the EV-1 that you CRUSHED
    That might help you. Oh and by the way they have Lithium Batteries now going into retroing the Prius, Da…. maybe one
    of those would work in an EV-2, if you could get your head out of
    the place it is at and build what the AMERICAN PEOPLE WANT!!!!