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