Electric Cars Are Doing Just Fine, Says Volt Patron Bob Lutz

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'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Bob Lutz arrives in a Chevy Volt

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Bob Lutz arrives in a Chevy Volt

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Sometimes the glass is half empty, sometimes it's half full.

For the future of electric cars, count Bob Lutz on the half-full side--most likely containing a very nice Scotch.

Lutz is not only the former GM product development czar, but the man who pushed through the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car that launched two years ago this month

Yesterday, Lutz weighed in on nay-saying about electric cars in a Forbes opinion piece titled, What's Gone Wrong With the Electric Vehicle Market? Nothing.

His third paragraph unloads both barrels:

Fond near-term visions of millions of EVs plying the nation’s highways while sales of “antiquated” gasoline cars languish have been replaced by the facts of low fuel prices, abundant oil supply, high EV prices, dire straits for EV startups like Fisker and Coda, and even outright Chapter 11 for A123, the U.S. government’s high-tech battery company and showcase for the Department of Energy’s efforts in the “clean fuels” arena.

But, Lutz suggests, despite all this, things are fine:

The electric vehicle market is moving exactly as I have consistently predicted.

He goes on to note that battery-electric vehicles ("pure EVs") will have a very limited market until consumers can buy, for $30,000, a battery-electric vehicle with a 300-mile range.

At the moment, the Tesla Model S version with a 265-mile range costs more than twice that amount: $79,900 before incentives.

Surprisingly, he doesn't follow that up with a nod to the Volt--which, of course, has a range-extending gasoline engine to avert range anxiety.

The Chevy Volt has become the best-selling plug-in car in the U.S., with its sales this year likely to be triple those of 2011.

Perhaps most surprising, Lutz says that, "Ultimately, of course, the world will be populated by EVs only, and I make that prediction frequently."

It's that "ultimately," he says, that most people don't hear.

This is a slow process, he suggests, and the evolution toward plug-in vehicles will take decades, not just years.

2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

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Savvy industry observers acknowledge this--total global plug-in production is expected to total no more than 1 or 2 percent of a 100-million vehicle market in 2020, by most suggestions--but Lutz can express it in far more colorful terms.

As is his wont, Lutz doesn't think much of the media.

His final paragraph ends, "The media always seem to play their role in keeping us stupid."

(We must send Mr. Lutz a reminder about Green Car Reports.)

Meanwhile, what do you think? Is Lutz right: Will electric cars come to dominate the market? Is his timetable too slow?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (27)
  1. Hi all
    We must hope that this 1-2% by 2020 will not be verified.
    If the plug-in share keeps "marginal" for too long, Industry majors will think twice before injecting new credits for the coming models.
    In Europe (my area), The Diesel Trust is pushing the technology in the shade as majority of people ignore the factual benefits of using a plug-in (or hybrid in general).
    My big worry is about the emerging markets. The technology might be affordable to mass consumption a little to late.
    By the way, Bob Lutz should take more care when parking the Volt. He almost scratched it on the fence.
    (First post here. French tech addict enjoying this funny CR-Z and waiting for this nice ELR. Sorry if there is any spelling mistake)

  2. EVs are better than conventional cars in every way except for one small detail: the battery. Once that improves things can change very fast indeed.

  3. I think once batteries last longer people will be more willing to buy. Not just range- but lifetime. I think it's ridiculous that you need to change the battery every 8-ish years. Fix that and the market should open up a fair amount

  4. Ben: I'm not sure if "its ridiculous that you need to change the battery every 8 ish years" is factual. My volt only uses 10 of the 16 kWh and my guess is the batteries will last longer because of the conservative measure. Secondly, we don't expect the batteries to just die. The expectation is that performance will degrade not die. So if after 12 years I'm only getting 20 EV miles instead of 35, I'm ok with that. Thirdly, in eight years the batteries are expected to not be as expensive and if you absolutely need to replace the batteries, they will have a residual value in a secondary life. ANY vehicle is a risk after warranty but to me the facts don't put a Chevy Volt risk much beyond conventional vehicles.

