• May 21, 2009
Click above to view the video after the jump

Last night, General Motors' outgoing Car Czar, Bob Lutz, went to New York City to rebut the thrashing David Letterman gave the Chevy Volt a few weeks ago during an interview. That comedian's criticism came during the an "interview" with Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk (details here). The more forceful Lutz certainly didn't allow Letterman to control the discussion the way he did when dominating Musk. Lutz actually expressed himself well, even praising Tesla's accomplishments along the way. In the process of doing that, however, he explained that a big reason the Tesla Roadster costs over $100,000 is its battery pack with 6,831 laptop cells.

Observers were probably far less satisfied with Lutz's defense of the end of the EV1 program and his argument that the "batteries were not ready" and the company "couldn't sell" the EV1. He should have just said that the batteries were not ready for a mainstream vehicle and the car couldn't be sold profitably at a price people would actually pay.

When it came to the Volt, Lutz did a much better job of explaining the differences in the way it works compared to current parallel hybrid vehicles that drivers are used to. Ultimately, Letterman asked if he could get the first production Volt before reprising his electrocution schtick from the Musk episode. Follow the jump to watch the interview for yourself.

[Source: Youtube]



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  • 68 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Why does the center column look like a iPod docking station? White, really? Or is it suppose to color coordinate with the car's exterior?
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is anyway Lutz's last major project at GM. He will be retiring in a few months time.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "Observers were probably far less satisfied with Lutz's defense of the end of the EV1 program and his argument that the "batteries were not ready" and the company "couldn't sell" the EV1."

      I'm guessing that by "observers" you mean yourself.

      The EV1 was a laughing stock of a vehicle. Also, if GM could have made any money on it they would have. It's ignorant to say otherwise. It was also a deathtrap waiting to happen.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Good job overall Lutz! Could have explained better that the public didn't want to buy an EV1 for a ton of money when gas was around $1.00. Also did a good job of explaining how small cars aren't profitable in America when gas is only $1.80.....but could have explained that the Japanese only have these small, more fuel efficient cars (for when gas goes up to $4) because they mostly build them for their domestic market (where they make more sense), and only ship them here when convenient.

      It was also annoying having Letterman ask Bob TWICE, that "shouldn't the Big 3 have taken the initiative of producing small, fuel efficient cars (that people didn't want to buy) just to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil?" The answer is "NO!", Bob. The Big 3 are businesses, and not the government or a conservationist group.
        • 5 Years Ago
        GM has been working on "the next big thing" for decades: the hydrogen fuel cell.

        Ever since the 1966 GM Electrovan (world's first fuel-cell vehicle) GM has been steadily progressing towards a marketable product.

        http://www.hydrogencarsnow.com/gm-electrovan.htm

        The current fuel-cell vehicle, the Equinox FC, is almost market-ready. The next-gen Equinox could very easily have a Fuel Cell variant, in addition to a more traditional hybrid drivetrain.

        The funny thing about trying to predict the future? Sometimes you get close, but things go another direction...even though President Obama drastically cut funding for fuel cell research, Toyota, Honda, and GM have all committed to continuing their programs.

        http://blogs.edmunds.com/greencaradvisor/2009/05/honda-toyota-and-gm-pledge-to-continue-hydrogen-fuel-cell-rd.html
        • 5 Years Ago
        @letstakeawalk
        The only thing about hydrogen is it seems to be the perpetually "20 years away" technology. What have we really seen out of it in terms of something a consumer can use and buy? Even though the EVs are less practical in terms of long range trips, they have been sold and used by consumers for quite some time. The Volt seems to be a big step in getting them into the mainstream market as well as Nissan & Ford's efforts with their EVs.

        We have spent $1.2 billion in the last 4 years on hydrogen cars and we haven't seen one vehicle sold to a consumer, not even an expensive one in the $100k range. Sure there are leases, but not one is sold. And the movement on the fueling station and hydrogen production side is much too slow. Overall the industry has been lukewarm about building fueling stations and expects the government (here in California it's the state government) to pay for a bulk of the cost for building fueling stations. Given the lack of cars to use the fueling stations, it's understandable for the government to be hesitant to spend billions on these fueling stations. It's a real chicken and the egg dilemma, which hydrogen hasn't really solved yet.

