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Bob Lutz: Volt's Electric Tech Should've Gone Into Escalade First

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2012 Cadillac Escalade Platinum

2012 Cadillac Escalade Platinum

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Ex-GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz played an instrumental part in getting Chevrolet's range-extended electric car, the Volt, to market.

So important was his role that he's often considered the "father of the Volt"--but at the Detroit Auto Show, Lutz has said that he'd not have launched the car's technology in that package.

Autocar reports (via Autoblog Green) that Lutz would have started with a vehicle that's anything but green, the Cadillac Escalade.

"If I had my time again at GM then I would have started with the Cadillac Escalade for the range-extender technology, and brought the Volt in later," he said.

"The more gas-guzzling the vehicle, the more economic sense of electrifying it."

It perhaps isn't surprising that Lutz's comments come as his current project, Via Motors, launched a range of electric trucks and SUVs at the Detroit Auto Show.

With quoted economy in the 100 mpg region, Via's plug-in trucks--such as the 800-horsepower XTRUX--use a very similar drivetrain concept to that in the Volt, providing 30-40 miles of electric range before a regular gasoline engine kicks in to keep the batteries topped-up.

Lutz sees more sense in improving the vehicles that really need it, before applying the technology to cars which are already relatively efficient.

"Car companies need to get their minds on that: electrifying [a smaller car] that uses virtually no fuel anyway and then lumping a huge premium on it to cover the battery costs is nonsensical. Why bother?"

While Via's trucks are expensive, Lutz says lifetime running costs will more than make up for the difference, since equivalent vehicles are so inefficient to begin with. He believes this makes more sense than with smaller cars, where customers don't really want to pay extra for minor savings.

"Frankly," he says, "unless that customer is philosophically, religiously or economically affiliated to buying an electric vehicle, then they can’t be convinced."

What do you think of Lutz's comments? Leave your own comments below.

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Comments (19)
  1. Strangely enough, there was no mention of this in Lutz's book (Car Guys Vs Bean Counters), so I am just going to say Lutz's world view is "flexible" to his current story telling desires.

    According to his book, he really wanted a Halo cars for GM that shows that they can out-green even Toyota and those silly Priuses. He seemed to feel that the improvement in brand image (for GM as much as for Chevy) was worth the time and effort, and would show the world the GM in technically superior.

    I say, job well done Lutz.
     
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  2. Well, I think he's not only wrong, but it's clear he's only saying this to help promote Via. As I recall when GM premiered their new line of SUVs on the smaller Lambda platform they said that cars like the Escalade were "in there last generation". GM said this because they were admitting that the Suburban/Escalade platform is too big, too heavy, and will always have poor fuel economy. And that's why the Volt is the better choice, few people want or need to be driving a massive land barge, a five-door hatchback has a far broader appeal. If what he is saying was true, then why isn't the Escalade Hybrid a big success?
     
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  3. @CDspeed: FWIW, the Escalade Hybrid improves fuel efficiency of that very large and heavy vehicle from very low to low. But the incremental cost of that extremely complex system--estimated at $10K per vehicle--means it could never be sold at a price that yields an instantly obvious payback.

    That's one of the reasons GM is abandoning its full-hybrid efforts and focusing on mild hybrids and its Voltec plug-in technology:
    http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1080494_gm-to-concentrate-on-plug-in-electric-cars-downplay-hybrids
     
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  4. I had actually forgot about that, thanks John.
     
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  5. I can understand the logic..Fix the worst efficiency vehicles first.. this was the same logic that was applied to the GM 2-Mode SUV/Pickup hybrid technologies. It was an impressive technology for its time in some ways, but it never sold in successful volumes. To achieve a 40 mile range, the 16kWh battery of a Volt would have to be a lot bigger (and hence even more expensive). Escalade customers who pay $70k for a vehicle typically aren't too sensitive to fuel prices and they may not be environmentally sensitive (otherwise would they be buying an Escalade?). Look at the dismal sales numbers for the Lexus LS600h hybrid. Perhaps Maximum Bob's comment was taken out of context. The key was/is to make a compelling vehicle & drive down costs.
     
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  6. Exactly, Dave. The strategy that Via is using has already been tried and failed. "The key was/is to make a compelling vehicle & drive down costs." That's Tesla's model. They make a compelling vehicle...that just happens to be electric.
     
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  7. So if I can summarize the comments so far, the article should be subtitled "Car Salesman Lies", a headline worthy of the Onion.
     
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  8. I think you are being too hard on Lutz. He is olny saying that in hindsight the bigger platforms whould have been better. Personally I agree with him. You much more margin to work with both weight and money wise with the bigger car. The battery cost are much easier to absorb.
     
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  9. I agree. The %tage improvement from 12 to, say, 14 mpg is better than going from 34 to 38 in a more efficient vehicle.
     
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  10. Like any good salesman, Lutz always says what the customer wants to hear.

    He slammed hybrids and BEVs, yet championed the Volt. Now he claims the Volt powertrain should have been introduced in a full-size vehicle. Notice that he doesn't mention that the battery would have to roughly double in size to get the same range. He also doesn't mention that full size hybrids have been failures. They fail because they are too expensive and, news flash, philosophically motivated buyers don't buy full size vehicles!

    Lutz helped bankrupt GM, and he will do the same at Via.
     
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  11. I disagree. The Tesla Model S is a full-size vehicle with many philosophically motivated buyers.
     
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  12. Besides the fact that it's Awesome!
     
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  13. The Volt was developed when GM knew it would be needing a bailout pretty soon and some green credentials might be handy to convince politicians dreaming of "change". Somehow I can't quite imagine Obama posing with an EREV Escalade as he did with the Volt.

    He has a point though that SUV's (though maybe not full-sized ones)are prime candidates for plug-in hybrid drivetrains. More gas can be saved, the high cost can be more easily absorbed by the upmarket car concept and the enormous number of parts that make up PHEV drivetrains can more easily be fitted in the SUV/CUV concept without having to sacrifice interior space.
     
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  14. This sounds more like Lutz wants to sell Via to GM, which was very predictable. Good point but moot.
     
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  15. Sounds like he is doing the marketing for Via motors.
     
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  16. I agree with the commenters who say that placing electric in the big gas guzzlers will not appeal to buyers. It is true that large trucks should have better fuel economy, but the past indicates that hybrid gas guzzlers do not market well. Lutz's comments also will alienate a loyal Volt base that was developing. Already many automakers are beginning to drive down costs on all electrics and plug-in hybrid electrics. We just need some time and good marketing to allow the public to grasp this wonderful technology.
     
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  17. Surely the difference is that working vehicles use different math. Few car owners work out the lifetime cost of their car when choosing between models or drive-trains, but transport managers do... I draw a big line between the escalade (BIG car) and the pickup it is clearly based on. Via should stick to the working truck, and hopefully they might sell fleets of them.
     
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  18. Bob Lutz isn't the only one thinking in this direction. See Toyota RAV4 (small SUV) and Tesla Model X (larger SUV, not yet in production, but in the plans for quite some time).
     
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  19. A simple comment. Just looking at the real estate of the Escalade, or especially the Xtrux, there a lot of room on the hood and roof and sides, and back of the pickup, etc. Like a brick. That the same amount of real estate for solar cells on the most recent college created solar racer, that can drive the solar racer up to 50 miles an hour for thousands of miles, just on solar power alone. Sure the truck are heavier. but solar cells with protective focusing layers could keep the power available above 20 percent for longer.
     
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