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Thread: Bob Lutz on Autoline Detroit

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    Bob Lutz on Autoline Detroit

    On this last episode of Autoline Detroit, John McElroy spoke with Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman of Global Product Development. Here's what "Maximum" Bob had to say:

    Let me give you, just quickly, the difference between a plug-in hybrid and a Volt. A plug-in hybrid is a conventional hybrid where you have a mechanical linkage from the piston engine drivetrain and the electrical drivetrain where they can constantly interplay with each other, so you have both forms of drive. They have a limited amount of batteries and I think the best estimate right now for plug-ins is maybe eight to twelve miles of range, purely electrical.

    What we're talking about, basically, is no mechanical connection from the I.C. engine to the vehicle; the I.C. engine is simply an emergency generator to recharge the battery. That's why we call the engine the range extender, and it can be ethanol, it can be a small diesel, it could be anything. And the basically. . This is an electric vehicle with a range extending power train that serves only to recharge the battery, and that's the fundamental difference between this and a plug-in hybrid -- which we're also doing on the Saturn Vue: two-mode hybrid, will have a plug-in.

    But this is different. That's why we don't like it to be called a hybrid, because it's not.
    Aha! Yes, I'm sure it would be very convenient for GM if they can redefine "electric car" to include something that fills at a gas pump. I'm not inclined to let them get away with that. With all due respect to Bob's experience and position, nobody gave him the authority to rewrite the English language. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid car.

    Then he spoke about the solutions to our energy and environmental problems. . .

    CAFE, we believe, is not gonna solve it. What is required, if we're really serious about reducing our dependence on imported oil and producing less CO2, what is needed is a transformational solution -- and we see two.

    One is biofuels -- that is E85, hopefully from cellulosic. That is for transforming large parts of the fleet, with minimum tear-up, existing power trains, existing vehicle architecture and minimal added cost to the consumer. That's the best solution.

    Second best, because it requires a lot of money, a lot of investment, and a radical change in the manufacturing infrastructure of the automobile business -- therefore, you're talking a lot of existing investment that is basically throwaway -- but the second-best solution would be what we call the electrification of the automobile. And as we always say, the E-flex architecture can either be the range-extended battery vehicle or it can be a fuel-cell vehicle. It'll be exactly the same architecture because the drivetrain doesn't care where it gets the electricity from.
    My take: Ethanol is a great deal for the car companies. They can continue business as usual, building essentially the same products they've refined over the last 100 years, and not have to deal with the costs and risks of that "innovation" thing that some people keep pestering them about. With ethanol, they can hit the snooze button and go back to sleep.

    Bob continues. . .

    We are reaching the point, we're trying to get ever-better fuel economy with the internal combustion engine, you're reaching the point of diminishing returns. It's more and more money for less and less gain. Whereas here, I think, for the same or less amount of money we can get rid of the fossil fuel entirely. 82 percent of the trips in the United States are 40 miles or less, and if something like the Volt takes hold and we can bring it in at a price that most people can afford, then you will very rapidly see businesses, shopping malls, railroad station parking lots, Starbucks coffee shops, put in charging outlets at their places of business, or employers will have the employee parking lot where the employee can park and they put in a dollar, four quarters, and they can charge their vehicle while they're at work.

    So, extending the electrical distribution infrastructure is not a hard thing to do: that can occur very, very rapidly. And I think, I really think this can be totally transformational, and my personal vision is, if it works (let me do the little proviso: I personally am convinced it will, but it's always the thing that you don't know that gets you -- I don't want to be pessimistic, I'm convinced this is going to work) we could see millions of these things on the road in a few years.
    It sounds wonderful. Here's a vision that most of us EV advocates could support. It's too bad GM sees this as the "second best" solution to our problems. Still, put it in perspective. . . At least GM has somebody with this vision at the top. A lot of car companies (Ford and Honda come to mind) still don't seem to get it at all.

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    Thanks for posting this text, Tony.

    I have some sympathy to his idea that E85 as the best solution for now. As much as I like the idea of the electric car, I am not at all confident that the larger public will adopt it quickly. At the very least, electrics will require a massive education of a population largely resistant to change. When I talk to (even smart) people about electrics, I often hear the usual arguments -- range, recharge time, etc. -- with the broader theme that "the new" is scary. E85 gives the public the familiarity of the old, reduces pollution, and keeps GM (and its jobs) intact for a few more years.

