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GM's Bob Lutz: Future for EVs "Unlimited" -- Volt Media Previews 2008; Sales 2010-11
Sep 20, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Here's a great 10.5-minute CBS News Sunday Morning Current Affairs story on PHEVs and EVs, plus a transcript of the show. We encourage you to watch it online rather than just read it, because it will have a bigger impact. Plus, below the transcript is a bonus: a full transcript of the complete interview with GM's Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who appears in the broadcast show for only two or three minutes.

We've tracked Lutz's comments as he evolved from a macho gasoline-powered muscle car guy to PHEV advocate at­carmakers.html -- Lutz continues to back away as much as possible from fuel cells, and he's getting steadily more enthusiastic and definitive about the Volt, though his 2010 "goal" has now slipped a bit to "late '10 or early '11." He also says the company will receive its first complete battery packs next month and will start giving test drives in 2008.

In the broadcast interview, Economist correspondent Vijay Vaitheeswaran, talking about PHEVs, says "I think it's a real grassroots revolution. Could be the next big grassroots revolution in American politics. What I call the great awakening of America to climate change and oil addiction." Vaitheeswaran is coauthor of a book coming out in about two weeks, "Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future." which you can pre-order from links at­books.html

(The interviewer for the CBS News story is NYTimes Circuits columnist David Pogue, creator of the "Missing Manual" computer book series. We and others have been responding frequently to Pogue's blog, encouraging this Prius owner to look at PHEVs.)

Could The Electric Car Save Us?
One Expert Says It's The Only Good Alternative To Gasoline-Powered Autos­stories/­2007/­09/­06/­sunday/­main3239838.shtml

(CBS) Let's face it: Gasoline-powered cars are a gigantic problem. They pollute, they keep us dependent on foreign oil, and when gas prices go up, they cost a fortune to drive. But what's the alternative?

The problem is, oil is found only where on earth God put it, and He happened to put a lot of it in the Middle East.

Vijay Vaitheeswaran is a correspondent for The Economist and coauthor of "Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future." He’s heard the sales pitches for every solution under the sun - like ethanol derived from corn.

"I like the idea that farmers are growing energy that powers our cars," President George W. Bush said in a speech last March.

But Vaitheeswaran says that it actually requires more fossil fuels to create enough ethanol to take the place of a gallon of gasoline than the gasoline itself would need.

He has also heard about hydrogen, but says it is expensive to make and difficult to distribute.

"You can't just pull up at the Exxon station and say, 'Fill her up with hydrogen,'" he told CBS News correspondent David Pogue.

But a better solution might be ready to roll sooner than you think:

"Electric cars could be a game changer," Vaitheeswaran said.

Toyota's Prius is a half-electric car and cracked the top ten cars sold in America this summer. It's a hybrid, so it has both an electric motor and a gas engine. At low speeds, the electric motor provides all the power, you're not using any gas. When you need more power, the gas engine kicks in as well, and then when you're slowing down and braking, the power from the wheels is reclaimed and stored in the battery. All told, the Prius gets 45 to 50 miles per gallon of gas, but it is still using gas.

But the public's perception of the electric car is about to get a big makeover, and it's going to start with the Tesla electric roadster. It goes from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds. You plug it at night, and the next day it can go 200 miles on a charge. There's no gas tank, no tailpipe, no oil changes and certainly no boredom.

Not bad for a car company that's based in Silicon Valley.

Martin Eberhard co-founded Tesla Motors with a bunch of software and engineering experts who had no car-design experience. As a result, Eberhard says they weren't held back by conventional wisdom.

"I thought we should build a car that's actually better than those gasoline cars, a car that people want to drive," he said. "So that it doesn't require some great leap of altruism on the part of everybody suddenly to break our addiction to oil."

Electric cars don't produce any pollution or greenhouse gases, but some worry that they will shift the pollution to the power plants that burn coal when making electricity.

"If you do the math, you'll find that an electric car, even if you use coal to make the electricity, produces less pollution per mile than burning gasoline in the best gasoline-powered car," Eberhard said.

But if you do a little more math, you might get a little electric-car sticker shock. This radical innovation doesn't come cheap. The Tesla starts at $98,000. At this price it compares comparably favorably with sports cars that have this kind of performance.

