Sep 28, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Bob Lutz, the ultimate auto insider, is now the highest- level executive at General Motors to acknowledge what we've been hearing: that they are working on PHEVs.Lutz is GM Vice Chairman, Product Development, and Chairman, GM North America, His illustrious background includes: Vice Chairman, President, and Chief Operating Officer at General lMotors, Chairman of Ford Europe, Ford Motors Board Member, Executive Vice President of Sales at BMW. For his bio, see http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/archives/2005/01/lutz_biography_1.html
On GM's blog (below), he said on Sept 20, "We are also studying plug-in hybrids, and will have more to say about those soon. The whole key there is the development of significantly improved battery technology. But rest assured I truly believe that electric-drive vehicles have a real future in this country and around the world; the only question is the nature of the power source or sources.
And in an interview published a few days later (also below), he said, the goal is not fuel-cell cars but "an all-electric architecture where all forms of engines as well as fuel cells can be used".... "The thinking is that the hydrogen infrastructure might not arrive, but we have an architecture that we could use for all engines..... "The real issue is petroleum," "and the real objective is electric drive, whether it's powered with a fuel cell or a lithium-ion battery. Hell, we just want to get out from under the oil companies."
We'll be reporting about much news on PHEVs from the Air Resources Board's ZEVTechnology Symposium. But the other story at that event was the continuing struggles by many companies to overcome the economic and technological obstacles that make fuel cell cars an always-far-off dream. It appears that Lutz is acknowledging that after sinking over $1 billion into their development, GM is "not putting all of our eggs in the hydrogen basket. It's going to take time to make the hydrogen economy a reality, and we have several other alternatives in the works in the meantime, beginning with the expansion of our E85 offerings, and the expansion of our hybrid lineup."
These statements are surrounded by continuing insistence that they are committed to their hydrogen program. But it no longer appears that projecting an evolution at GM is simply wishful thinking. Lutz recognizes that a fuel cell car is an electrically-powered vehicle, if fuel cells turn out to be less economically viable than batteries to store electricity, perhaps he will embrace the PHEV that appears to him now as a fall-back and a consolation prize.
Cars & TrucksThe "Moon Shot"
By Bob Lutz
GM Vice Chairman
Posted by Lutz at September 20, 2006 11:22 AM
You may have heard by now that last week I told media assembled at our press event in Southern California that GM has big plans for fuel cell technology. The journalists were on hand for their first drive of our landmark Sequel fuel cell vehicle. I told them that this technology was our equivalent of a moon shot and that I'd recommend that we put fuel cell vehicles into production as soon as possible.
That's all true. I think we should and will do exactly that. But any speculation as to exactly when we will do it and exactly how much it will cost is just that: pure speculation.
What we've announced so far is this: we are now launching a fleet of 100-plus vehicles to demonstrate our fuel cell capabilities and raise national awareness of the potential of the hydrogen economy. Assuming we can maintain the great progress we've made hitting the cost targets of our fuel cell program, the next step would be about a 1000-vehicle fleet in the 2010-2012 time frame. Then if cost and infrastructure barriers were removed, or at least significantly reduced, we'd look at more significant numbers later in the decade.
The point is, this all sounds like science fiction right now, but I assure you it isn't. Most journalists were duly impressed with what they drove, declaring the driving experience to be just like "a normal car." And that's the goal. All along, we've staunchly maintained that we wouldn't produce fuel cell vehicles unless they matched or bettered the performance, handling and comfort of internal combustion-powered cars and trucks. Well, we think we're just about there.
Our goal is to be the first manufacturer to put 1 million fuel cell vehicles on the road - profitably - in the global automotive market. The key word there is "global." Like I said last week, China may be better equipped to switch to the hydrogen economy than the U.S., since they're significantly less developed and would have a far easier time of it. To really get the ball rolling in the U.S., automakers, suppliers, government and the energy companies have to work together and work quickly. There's simply no other way.
Let it also be known that we're not putting all of our eggs in the hydrogen basket. It's going to take time to make the hydrogen economy a reality, and we have several other alternatives in the works in the meantime, beginning with the expansion of our E85 offerings, and the expansion of our hybrid lineup, as you know. That will be highlighted by the addition of our two-mode hybrid full-size SUVs next year.