    Incidentally, I think GM is on a slow but inexorable path towards bankruptcy no matter what happens with electrics. Heaven help the pension system when it goes...

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    mod squad TEG's Avatar
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    Tony wrote: "With ethanol, they can hit the snooze button and go back to sleep."

    Nice one, Tony... You are starting to sound like Martin.

    Check out these E85 related articles:

    E85 Setback: UL Won't Endorse Ethanol Pumps
    "Research indicates that the presence of high concentrations of ethanol or other alcohols within blended fuels makes these fuels significantly more corrosive."

    Lawmakers scrutinize California's flex-fuel fleet
    "the administration purchased a fleet of alternative fuel vehicles that have yet to burn anything but gasoline"

    More details on the California state flex-fuel vehicles not using any E85
    "The flex-fuel vehicles have accumulated over ten million miles using nothing but gasoline."
    Last edited by TEG; 2007-09-03 at 08:53 AM.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Brent View Post
    Incidentally, I think GM is on a slow but inexorable path towards bankruptcy no matter what happens with electrics. Heaven help the pension system when it goes...
    If bankruptcy does happen, it won't be the end for GM. They'll go into restructuring, and they'll quickly shed a big load of debt and other past agreements that have been dragging them down. They'll be able to re-negotiate a lot of stuff they can't touch now.

    They might take a terrible hit for a while on sales, though. How many people would be willing to buy a car from a "bankrupt" car company?

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    Senior Member WarpedOne's Avatar
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    Here in Europe food just got a major bump in prices. Biofules and energy production from cereals are tossed around as one of the reasons and people are not happy about it. Even the farmers are unhappy about selling corn etc for fuel production. I'd say policy makers hadn't realy thought about how general public will react on such plans and procedures. There may just not be enough willing sources for ethanol.
    I believe in Tesla as a concept, a brand, and a suite of products. No matter who conceived, started, runs, or maintains, I hope it ultimately prevails and lasts.
    -- TEG


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    Quote Originally Posted by tonybelding View Post
    If bankruptcy does happen, it won't be the end for GM. They'll go into restructuring, and they'll quickly shed a big load of debt and other past agreements that have been dragging them down. They'll be able to re-negotiate a lot of stuff they can't touch now.

    They might take a terrible hit for a while on sales, though. How many people would be willing to buy a car from a "bankrupt" car company?
    Yes. I agree.

    I wonder, though, how the restructuring will take place. I believe the biggest liability GM faces comes from its pension obligations. If GM were able to discharge those, the PBGC might have to make good, which would probably bankrupt that system too. I believe this same pension liability was a major factor behind the government bailout of Chrysler in 1979-1980. It was cheaper to prop up the company than to make good on the pension promises.

    I thought this New Yorker article from a year ago did a pretty good job pointing up some of the mistakes GM and others made in establishing their benefit plans:

    Dept. of Human Resources: The Risk Pool: The New Yorker

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    Quote Originally Posted by WarpedOne View Post
    Here in Europe food just got a major bump in prices.
    ...
    There may just not be enough willing sources for ethanol.
    Yes...these are huge arguments against E85. It tampers with the availability of the food supply, and subjects our energy resources to the vicissitudes of Mother Nature.

    Brazil makes it work because it has a plentiful water supply and a temperate weather pattern. Other latitudes are not always so lucky.

    Then again, if global warming is true, perhaps even Northern Europe will have year-round summer soon enough.

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    Senior Member JRP3's Avatar
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    That's why we don't like it to be called a hybrid, because it's not.
    Wow, it's pretty bad that he doesn't seem to know the difference between a serial and parallel hybrid. Sorry Bobber, but what ya got there is a plug in hybrid! Nothing wrong with that, but call it what it is.
    A 40 mile range will probably handle 70% of most peoples daily needs, which is great. Now lets talk about ethanol. Ethanol when sitting around unused will absorb moisture and at some point will begin to separate out of the gas. So someone who rarely uses the motor in the Volt may end up with a mess in their tank. Add that to the poor return on energy invested in making ethanol, poorer mileage, rising food prices, etc. Not a big fan of ethanol. It's a bandaid on a broken arm. It looks as if you're doing something but your really wasting time ignoring the real problem.

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