who saved the electric car?

Last weekend, the television show “Sunday Morning” ran a really good piece by David Pogue on electric cars. The video doesn’t work so well over wireless, but it’s now up on the CBS site, and it’s worth a listen, even if the images don’t keep up… Also worth a look is Pogue’s extended interview with GM’s Bob Lutz, the man credited with pushing the Volt concept car into production. It’s interesting stuff. Here’s a clip:

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 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….

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…

He then goes on to say that making car’s get 35 miles to the gallon would cost an extra $7,000 per car. Not only that, but he says that the thought of achieving 35 miles per gallon is as fanciful as the thought that we can make flying cars. I like a lot of what Lutz says, but this is absolute bullshit. The truth is, they can crank out cars that get 40 miles to the gallon all day long right now. I know. I drive one. The thing is, they don’t foresee being able to get Yukons, Escelades and Hummers — the really profitable cars — to that level. And that’s completely different than saying “35 miles per gallon can’t be done,” and Lutz knows it.

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16 Comments

  1. be OH be
    Posted September 21, 2007 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Agreed, that’s total bullshit.

    People like Lutz want you to believe that Americans just CAN’T be confined to compact cars. I mean, those are for Europeans or, I don’t know, everyone else in the world.

    It really irks me that he uses words like “impossible” when talking about fuel efficiency. I can understand that it may be costly or difficult to modify their fleets to meet these standards, but impossible? Where are the dreamers in the auto industry? Where are the modern day Tuckers?

    I appreciate Lutz’s enthusiasm for an electric car but I tend to think he’s only banking on the novelty of it among social conscious people. He doesn’t really see it as the future for his company but he understands the positive PR that it generates.

  2. be OH be
    Posted September 21, 2007 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    that should read “socially conscious people”.

  3. egpenet
    Posted September 21, 2007 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Lutz is a great “car guy” but he’s blowin smoke … or maybe he’s suckin’ on some good weed.

    Anyway …

    Chrysler and GM are developing all kinds of great cars for Europe using clean, quiet and efficient diesel engines, which can burn anything from regular diesel to biodiesel to recycled chicken fat. Problem is those vehicles will be exported hereee and refitted with gas-burning engines because Dingel is dangling and wrangling.

    The Euro-diesels from Mercedes, VW and others are clean and quiet. Why can’t we have them here? Politics. Oil companies don’t want to refit their refineries to make diesel. And they use the media to create images of diesels as smokey, choking hogs.

    C.A.F.E. is NOT the answer, howevr. Raise gas taxes so it costs $5 a gallon and we’ll (citizens) get real very fast.

  4. Steph
    Posted September 21, 2007 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Ed are you suggesting that we keep on making and selling cars that only get 12 miles to the gallon? Do you really think a price of $5 a gallon will stop wealthy Americans from driving?

  5. brian r
    Posted September 21, 2007 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Ed’s mistaken about European diesels being clean.

    European requirements for diesels are less strict than those of the United States. Said another way, diesels are allowed to pollute (NOx and soot) more in Europe than in the US. That’s the reason you don’t see more B and C-class diesels in the US. Jeep killed their Liberty diesel in the US a year or two ago, but still exports it to Europe. VW discontinued the Jetta, Beetle, and Golf diesels in the US. (The Jetta diesel will return in 2008, however, along with a V10 version of the Toureg.)

    The Jetta is the cheapest diesel available in the US starting around $23K.

  6. egpenet
    Posted September 21, 2007 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Euro diesels as a fleet have NOx and soot issues, but the technology when combined with advances in bio-diesel fuels (especially those made from switchgrass or sugarcane) give better results.

    NOx can be captured as it is the cars we drive now. Soot is a fuel-related/ maintenance issue.

    The mileage issue and the performance issue are the selling points of diesel.

    Why they cost more here (Jetta 26K) is that it’s an import, volumes are low, and the dollar is worth less today than the Canadian loonie … how looney is that?

    Fuel taxes, I think, are the way to go to get people to drive only when they need to drive … for work or for a purposeful trip. Reliance on public transport, walking, cyucling and commercial carriers makes more sense … and are safer!

    Our diesel restrictions are the result of big oil/gasoline refinery lobbies, confused Dingell/Dangels, and car companies who have yet to get their investment out of their V6s and V8s. The only American engine that is pure profit is the old Iron Duke I-4. And most of those are still going.

  7. Posted September 22, 2007 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Steph asked, “Do you really think a price of $5 a gallon will stop wealthy Americans from driving?”

    No. Probably not. However. . . When gasoline costs $8 or $10 per gallon — if your local filling station has any, and if you have a ration card allowing you to buy some — then your neighbor’s electric car, which he can charge at home and drive any time, is going to start looking mighty attractive.

    Of course, that sort of situation is far, far away in the future: probably upwards of 5 to 10 years from now. Few Americans think that far ahead.

  8. edweird
    Posted September 22, 2007 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I read this yesterday. The comments below the article were almost more interesting than the article itself. My favorite:

    Major Auto Companies –

    1957: “Cars can’t be legislated to be safe! Seatbelts will be too expensive and nobody would wear them anyway.”

    1967: “Oh, we can’t have fuel mileage standards! Today they’ll require 20MPG, but what’s to prevent them from making it 40MPG!?”

    1977: “Oh, we can’t possibly install airbags! They’re unproven and too expensive! We can’t afford to put one in every car”

    1987: “Oh, we can’t have more stringent fuel mileage standards! Today they’ll require 25MPG, but what’s to prevent them from making it 60MPG!?”