We are also studying plug-in hybrids, and will have more to say about those soon. The whole key there is the development of significantly improved battery technology. But rest assured I truly believe that electric-drive vehicles have a real future in this country and around the world; the only question is the nature of the power source or sources.
We'll have architectures that will be flexible enough to accommodate a number of different sources.
And yes, believe it or not, this really is Bob Lutz talking! We are sitting on the cusp of an explosion of new technology that will change the automotive industry like nothing since its very invention. I never would've believed it, but I must say I'm excited to be a part of it.
Who's killing the fuel cell? The Telegraph UK 23/09/2006)
The race to market the first hydrogen fuel-cell car is speeding up, so why is General Motors slowing down? Andrew English reports from the driving seat of the new GM Sequel
Bob Lutz is having a fine old day. Shaded from the hazy sun in a luxurious pavilion facing the rolling Pacific Ocean, General Motors' vice president of product development leans back in his mahogany steamer, surveys the beach and puffs on a fat Monte Cristo. This is Camp Pendleton, a sprawling training base for the US Marine Corps, just down the coast from Los Angeles. The Marines are Bob's old mob; he was a pilot.
CAPTION: Man and (green machine): Andrew and the GM Sequel
"Huh - 60-year-old technology," the giant, silver-haired septuagenarian car guy growls as a huge twin-bladed Chinook helicopter screams overhead. Bob has Googled himself a spotters' list of the latest Marine firepower and armed himself with a telescope as big as his forearm. The Hollywood Marines drive past in three roaring LAV-25s that drown out all thought and conversation; Bob's Aviators sweep the beach.
A slighter and more retiring man sitting beside Bob leans almost excessively forward. This is Dr Larry Burns, GM's vice president of research and development and strategic planning. This should have been Larry's show, but Larry is profoundly hard of hearing and, in this racket, he cannot hear a thing. He doesn't need to, however, as Bob is answering everything today. Bob has taken over and one wonders who chose this venue under clattering skies to launch the Sequel.
After all, it was Larry's department that created the hydrogen fuel-cell, drive-by-wire sports utility vehicle we are here to drive, as well as its 2002 predecessors, the Hy-Wire and the fantastically innovative Autonomy "skateboard".
These were, and to some extent still are, the absolute acme of hydrogen fuel-cell powered transport. As Christopher Borroni-Bird, Sequel's British programme director, explained back in 2002: "Electric power means a new sort of car, built in modern factories, supplied by high-tech, low-cost suppliers. GM is creating a new world order of personal transport."
The idea behind Autonomy was that all the major functions in a vehicle would be controlled by electrical wire, including brakes, steering and of course the drive system, delivered via tiny motors in the wheels. There would be no direct connection between brake pedal and brakes, steering wheel and wheels or accelerator and engine. Driver inputs would be interpreted and controlled by computer, and functions such as four-wheel steering and braking, as well as anti-lock, anti-skid, traction control and emergency brake assist, would be simply a line of code in the car's electronic brain. The skateboard-like chassis contained all the main vehicle functions and could be fitted with a range of demountable bodies, allowing you to have an SUV on holiday, a sports car at weekends and an MPV during the week.
Far fetched? Futuristic? You bet. This was thinking of the highest order, perpetrated by Larry Burns's brilliant 500-strong team of engineers, scientists and thinkers. Even in the heady and profitable days of 2002, it also offered a way out of the mature, smoke-stack industry problems of the motor makers. This week these reached a nadir for Ford, with the news that the House of Henry could lose as much as $9 billion (£4.8 billion) in 2006, while GM is also in severe financial trouble. Rumours abound that the two are talking about a merger.
The Autonomy project offered a chance for the car industry - and especially GM - to reinvent itself as a modern, low-polluting, lights-off factory operation. But that was then and this is now. As Lutz explains, Sequel is now just a means to an end, and that end is not fuel-cell cars but "an all-electric architecture where all forms of engines as well as fuel cells can be used".
He explains: "The thinking is that the hydrogen infrastructure might not arrive, but we have an architecture that we could use for all engines.
"We are fixing [parts supplier] Delphi and saving costs of $2 billion a year. We are reducing our healthcare and pension expenditure and our workforce. Our ongoing fixed costs will be lower by $9 billion a year and that gives a lot of daylight. Some of that will go into increasing profits, but we are more than aware that our 20-year decline is partly a result of not allocating money to the business."