Actually, the Tesla handles like a sports car and can go quite fast.

It's selling fast, too. The first 570 Tesla roadsters have already sold out, and there's a one-year waiting list. Fortunately, not all Tesla Motors cars will cost so much; the roadster is just an opening move.

"With that progress, then we consider the next car," Eberhard said. "Then we look for a car that's in the $50,000 range that can seat, you know, five adults, as our next model."

So why does it take a Silicon Valley startup to reinvent the electric car? Why can't Detroit do it? Actually, it can. Bob Lutz is vice chairman for Product Development at General Motors. The Chevy Volt electric is his baby and it won't cost $100,000.

"My personal target still is to bring this car into the market at, you know, nicely below $30,000," Lutz said.

The Volt can run for 40 miles on a battery charge, which GM says is enough daily range for 82 percent of the population. But for longer trips, the Volt also has a tiny engine (either gas or ethanol, or hydrogen) that recharges the battery as you drive.

"That engine never drives the car," Lutz said. "It's not hooked up to the wheels. Think of it as a portable generator that gets your battery back up."

The car is almost an inside-out traditional hybrid. Instead of a battery helping out the gas engine, the gas engine helps out the battery.

But skeptics like Vijay Vaitheeswaran may have a hard time believing that these cars are the solutions.

"I would watch very carefully what GM actually does," he said. "The country saw a small moment of hope, you know, for electric cars for zero emission vehicles in the '90s, when California saw GM produce the most aerodynamic production car ever made. It was called the EV1. And it was very popular amongst those who could get their hands on it."

You can see the end of that sad story in the documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" Filmmaker Chris Paine was the director.

"In the 1990s, California told car companies that they had to put electric cars on the road," he said. "It took about eight years for a variety of industry interests to kill these mandates. And as soon as they killed them, the car companies took the cars back and destroyed them. And people were very upset about it. In General Motors' case, they took the cars out to Arizona and they secretly crushed them all."

Today, Bob Lutz admits that crushing the EV-1s may not have been the best way to conclude that experiment.

"Now, it turns out that from a PR standpoint probably the dumbest move we ever made," Lutz said. "It was done for all the right legal reasons, but PR-wise it was dumb. So, now I'm getting e-mails saying, 'I hope you rot in hell.'"

But Lutz says that this time, GM is dead serious about the electric car.

"I mean, this car means more to me than anything else I've had anything to do with in the 42 years that I've been in the business," he said. "I think this is because it's transformational. It's all new, which is why it just truly excites us."

Tesla and GM both face the same technological roadblock: coming up with a safe, powerful, long-life battery.

"This is what the battery box looks like if you pulled it out of the car," Eberhard said. "And what's inside here is a system built around standard lithium ion batteries. So if you broke open the battery pack on your laptop computer, you'd find a set of these inside - 6,831 of these."

Scrappy little Tesla Motors may hope to save money and development time by adapting off-the-shelf battery parts. General Motors, though, has the mass market to think about, so they're developing a new lithium-ion battery for the Volt from the ground up - a huge, international, multimillion-dollar effort in labs like GM's battery testing lab, where Denis Gray is the director. The lab tests prototypes from the two engineering firms that are working on the Volt battery.

"Some of us replace our cell phones, our Blackberries, every year because a new model comes out or we've gotta change the battery," Gray said. "I can't do that when it comes to vehicles. Customers won't be very happy with me if I change it after six months."

The entire Chevy Volt project hinges on Gray's ability to lick the battery problem.

"Bob Lutz, Rick Wagoner, they're constantly asking how are we doing? Are we making the progress that we need?" Gray said.

In other words, if Gray's team doesn't come through, then there will be no Volt.

"The problem is nobody has done a lithium ion battery pack this big," Lutz said. "And we say it's the big unknown because it is. But our battery suppliers say, 'Hey. Stop saying that. We're telling you the battery's gonna be okay.'"

So who killed the electric car? Nobody, yet. In fact, just about everyone's excited by the possibilities - even Vijay Vaitheeswaran.

"I think it's a real grassroots revolution," he said. "Could be the next big grassroots revolution in American politics. What I call the great awakening of America to climate change and oil addiction."

Chris Paine is excited; in fact, he's making a sequel to his movie.

"The next film is, 'Who Saved the Electric Car?'" he said.