    1997: “Electric cars are impractical! People want big comfy vehicles, not laws to force them into tiny cramped unsafe ones that can only go 40 miles before they have to be recharged!”

    2007: “Soon the Government will say that starting 2017, cars are no longer allowed to touch the road – they must levitate two inches above the road!”
    ?
    2017: Toyota, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen and Peugeot introduce levitating vehicles.

    – Posted by Peter Hine

    In case you want the blog post so you can read the rest of the comments. Some of them are so on the $$$.

    http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/20/the-rebirth-of-the-electric-car/index.html?ex=1348027200&en=dc987369d6658d6f&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

  9. egpenet
    Posted September 22, 2007 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    On the quotations … a LOT of cmments coming out of Detroit are given more out ofknowing how the buying public would react and also to government regulation per se than saying it can’t be done. There isn’t an engineer I know who would say that something couldn’t be done, unless it contradicted the laws of physics. He/She would try to make it happen.

    The public did not want seat belts and STILL only gives about an 85% compliance. CAFE standards really affected performance for a couple of decades, which really ticked off the public, and made cars MUCH more difficult to service. Standardized compenents now make cars easier to service, but have added to the cost of repairs … rather than troubleshooting and replacing a small part, an entire assembly must be substituted and the rebuilt assemblies available are crap.

    Back to diesels … ALL of the Big Three management want to import European diesels and maintain they can be retrot-fitted for NOx and soot, as long as the fuel companies can supply enough biodiesel or purer diesel concoctions. The local Ypsi bus that is eco-friendly uses clean bio-fuel made in the oner’s basement! (Brian needs to have a heart-to-heart with Allen Mulaley, his boss.) My old boss at Ford, Bob Alexander, Chief Car Engineer said he wanted dieseels for the Ford Fairmont, which he brought over from Ford of Europe and which was the first little designed-in-Europe Ford. It didn’t sell, because it was NOT what the public wanted.

  10. mark
    Posted September 22, 2007 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    With all due respect, Ed, I think the time for all of this talk about “what the public wants” is over. We have to think about this as rational adults, and consider the reality of the situation. And that reality is that the oil is running out, it’s turning our planet into an oven, and the people we’re buying it from want to kill us. I don’t care if people “want” a 5-ton Hummer with enough room to house a small family. It doesn’t matter.

  11. egpenet
    Posted September 22, 2007 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Marketing is everything. Leadership, which is missing in this country, could change the minds of the people and get them to truly SEE.

    I’m reporting what I know and what has been the direction(s) of the opinion makers these last thirty years.

    Al Gore makes the case, but he is NOT in the bully pulpit at the moment. Michael Moore makes the case, but he is NOT in the bully pulpit at the moment.

    As long as the people elect a standoff in Washington between the evangelicals and the nut-less democrats, Hillary’s apologies for her vote notwithstanding … and Barak’s naievete … we ARE doomed to nothing being done.

    NO ONE in leadership is willing to standup and speak the truth to the people. John Edwards is ranting about poverty. And the rest are debating nonsense healthcare plans that will make the drug companies, doctors (who are THE villains in our pay- for-service insurance) more millions.

    Friday the dollar was worth less than the Canadian Loonie … how dumb is that!?

    Meanwhile, here at home, the handsome guys on the housing commission in their suits and ties are letting folks live in squalor while they play golf and eat ribs! This is total bullshit. Where’s your 20-20 on THAT one? What’s the Mayor’s response to that crap?

  12. egpenet
    Posted September 22, 2007 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    In fact, the mayor had no comment.

  13. mark
    Posted September 22, 2007 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    As much as I might wish it were the case, Ed, the charge of the 2020 task force wasn’t to look into how fucked up our various City departments might be. If what you’re saying is true though, and the folks on the Housing Commission aren’t doing the job they’ve been asked to do, then they should go. And, if they’ve violated the law and put peoples’ lives in danger in the process, they should be prosecuted… As for eating ribs and playing golf, I don’t know if that’s reason to be up in arms, unless of course the ribs and the golf were paid for by landlords. If that’s the case, they should be run out of town on a rail…

  14. Kelly
    Posted October 21, 2007 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    I think the electric cars is a waste until batteries are made better ;)

    Kelly

  15. mark
    Posted October 21, 2007 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, Kelly, but I had to remove your URL here too.

    It’s not that I don’t appreciate you, or teen entrepreneurship in general. I really do. It’s just that I’m afraid that some of my readers might find the sudden jump from electric vehicles to “cum covered teen snatches” to be a bit too jarring. I hope you understand… And best of luck with your endeavors.

  16. P
    Posted July 4, 2008 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    We will never again see an all electric can in this country produced by the major Auto manufacture companies again like we did in 1996, because they know that they can not make as much money as they do with internal combustion engines. The major auto make got together and took back the cars that they had made from the people that had them, and then they crushed the cars and shredded the cars so that the American people would not know about the cars that could free us from foreign oil in 2004 they destroyed all the electric cars! So it is the plan of the Oil companies and the Auto companies to never bring bank a 100 percent electric car even though we have the technology to produce electric cars with over a 400 hundred range right now, because the automakers sell so many after market parts and do so many repairs to the cars we use today. The automakers do not care about the environment or gas prices because they will lose money if Americans become energy impendent by having its people drive all electrics cars. So they came up with the idea of making hybrids so that they could still keep us on oil and so that they could still sell their parts to cars!

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