Lutz doesn't rule out hybrids, but says GM is more than impressed with the performance of lithium-ion batteries, which offer fast, high-power, "memory-free" recharging. "The real issue is petroleum," he says, "and the real objective is electric drive, whether it's powered with a fuel cell or a lithium-ion battery. Hell, we just want to get out from under the oil companies."
CAPTION: The GM Sequel Electric dream: the Sequel's range, speed and acceleration compare well with conventional cars
Lutz blames the American government for GM's disenchantment with its world-beating fuel cell. "The US government is dragging its feet over the hydrogen infrastructure," he says, adding that GM remains committed to producing one million fuel-cell cars profitably - but that might be in China, for Chinese markets. "China is building loads of nuclear power stations," he says, "and we know that nuclear can produce almost fossil-free hydrogen and the Chinese government is really keen to get involved."
Apart from this obvious cooling on the primacy of fuel-cell research, you have to boggle at the thought of GM returning to all-battery technology after the debacle of the EV-1, a lead-acid battery-powered car produced between 1996 and 1999. More than 1,110 of these sleek, 80mph coupés were built and 800 were leased out to customers, but if you took away the subsidies from the US government, each car would have cost GM just under $1 million.
Eventually the company recalled and crushed most of them. The EV-1 was the subject of this year's nonsensical conspiracy movie, Who Killed The Electric Car? But listening to Lutz it is hard not to disagree with Wally E Ripple, a research engineer interviewed in the film, who suggested that because there is a trillion dollars' worth of oil still left in the ground, representing over 100 trillion dollars' worth of business for car makers and oil companies, there is little incentive to develop a viable electric (or fuel-cell) car.
Perhaps he's right. For all the current fixation with Peak Oil and America's "addiction to oil", no one has done a trustworthy, well-by-well audit of what oil is left under the ground, so no one really knows. This week, oil prices started to fall to about $60 a barrel (£32.70 for 35 gallons) from their July high of $78, and the heads of Exxon and Saudi Aramco, the oil company with the world's largest output, made calming noises about the state of current stocks.
They claimed, respectively, that the end of oil was nowhere in sight and that at current production rates there was a century's worth of crude left. Well they would say that, wouldn't they, but as long as we have no way of verifying what stocks remain, their opinions are at least as valid as any other.
Some Western analysts might argue that Bob Lutz is right, and that, however much oil is left, we should eke out supplies by using a mix of hybrid, electric and fuel-cell power. But there are other issues. Reversing climate change will require a reduction in the burning of fossil fuel and/or the sequestration of carbon dioxide. Energy security has become more of an issue since Russia shut off its natural gas supplies to Ukraine in a price row earlier this year, and since Osama bin Laden vowed to attack Western oil installations.
And the rules of the game are changing. Since April 2003, the California Air Resources Board (Carb) has given car makers the option of meeting part of their mandatory zero-emissions targets by producing fuel-cell vehicles. Each company has to produce a sales-weighted number of fuel-cell vehicles to contribute to a total of 250 in 2008, rising to 2,500 between 2009 and 2011, 25,000 between 2012 and 2014, and 50,000 between 2015 and 2017. Battery vehicles can be used to replace up to 50 per cent of that fuel-cell requirement. It's a tall order and to comply GM is having to send 62 of the 100 fuel-cell Equinox SUV test vehicles also unveiled this week, but the American giant is late to the party. Rivals Toyota and Honda already have large fleets of fuel-cell vehicles on test and Takeo Fukui, Honda's chief executive, is committed to putting a fuel-cell car on sale within five years. DaimlerChrysler has a test fleet of more than 100 fuel-cell vehicles and there's even a DaimlerChrysler fuel-cell bus in London, running on route RV1 between Covent Garden and London Bridge.
GM is falling behind, and when you are behind you can no longer dictate the terms of the debate. All the good things that GM was hoping might fall into its lap as a result of its fuel-cell research could be up for grabs once again.
Driving the Sequel
The market for family-sized, SUV crossovers is among America's fastest growing, and it's no surprise to find that Toyota's fuel-cell concept, Ford's hybrid Escape and GM's Sequel are aimed at this sector, where the potential savings can do most good.