  5. Isn't this the guy who killed the EV-1 and then blamed it on being too expensive?
    Note to Lutz - just about made-from-scratch vehicle would be just as expensive, especially if you only make barely more than a thousand over several years.

  6. I agree with Bob Lutz on the fact that if there are 300 miles EVs for $30k, people will line up to buy it replacing their ICE cars...

    But we are far from that. There no breakthrough technology today to indicate that mark will be hit soon. I hope I am wrong.

  7. 300 mile EVs are probably not practical. If the efficiency is about the same as a LEAF, you'd need to stuff 90 - 100 kWh into the battery.
    A standard Level 2 charger at 32 amps would need 14 hours to replenish a depleted battery.

  8. Here's Nick, who, in 2012, never heard of fast chargers!

    You're still thinking in gasoline terms. Drive 'till empty, then fill up. No, that's not how you use an EV. You plug in every day.

    If your daily commute is 70 km roundtrip, you need about 15 kWh to get your battery back to full.

    So with a 24 kWh battery, it takes 2 hours to replenish the battery after your daily commute

    And with a 100 kWh battery, it takes 2 hours to replenish your battery after your daily commute.

    You see, it's not how much charge goes in you battery, it's how much went out.

  9. Then why are you paying for a 100 kWh battery if a 24 kWh is all you need?
    I can see the benefit of having a bit more, say 20% more than your average case but 4x??!!
    Better to have switch stations than to have ridiculously oversized batteries.

    If you're a two car family , I'm sure you can make this work but a such a family could probably make any combination of 2 ICE / EV / PHEV / EREV work.

  10. the leaf takes a Level 3 charger, so it can do a fast charge in 30 minutes.

  11. But I doubt Level 3 chargers will be home installs so that would be a shared charger.
    Eventually, you'd have lineups for those just like for gas now.
    And, for a 100 kWh battery that would still take quite a while so those would have to take partial charges.

  12. Right Bob. Why? Because we can't seem to get the batteries out of research. But, I have hope now that Argonne Labs is directing a battery project made up of Industry people and Battery Lab scientists. The project has as it goals: to produce batteries that are 5 times cheaper, with 5 times the density in 5 years...The 5,5,5, Project, if you will.

  13. ★★★★★
    Great article John, really enjoyed how you integrated Bob Lutz's quotes!

    Thanks to you and Green Car Reports for educating us and the media at large.

  14. Bob Lutz is 1/2 right regarding EV re: market. Today almost anyone can walk out of a Nissan showroom with a Leaf for less than $30,000. Manufactures will be introducing more EV choices in 2013, (some less than $30k).

    Why a 300 mile range? Based on EPA a Leaf has 75 mile range city and 65 miles highway.
    Going from 75 to 300 is 4x … What if we just had a 2x range improvement, to 150 miles?

    A 150 mile range would mean a 30 min rest stop for every 2-3 hours of highway driving & little in-city charging (done mostly overnight). I would expect many drivers would find a 150 mile range practical.

    I agree with Bob, it's just a matter of time.

    PS: Volt drivers have driven more than 100 million EV-Only miles on a 30 mile range.

  15. 150 miles of range doesn't account for spare capacity needed to plan one's trip around available charging stations, and initial range will drop off with battery ageing. Therefore I think Bob Lutz is right that for EVs to match the ICE in practicality and therefore market penetration it needs to have that 300 mile range (along with 150 miles/15 minute top up capability) that would really make it road trip capable.

    That does mean a 100KWh battery though and that is not going to be at the ~$10-12K needed for the $30K car price target any time soon, even factoring in incentives. So yes, 150 miles of range is probably a more realistic target for the short term and I agree that sort of range might go a long way to make EVs more mainstream

  16. You're going to need a heck of a charging infrastructure for 100kWh batteries.
    Level 2 chargers aren't going to be enough so perhaps the Better Place model of charge points and swap stations might become the way forward.

