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The Volt To Be Lutz's Legacy

Posted by: David Kiley on May 21, 2007


So, I heard General Motors’ Bob Lutz on National Public Radio’s “Wait. Wait Don’t Tell Me” this past Saturday.
The GM product boss said the vehicle he is most excited about, and the one he thinks will be the most significant for GM, is the Chevy Volt.
The Volt is the plug-in hybrid car GM showed at last January’s Detroit Auto Show.
The Volt, provided GM can get the lithium battery right, will go about 40 miles on an electric charge. At that point, the internal combustion engine kicks in and recharges the battery while you are driving. Imagine using your laptop computer on a battery. It runs down. You plug it in, and continue working. While you are working, the battery is also recharging. Apply that principal to cars, and that pretty much explains the Volt.

Given the fact that the car is not expected to sacrifice much in performance, and that is scalable to small cars, mid-sized cars and crossovers, no wonder Lutz is geeked about the Volt. Even he recognizes that the Volt will make historians forget about the (in my opin ion) entirely forgettable Dodge Viper he concocted at Chrysler, as well as the 1000 horsepower Cadillac Sixteen concept car of a few years ago. The Volt will even make people forget that it was Lutz who gave us the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. Good, sexy cars and a great price. But the Volt could be in a class by itself.

Yes, the Volt should be Lutz’s legacy. I know the Volt isn’t here yet. But I can’t help thinking that this technology will make the current crop of hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape look like Ford Excursions. Estimates vary. But given the fact that something like 75% of driving in the U.S. is made up of short trips well under ten miles round-trip, a growing fleet of vehicles that can do that on battery power instead of gasoline is a huge game-changer. No. Make that a world changer. The technology would create viable vehicles that get the equivalent of more than 100 miles per gallon of gasoline.

It pretty much relegates GM’s EV1, Th!ink and today’s hybrids into the alternative power-train museum.

Volt technology, combined with reforms at power plants (cleaner coal technology and more nukes to generate electricity) to provide the electricity represents a greener cleaner U.S. It’s hopeful to think that if the U.S. was marching in the direction, it would give America a lot of stick to go to developing countries like India and China and say…”We figured it out…this is the technology we all should be investing in to save the planet. Let us help you adopt it before you go hog wild on dirty coal plants and gas stations.”

Toyota execs say that when the lithium battery technology is ready, they are ready to put it into every hybrid vehicle they have. So, does that make GM less than a leader in this technology. I would argue that since GM was the first one to bring out a concept and commit to a plan to bring it to market that GM deserves the same PR boost from that as Toyota has achieved with hybrids. The only way GM loses this opportunity is if Toyota manages to beat the Volt to market with its own plug-in that delivers on GM’s promise before GM does.

Reader Comments

Brendan Moore

May 21, 2007 7:57 PM

If GM can can produce a Volt that does what it has been projected to do, it will upend the market. And also, incidentally, give GM the technology leadership mantle of the automobile industry.

B Moore -

Al Ray

May 22, 2007 9:38 AM

The sleeping giant has finally woken up and
it's time for GM to show the world what they are really made of. GM, keep up the good work!!


May 22, 2007 10:39 AM

The key is the lithium battery technology and when it's ready, Toyota can presumably bring it to market just as quickly as GM can.

JP More

May 22, 2007 12:18 PM

Can't wait to get one.


May 22, 2007 12:22 PM

Even if the Volt delivers 25 or 30 miles on a charge, that is still a game changer. GM needs to get this in showrooms by early 2010, and in volume. People will forgive a shortened battery life, as it will undoubtably improve. What will not sit well is if the 'perfect' Volt doesn't appear until 2013, or if only 100 cars are hand delivered, thus cementing GM's reputation for big promises/weak delivery. Oh, and the Viper is a great many things, but forgettable? Someone's been driving Accords and Foresters for too long.


May 22, 2007 2:01 PM

when is the volt due out?

Edward S.

May 22, 2007 2:10 PM

Yep. Timing will be the key. Although it seems Toyota is committed to its "Synergy Drive" Parallel hybrid system, who knows what they have up their sleeve for the next-gen Prius. Unfortunately, it seems GM drops the ball all too often in the execution stage in terms of features, completeness of engineering, or refinement. They can afford none of these gaffes if they intend to unseat Toyota as the green leader.


May 22, 2007 2:33 PM

Hopefully, this article is JUST early. It certainly is early. Let's wait to give the PR boost until it comes to market. Until then, I'm sticking with my Prius.


May 22, 2007 6:01 PM

How is the Volt concept any different from a standard hybrid? It runs off an electric charge and recharges while you're driving.

If anything, the Volt is worse than your everyday Prius: It sounds like you can only drive off the battery charge until it's empty: The gasoline engine kicks in then.