        And promises of cars on the road in a couple of years have been given for quite some time, we have yet to see them really sell a car to a customer:
        http://dvice.com/archives/2006/06/honda_fuelcell_vehicles_on_the.php
        2010, they have the Clarity, which is a lease program like the previous FCX.

        Here they promised 2000 cars and 100 fueling stations in California by 2010.
        http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/state/20050526-1743-cnshydrogen.html
        Today we have 300+ cars according to your article and 24 stations in California.

        The encouraging thing about hydrogen is they have been seeing some good progress on the vehicle side in the last couple of years, projected cost, range, and durability has improved dramatically, though infrastructure is still lagging behind. They say in volume, a fuel cell system supposedly will only cost $6k. If this is true, I don't see why the automakers can't make a car right now and SELL one to a customer with a sub $100k price tag. Heck, they can probably make a car like the Volt for the same at the same price or cheaper. That would certainly erase doubts about hydrogen in my mind; currently I take the projected costs of hydrogen with a grain of salt, since they haven't yet demonstrated they can do it for anywhere near their projections.
        • 5 Years Ago
        As a business you should foresee the "next big thing" and quietly develop it in the background and have it ready for when the time comes. You learn that in your first year of business school.

        GM didn't have the Volt ready, the Prius is already on its second gen, and it will be two years before the Volt hits the streets. By then Toyota will already be developing the "next big thing" beyond hybrids. I don't want to see GM fail, but they gotta get their hustle on.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Jake

        Exactly my point. Sometimes hundreds of thousands of talented people spend decades and billions of dollars on "the next big thing"...

        ...and it's not. But that doesn't mean they were wrong for trying. It's insulting to say that GM didn't take initiative. They just backed the wrong pony. Too bad they didn't see who Al Gore bet on; he invested (as a partner in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) in hybrid EV's. You know Al Gore's horse is going to win this race - we elected a Democrat, right?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Bob came off as clueless to me. 'The only time people wanted smaller/fuel efficient cars was when gas went up to $4 for a few months, and now they want big engines and trucks again', ummm no, if this is still the line of thinking in GM, then they're even worse off than we expect (yet he was there to plug the Volt, ironic). BTW, he should come to my neck of the woods where gas is back to the $3 level

      And then the crap about having to sell one of his jets, 'sign of the times', that seems like a real slap in the face of all the people in Detroit and across the country unemployed thanks to these idiots' incompetence.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I seem to remember a time when people laughed at the ipod and it was certainly not 300 dollars for the first generation that was only 5 gb and I am wiling to bet they lost money on the first generation because it had never been done before. You can't quit on a revolution. All the money they put into developing and marketing the ipod and itunes they have got back ten fold and there is no reason to believe the electric car could have been the same way. We also have now way of knowing the "true" cost of the EV-1 or any other electric vehicles at the time.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It was $399 actually. And Apple made money on it per-copy (no idea if they managed to amortize the R&D costs).

        http://www.wigix.com/index.php/item/index/9497

        The fact that Apple made money on it was easily determined by reading the iSuppli guesstimates of cost or just by looking at how Apple's profits skyrocketed when they started selling them.
        • 5 Years Ago
        the iPod is a stupid comparison. it didn't cost tens of billions of dollars to develop, and it's little more than an "impulse buy" for customers. nobody's taking out a multi-year loan to buy an iPod.

        at least, I hope not.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The iPod only revolutionized the market three years after it came out when it and iTunes were finally officially Windows compatible.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The iPod wasn't the first mp3 player, far from it actually. The same as iTunes wasn't the first digital music distributor.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The iPod was officially Windows compatible about 20 months after it came out, not 3 years. But I completely agree, it would not have taken over if it never worked on Windows.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It wasn't even the first mp3 jukebox (large capacity model, which at the time meant hard drive-based).