CAPTION: Bob Lutz: 'Hell, we just want to get out from under the oil companies'
The first thing that strikes you about the Sequel is the number of radiators on the front grille. Fuel cells and their control electronics like to operate at about 80 degrees centigrade, and there are a lot of control electronics on this vehicle
- five complete systems, in fact. Sequel has twin 42-volt systems for the steering and braking, plus the high-voltage electrical drive system and twin 12-volt circuits for all the subsidiary functions.
It is powered by GM's own 98bhp fuel cell, with a 87bhp lithium-ion battery pack. It is capable of about 300 miles between refuelling stops and, with a top speed of 90mph and 0-60mph acceleration in 10sec, performance is respectable.
There are three liquid-cooled electric motors: the 87bhp three-phase unit in the front that drives both front wheels via a reduction gear, and two 22bhp Italian-made wheel motors, each of which drives a rear wheel directly. They weigh 33lb each, a considerable reduction since we first encountered them three years ago, but are still too heavy to put into the front wheel hubs without adversely affecting the handling.
About 17.6lb of gaseous hydrogen is carried at 10,000psi in three spun-carbon storage tanks under the floor. It's the hydrogen strorage that has failed the project's aims, as it is too expensive and heavy. We will return to this topic in the near future, but suffice it to say that Larry Burns admits that while the fuel cell can provide power at about $12-15 per kilowatt, the complex hydrogen tanks push that figure well beyond the total system cost target of $50 per kilowatt.
Like the Hy-Wire , the Sequel has no direct connection between the steering and the wheels. Unlike the Hy-Wire, the Sequel has four-wheel steering. In fact the Hy-Wire was horrible to drive, with poor calibration of its SKF-sourced steering. Changing supplier (to Visteon) seems to have paid dividends, as the Sequel's steering is well-weighted and accurate, if lacking in feedback from the wheels. The rear wheels reverse-steer at very low speeds to aid parking and steer with the fronts to decrease the turning circle.
Like all electric-drive vehicles, the Sequel has a huge amount of torque and storms away from a standstill. The electronics apportion current to the rear motors when starting off and when slippage is detected, so it feels very sure-footed.
Noise, so much of an issue on rival fuel cells, is confined to the high-pitched whine of the current inverter and a slight rumble from the front motors; the rears seem to run almost silently. The brakes, which on the initial push merely turn the motors into charging units, feel strong and the pedal feel is progressive.
A Soccer Mum's runabout par excellence, the Sequel is quiet and refined and emits only water vapour.
CAPTION: The GM Sequel Future car: the Sequel's steering is well-weighted and accurate, if lacking in feedback from the wheels
It is a great deal more attractive than Honda's FCX and its drive system is somewhat awe-inspiring, but as Bob Lutz says, the Sequel has become merely "a test bed for a lot of technical integration".
Whatever that is, it is not the blueprint for the future that this amazing fuel-cell car once was.
Is a hydrogen fuel infrastructure too expensive?
No, according to Byron McCormick, a former Los Alamos US National Laboratory scientist. "To get a hydrogen refuelling point to within two miles of over 70 per cent of the US population and every 25 miles on the freeway would cost around $12 billion," he says. "To put that into perspective, the creation of the great railroads of America (in 1880s' dollar values) cost $5 billion. Eisenhower's Interstate building programme in the 1950s (in current dollar values) cost $163 billion. At its height in the 1960s, the US government was spending $17 billion a year on its space programme. The delayed Alaskan pipeline will cost at least $6 billion and in the coming years the oil industry estimates that it will need to spend some $200 billion simply to secure its infrastructure."
Are hydrogen fuel cells too long in coming?
No, according to one GM engineer. "The first automobiles were introduced into the US in the 1890s and it took 55 years for 25 per cent of the population to reject the horse and adopt the car. To get VCRs into 25 per cent of US homes took 44 years. The equivalent figure for microwaves was 30 years, for personal computers 16 years and for cellphones 13 years. Technology adoption is getting faster but it still takes time. You'd better be in it for the long haul or you ain't gonna make it."
With oil prices falling again and conventional cars as cheap as they've ever been, why worry about hydrogen and fuel cells?
"Hydrogen will change the way we think about and do everything," says Dr Larry Burns of GM. "If you take the revenue of the 50 largest companies involved in power production and transportation, you are talking about $1.8 trillion a year; just think how much disruption there will be when this happens. If you sit on the sidelines and you don't seek to be involved in creating this change, you will not have access to this technology, and that could be a very dangerous place to be."