The first Teslas will hit the streets this fall. And if the battery gods smile on GM, Bob Lutz's Chevy Volt will be joining it in two years.

"Will it live up to its promise of 40-plus mile electric range?" Lutz said. "Will the battery last ten years? Can we bring it in at a price that most people could afford? If the answer is 'yes' to all that, then I think the future for electrics is absolutely unlimited."

The Rebirth of the Electric Car
By DAVID POGUE NYTimes Sept. 16, 2007­indexes/­2007/­09/­20/­technology/­circuitsemail/­index.html?8cir&emc=cir

This past Sunday, my report on the rebirth of the electric car aired on "CBS News Sunday Morning." You can see it here.

CBS gave me a juicy long time for the segment--but the truth is, there was enough good material to fill a miniseries. Like the interview with auto-industry superstar Bob Lutz, now a top executive at General Motors (vice chairman, global of product development), and the driving force between the upcoming Volt electric car. He's a funny, smart, engaging guy, although he's certainly got GM's interests at heart.

But since I now have the luxury of an e-newsletter, and you have the luxury of a scroll bar, here it is: is a longer chunk of that interview.

DAVID POGUE: The Volt, as I understand it, has both a gas and engine and electric motor. But it's not a Prius, right?

BOB LUTZ: No. What happens is in conventional hybrids is, there are very few batteries and they're just designed to give an electric assist. It's this constant interplay between gasoline and battery.

The Volt is basically an electric vehicle. With a range of--we're shooting for a minimum of 40 miles. And then, so that people don't get caught out, when the battery reaches a certain minimum state of charge, there is a very small internal-combustion engine, four-cylinder engine, that kicks in.

It could be a small diesel. It could run on ethanol. Could run on compressed natural gas. It could be anything. But that engine never drives the car. It's not hooked up to the wheels. Think of it as a portable generator that gets your battery back up.

Now, if you want to make a big, long trip, like from New York to Chicago, you can do it. But once you're beyond the range of the batteries, then the small piston engine is probably going to be working most of the time, and your mileage will drop.

But we have impeccable data that show that 82 percent of the daily trips in the United States are 40 miles or less. So, I think there's going to be a lot of people who find that throughout a month, they'll never burn a drop of fuel.

DP: Got it. Now [walking over to a skeletal model of the Volt], we have this cool, uh--

BL: Cutaway.

DP: --cutaway. Hey, I don't know where you got this invisible chassis material, but it's great. Give me a quick tour of the--

BL: Yeah, okay. This is the small gasoline engine. These things that look like a big stack of blue CDs are to simulate the lithium-ion batteries.

Now, as we are now working with the lithium ion suppliers, the batteries may or may not have exactly that shape. In fact, one of suppliers is even looking at doing them in little foil bags, like those airline toilettes. Except you'd accordion the whole batch of them--

DP: --And they're not as useful in wiping your face.

BL: No, you would not wan to wipe your face. Although lithium... you know, if you're bipolar, you can eat your battery. (LAUGHTER)

DP: So, what about torque and RPM? Is it all measured differently?

BL: Yeah, batteries have tremendous performance and torque. Our performance targets for the Volt are 0 to 60 in around five or six seconds. Top speed of 120 miles an hour for a limited time. A hundred miles an hour is sustainable.

DP: And how about the mileage?

BL: If the electricity is produced by renewable means and non-fossil fuels, the mileage is infinite. By our calculation, if a person does a 60-mile trip, so that the internal combustion engine has to help for the last 20, we figure the equivalent mileage would be about 150 miles per gallon.

DP: And, ah, I heard you have a special program for journalists to get a free Volt?

BL: Yeah. (LAUGHS) Actually, what's planned for journalists is... We've run into a great deal of skepticism on this program. There are cynics, and some of them are our competitors, who say, "Don't be fooled by what General Motors is showing you. They have no intention of building this thing. This is just smoke and mirrors to take everybody's mind off their sport utilities," and so forth.

And in order to allay that, at various stages of the program, we are going to bring in members of the media. I'm hoping that as early as spring of '08, we will have the first rough prototypes running, which will permit members of the media to drive 30 or 40 miles purely on batteries and listen to the internal combustion engine kick in.

DP: But you understand why people are skeptical. I mean, you're still lobbying to keep the Federal mileage requirements from going up, and so on.