  17. It takes 200KW chargers to top up a 150 miles worth of energy in 15 minutes. That would be about double the capacity of the supercharger infrastructure Tesla is currently building but I think that's the sort of chargers that will be needed eventually.

  18. Factories and office buildings draw hundreds of kW's or multiple MW's of power. There is no 'heck of a charging infrastructure' necessary. That is fud. In most places the grid is more than capable of supporting these 200 kW chargers.

    In an average, industrialised country an overnight switch of the entire ldv fleet to electric would bump electricity consumption by less than 20%. We already consume far, far more electricity than you ever imagined. Don't worry, the grid won't melt.

  19. we just need three phase chargers.

  20. I have quite an imagination and I'm well aware of how much energy is used.
    I'm not at all concerned about overall consumption but rather about the local ramp-up rate.
    According to the Today's Outlook from CAISO, the fastest 1-hr ramp-up was 2,569 MW from 5-6pm.

    Since I'm unable to find the archived reports, I'm going to assume the summer peak ramp-up is twice as steep or about 5,000 MW.
    That sounds impressive but it's only equal to 50,000 100 kW chargers

  21. I agree with most comments below about the battery woes preventing EVs. to reach mainstream. Especially the price and durability. I happen to be ivolved in a project which allows an EV to travel 80mi. @ 80m.p.h. going from 0 to 60 in

  22. a couple "EV friendly" laws implemented, gas taxes raised to the correct level (no gas tax raise since 1992 which pays for road maintenance whose cost has gone up over 100% since then...) and I predict a much quicker timetable.

  23. "Fond near-term visions of millions of EVs plying the nation’s highways while sales of “antiquated” gasoline cars languish "

    Where did this Forbes guy pull that vision from? Don't answer, I don't wanna know.

    The classic straw man, attack something that you yourself invented. Nobody serious ever talked about millions of EV's in a few years. Even the most bullish CEO of all, Carlos Ghosn, is predicting something like 10% of NISSAN sales by 2020. That's Nissan only, not the world.

  24. Saw the article that prompted Lutz' response and was astounded at how many Volts were being leased at a loss by GM, but counted as "sold vehicles," not to mention the fact that a lot of them have been bought by the current administration for their military officers. GM and the Feds are obviously engaging in gross misrepresentation of the Volt's appeal. Fact is, few are buying the car, even with the $7500 Federal subsidy. Low gas prices have further reduced the car's appeal. And Lutz' claim that the Tesla has a 264 mile range, at least for travelling on the interstates, where it matters, is grossly optimistic, even with ideal conditions and a brand new battery.

  25. kent the reason to buy a Volt is as much a lifestyle choice as anything else. It's a very upscale car

    it's outselling half the cars in america

  26. @ Kent Beuchert,

    Do you have any data to back up your "opinion"? Your past comment has been Volt bashing for a long time. Where do you get the fact that GM is losing money on the Lease? Do you understand the fact that Leasing company is getting the Federal Tax Incentives? The so called "rumor" discount of $10k of GM incentives includes the $7,500 tax incentives. That is NOT a loss at all for GM.

    Also, I don't know a single Volt owners that leased the car. In fact, all my coworkers and friends bought their Volt with 0% financing.

    Low price gas or NOT, Volt is a fun to drive car that is efficient.

    Tesla's 264 miles range have been demostrated by multiple reviews. It is certainly doable. Stop your silly bashing...

  27. I think the magic number (for Tesla anyway) will be an EPA 200 mile range coupled with their supercharger network in 150 mile radius's across the USA and Europe. I am hoping they can make this 200 mile range vehicle (with supercharger access) for $30,000 (after any incentives) in their Gen III car starting in 2016.
    At an average of 55 mph it will take you about 3.5 hours to drive 200 miles. This is in keeping with the highway code that recommends a 15 min break for every two hours of driving.
    30 mins of supercharging and you are on your way again for another 150/200 miles.
    If Tesla can make this car and still provide FREE supercharing access, then the days of the ICE vehicle will be numbered.

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