J Davis

May 22, 2007 8:00 PM

Wonderful story nicely summarizes the Lutz-Volt phenomenon.

We will all be driving electric cars very soon.


Juan C. Mendez

May 22, 2007 9:51 PM

Good article, in general. Something I can't believe goes unnoticed through BW's editorial process: "Apply that principal to cars, and that pretty much explains the Volt" -- Pet peeve: principal > principle.

principal: adjective [ attrib. ] 1 first in order of importance; main : the country's principal cities. 2 (of money) denoting an original sum invested or lent : the principal amount of your investment. noun 1 the person with the highest authority or most important position in an organization, institution, or group : a design consultancy whose principal is based in San Francisco. • the head of a school, college, or other educational institution. • the leading performer in a concert, play, ballet, or opera. • Music the leading player in each section of an orchestra. 2 a sum of money lent or invested on which interest is paid : the winners are paid from the interest without even touching the principal. 3 a person for whom another acts as an agent or representative : stockbrokers in Tokyo act as agents rather than as principals. • Law the person directly responsible for a crime. • historical each of the combatants in a duel. 4 a main rafter supporting purlins. 5 an organ stop sounding a main register of open flue pipes typically an octave above the diapason.

principle: noun 1 a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning : the basic principles of Christianity. • (usu. principles) a rule or belief governing one's personal behavior : struggling to be true to their own principles | she resigned over a matter of principle. • morally correct behavior and attitudes : a man of principle. • a general scientific theorem or law that has numerous special applications across a wide field. • a natural law forming the basis for the construction or working of a machine : these machines all operate on the same general principle. 2 a fundamental source or basis of something : the first principle of all things was water. • a fundamental quality or attribute determining the nature of something; an essence : the combination of male and female principles. • [with adj. ] Chemistry an active or characteristic constituent of a substance, obtained by simple analysis or separation : the active principle in the medulla is epinephrine.

JW Thornhill

May 23, 2007 12:48 PM

If Bob Lutz with General Motor's hopes to EVER regain their dominance and respectability in the automotive industry they had better take advantage of this opportunity to be the first major auto company to market with a PHEV. I am fully persuaded that this vehicle, (the Volt) can single handedly make GM the number one auto seller in the world again. Let's just hope that they don't "drop the ball".

Robin Perez

May 23, 2007 12:53 PM

It's ironic how this world turns, not long ago this same Bob Lutz was poking fun of Toyota and its Prius, calling it an "interesting curiosity" and claiming hybrids does not make economic sense -- but boys, times change, and with gas prices in the sky the market (and Toyota) has taught this old dog new tricks -- nowadays he wants to be seen, along with GM, as a champion of hybrid technology, too bad for them history is just a Google search away...

John V

May 27, 2007 10:05 AM

To Gabor: First, the Volt is a serial hybrid. That means the engine doesn't directly drive the wheels, unlike the Prius. The car is moved solely by electric motors that turn the wheels. The (very small) engine is relegated to powering a generator that recharges the batteries that drive the motors that move the car.

Second, it's a plug-in hybrid, which means that the batteries can be recharged by plugging the car into wall current, as well as by the onboard engine/generator combination.

Robin Perez

May 29, 2007 3:27 PM

Yes, let's hope that GM finally come up with something worthy of a pioneer to the market, and I think it would have to be something really radical; the Volt just doesn't fit that description -- hybrid? This year Toyota's celebrating the Prius' tenth anniversary (that is 10 YEARS! - 7 in the U.S.) while GM hasn't delivered a true hybrid yet... Li-ion batteries? Toyota has said it's working on that too as well as plug-in hybrids -- only timing with the Volt could help GM save face, but nothing short of an automotive revolution could make GM a leader again -- and they have no one to blame for that other than themselves.


May 31, 2007 8:35 PM

i agree with all you said about the car, but "clean coal" and "greener nuclear power"!! there's no point in creating a car that uses electricity if we are going to create that electricity using a) the dirtiest fuels on earth, namely coal and uranium, and b) a fuel that will leave a 500-generation legacy of nuclear waste to deal with

Doug Korthof

July 28, 2008 11:01 AM

This whole VOLT thing is a SHUCK and JIVE.

If GM wanted to bring out what is essentially a 40-mile-range EV with a genset, it could have done it years ago.

The EV1 had 140 miles EPA range (I still have the tag) and a small genset would have made it an instant VOLT.

Bypassing existing successful batteries is symptomatic of Lutz' ignorance; he continues to misrepresent the EV1, the EV in general, and the batteries.

Bottom line: GM has excluded VOLT from MPG ("cafe") standards prior to 2015, at least, because it's only going to be made in tiny quantities, if at all. If GM were really "struggling" to meet MPG standards, why would it exclude VOLT?

The only reason is that it allows them to cancel the VOLT. If VOLT were allowed in the cafe standards, GM would not be able to kill it.

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