In a panel interview on Autoline Afterhours, Bob Lutz, former GM Vice Chair, weighed in on Tesla, among other topics. Frank Markus of MotorTrend, Gary Vasilah of Automotive Design & Production, and John McElroy of Autoline TV rounded out the panel. One of the questions asked was posed by a college graduate who wants to get a job at General Motors, which led to electric vehicles, Tesla, and Elon Musk.
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“Do you think GM’s product leadership is open to new ideas to take their products to the next level and be a front-runner in the EV shift or could they face development issues that land them with lackluster product as has happened in the past?”
Lutz replied: “I think in about at the latest 18–24 months time that it will be evident that GM is in fact in a leadership position in EVs and is already in a leadership position in autonomous vehicles.” [Editor’s note: It’s not entirely clear to me how Lutz thinks that’s the case, but everyone’s got a right to an opinion.] When asked about Cadillac and how it wants to be the leader in the EV industry by Gary Vasilah, Lutz agrees that it’s the right move for them.
“Everybody’s gotten it wrong with EVs, including Nissan, including General Motors. They thought, let’s keep it cheap and small because these are people who are ecological and they don’t really care what the car looks like or whether it carries any prestige or not. The main thing was that they could plug it in — totally wrong. And that was really Elon Musk’s stroke of brilliance — was to say, no, let’s go in at the top end of the market with the Model S.”
Bob Lutz goes on to say how great the Model S is and says that, “It’s a great car and if you get the big battery it has a decent range.”
He also explains that the reason that the Europeans were excited about the electric vehicle was that the “Tesla Model S outsold — one model — the BMW 7, the Audi A8, and Mercedes S-Class combined in the European market.”
Lutz also paints a picture of their shock. Here we have these high-end car brands and they are completely shocked by an American upstart who came and took all of their premium business away. Lutz explains that Elon Musk’s Tesla business model was brilliant. Lutz says that hindsight is 20/20 and that General Motors should have built an electric Cadillac with a 250-mile range battery, and then price it really high to market to the rich environmentalists and people who worry about climate change.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but what worked for Tesla may not have worked for General Motors or any other company simply because these companies were already there — Tesla was new to the game. Tesla had to think differently, be creative and innovative, bring a fresh new take play into the field that would grab the attention of its target market. Before Tesla came along and made the push, electric vehicles were seen as these goofy little things that were more trouble to own than not. Tesla changed all of that for the market and solved many problems that people expected to come across when owning an electric vehicle.