BL: Well, we and Toyota! And Honda. And everybody.

You know, the media likes to say, "The Detroit Big Three are fighting the fuel economic proposals." No, no, no--the whole automotive industry is fighting! Why? Because they're impossible.

I mean, it's easy for the Senate to say, "You know what? 35 miles per gallon sounds like a good number." And then somebody else says, "Oh, why don't we say 40?" I mean, these are crazy numbers.

They never talk to us and actually ask us, "What are you capable of doing without having to raise the price of cars by six or seven or eight thousand dollars?" So unfortunately, logic doesn't always prevail.

What if Congress passes a law that says, to preserve the nation's highway infrastructure, starting 2017, cars are no longer allowed to touch the road? They must levitate two inches above the road! It's our duty to say, "Hey, folks. It ain't going to work."

DP: Actually, I heard Toyota has a prototype. (LAUGHTER) OK, let's get back to the Volt real quick. Are you still hoping for 2010 for the release?

BL: It'll either be late '10 or early '11, but we're still holding everybody's feet to the fire for 2010.

DP: And what are the technical roadblocks?

BL: Well, the problem is nobody has done a lithium ion battery pack this big. But our battery suppliers say, "Hey. Stop saying that. We're telling you the battery's going to be OK." We get the first experimental packs from our two developmental suppliers in October. And then we can start bench testing.

DP: And are you saying, as the cameras roll, that at this moment, you firmly believe that this puppy will see the light of day?

BL: Yeah, I firmly believe it. A lot of us see it as the most interesting and most fascinating technical challenge of our whole careers. I mean, this car means more to me than anything else I've had anything to do with in the 42 years that I've been in the business. I think this is because it's transformational.

Everything else has been a better version of what somebody else has already done. Dodge Viper, very exciting, but it targeted the Chevy Corvette. Chevy ZO6, we said, "Well, we're going to do better than that." You're always benchmarking something that already exists. doesn't exist. It's all new, which is why it just truly excites us.

DP: And the price?

BL: My personal target still is to bring this car into the market at, you know, nicely below $30,000. And if we achieve that, it will really become a viable solution. If we have to charge 60 or 70 or 80, then it'll be bought by Hollywood celebrities and other entertainment figures, and the odd politician for going to rallies, and that'll be it.

DP: How much of this prototype is what it's really going to look like?

BL: A lot. Obviously, it's not going to have, like, 22- or 23-inch wheels. But you always do that with show cars. You have way bigger wheels than you put in production.

It's going to be close enough to the show car to where, when people see one on the road for the first time, they're going to say, "That's the Chevrolet Volt." And it'll be totally different from any other General Motors car, which I think is part of the secret of the Prius. By driving a Prius, everybody knows, "Oh, that person is concerned with the environment." Being noticed for what you're driving is very powerful motivation for what you drive.

DP: OK, one last question. In the big picture, looking decades out, of all these contenders—you know, biofuel and hydrogen and electric—what do you see?

BL: Well, I have to separate my personal view from the official corporate view. And they're not that inconsistent.

The corporate view is, we think ethanol is best, and we think that is going to grow. Perhaps not as fast as we would like it to.

There's certainly a place for diesels, for certain applications. But it's not a cheap and easy solution.

I think there will be a lot of play on conventional hybrids, gas electric hybrids, which we're doing in our full-size sport utilities and pickup trucks and a lot of other vehicles. Again, unfortunately, a fairly expensive system.

And then I think, in many cases, the conventional gasoline engine will continue to exist, albeit in more complex and much more sophisticated form, with a lot of devices and mechanical sophistication built in to squeeze out more fuel economy. Of course, that isn't free either.

Fuel cells probably will play some role, although that is somewhat dependent on how fast the fuel-cell refueling infrastructure gets propagated. So--

DP: But you didn't mention electric in all that.

BL: Well, that's because I was saving the best for last.


BL: Electric is going to play a big role. A lot of the answer to your question depends on how good a job do we do commercializing the Volt. Will it live up to its promise of 40 plus mile electric range? Will the battery last ten years? Can we bring it in at a price that most people could afford? If the answer is yes to all that, then I think the future for electrics is absolutely unlimited.

Visit David Pogue on the Web at

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