Bob Lutz, former Vice Chairman of GM and a key person behind the Chevy Volt, is a famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) figure in the auto industry. Lutz has worked for BMW, Ford, Chrysler, and GM. He was vice chairman of GM until 2009, and he retired altogether in 2010. However, he now sits on the board of a leading startup in the plug-in electric vehicle market, Via Motors, and he has some strong views on electric vehicles. In particular, he forecasts that an electric car future is definitely coming. Notably, this is coming from a man who actually denies global warming (against the consensus of 97% of climate scientists and 97% of climate research papers).
In a recent interview published in The Seattle Times, Lutz actually contends, however, that the first plug-in vehicles of this century should have been trucks and other heavy, low-efficiency vehicles rather than cars. (Note that Via Motors is in the electric truck, SUV, and van business.)
Who knows how the interview was actually conducted, but it starts off like this in The Seattle Times:
Q.: Do you think the Volt should have been a truck, not a sedan?
A: We started at the wrong end. The whole automotive industry made the intellectual mistake of thinking EVs were all about maximum range, so we all started with small vehicles that are basically very economical anyway. Yes, you do save fuel. You can use a smaller battery, but it makes less sense to take a 40 mpg vehicle and make it electric than it does to take a full-size pickup or SUV, which in town realistically gets 11 to 12 mpg. If you take that to 100 mpg, now you’re really saving money and saving a scarce natural resource and reducing CO2 emissions drastically.
The realization came to me suddenly late that the right place to electrify is at the heavy end, with full-size pickups and SUVs, which America loves but which are a somewhat endangered species with fuel-economy regulations.
Well, that’s something. And I wish that I could see a video of the interview, since it’s hard to imagine Lutz talking about reducing CO2 emissions.
I won’t post the full interview, but here are the next 3 Q&As, also interesting:
Q: Do you think electric vehicles would have the same marginalized, tree-hugging reputation if they had started with pickups instead of small passenger vehicles?
A: It would have changed it. Bigger trucks are the only electrified vehicles that I know of that make instant economic sense because the fuel saving is so large that you will more than get back your monthly lease price.
The other feature is exportable power. Every one of these trucks has power outlets. Imagine a suburban homeowner owning a Chevy Tahoe with VIA technology. If you have a power outage, you go out and start your truck and plug in. You don’t have to buy an emergency generator. You’ve got a week’s worth of power.
Q: You’ve said some critical things about hybrid vehicles in the past. Is your embrace of EVs now a reflection of your concern about your legacy?
A: I am what I am. To some people, I am the environmental anti-Christ because I own and fly a former military jet fighter. I have what is known as a very large carbon footprint. I like high-powered cars like Corvette ZR1s, but on the other hand people have trouble figuring me out because I’m also deeply involved and a believer in vehicle electrification. Unlike previous hybrids with little economic return, extended range EVs make economic sense for both the automaker and the consumer.
Q: How do you reconcile that?
A: They’re all interesting technologies. I like vehicle electrification because it will in the future be, by far, the most efficient propulsion form, and electric vehicles are great to drive. They’re quiet. They have enormous power. The only problem today is they don’t have enough range.
Of course, some electric vehicles have plenty of range, and plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt also have plenty of range. But the implied point — that more range from pure electric vehicles costs more than most are willing to pay, and that is the only real drawback of electric vehicles today — is correct. That will, of course, be remedied as batteries improve. But even today, that’s one minus compared to the numerous benefits Lutz notes, as well as others:
- great to drive
- enormous power
- super quiet and smooth
- huge fuel savings, which can equal huge financial savings
- much less maintenance and lower maintenance costs
- can conveniently recharge at home while sitting on your couch
- cut global warming pollution and other pollution
- increase energy security
Anyway, the entire interview is very interesting — with Lutz even comparing the EV revolution to a transition to jet aircraft that occurred many decades ago (which he lived and flew through) — but I think the most interesting point was the claim that it would have been better to start the electric vehicle revolution with larger vehicles. Well, we’ll see how the Via Motors products do compared to the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and over a dozen other electric cars now on the market.
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