        But it did revolutionize the market. Apple sold far more iPods than the other digital jukebox companies (Archos, Creative) ever could have dreamed of.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Wow look $40,000+ worth of vaporware with a 40 mile range. GM quit hyping this white elephant and release it already.
        • 5 Years Ago
        F*** Yeah! just release it already! Who cares if silly stuff like validation testing isn't done? You can always just issue a recall if something like battery fires crops up.

        moron. GM *can NOT* screw up the launch of the Volt. Rushing things leads to recalls. Recalls on the Volt will incinerate what's left of GM.
        • 5 Years Ago
        GM already has been moving on an accelerated development path for this car. It's pretty much unprecedented for a car with this kind of technology to move from drawing board toward production this quickly. They really need to get the safety and refinement down on this car because this will be the first experience with an electric car that many people will have. If they don't nail it down right, people will be turned off completely to EVs for quite some time, just like what happened to diesel.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I really can't stand Letterman. Like Obama, he thinks we should just be able to snap our fingers and have fully electric cars that go 0-40 in under 5 seconds, and cost under $30,000. He and the Alec Baldwin crowd think that the only reason we don't all have electric cars is because the car companies are in bed with the oil companies.

      So Tesla comes around and spends hundreds of millions to prove them all wrong... and it will only cost us $100,000 a car! Thanks Tesla, I'm sure the big car companies are really worried about competing with an electric car at $100,000. Thanks, Dave, for reminding us that you can afford one, and we can't.

      Liberals don't care what damage extreme environmentalism does to our prosperity. It's politically correct, and it allows them to act like they actually care about something other than themselves and their power. We know they really don't care about the average citizen, or they wouldn't force cap and trade on us. Or subsidize failing "renewable energy" companies.



        • 5 Years Ago
        You had me until the last paragraph.

        Why does wanting electric cars to be viable and available hurt our prosperity? People will simply not buy them if they don't find them appropriate for their situation (which means most everyone). We have nothing to fear from developing electric cars.

        And I say this both as a liberal and as a person who knows better than to think that a significant number of people will spend $120K for a two seater or $58K for a 5-seater that only goes 160 miles.
      • 5 Years Ago
      So, Letterman is a buffoon. Big surprise.
      • 5 Years Ago
      GM really should've been more creative with the EV1's financial aims. If cost was such a driver, why not sit down with the lessors and pass the responsibility over to them? Lutz did explain clearly what he believed to be the reasons the EV1 was terminated, and I don't think he can be faulted for that.

      However, GM should be faulted for resisting creative thinking when it came to the implementation and distribution of the EV. They held on to the IP with an iron grasp, when they could've shared the burden with individuals, VCs and other interests. In the end the lessons from GM's multi-billion-dollar exercise were squandered, they did immense damage to their reputation, and buyers were left without recourse.

      I have a strong feeling that maximum Bob was not privy to all this at the time.
        • 5 Years Ago
        But thats just it, give the users the choice to pay the bills, etc.

        Its like Lamborghini worried about the running costs on a Reventon. Just tell someone the price they have to pay - however crazy - and give them the choice. If the driver already has the car in their garage, those with means will find a way to keep it.

        GM was too worried about lawsuits over flaming batteries and stupid warranty claims when they could've easily drawn up a waiver absolving them of any responsibilities after the "sale" occurred.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The vehicle was losing money per-copy sold. It wasn't an issue of just trying to amortize R&D across more vehicles.

        I tell you what, I have a business plan where I sell $100 bills for $80. Where can I find investors to share in the profits with me? Wait, where did you all go?
      • 5 Years Ago
      At the end of the day a $40,000 car makes no sense right now. The economy is in the hole and there are cheaper alternatives, like the new insight which costs half and gets great milage. I don't care what Lutz says GM abandoned the EV-1 completely instead of using research and the market to drive the cost down. Any brand new tech is expensive in the first generation and then the prices drop in future generations. It is not like GM just took the EV-1 off the road and cont. to research and develop fuel efficient and environmentally friendly cars and trucks. They instead gobbled up as much profit as they could while producing crap cars and outsourcing the production to foreign countries. The media and America in general did not care then because times were good economically in our country . Now we care, all the sudden? At this point there is no one to blame but the Big 3 themselves. I will not be rooting for this car, not because I don't love the United States but because they did this not the American Consumer.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "They instead gobbled up as much profit as they could while producing crap cars" The unions are to blame as well. Billions went into overpaying line workers and sunk in to ridiculous retirement funds which instead should have been allocated to engineer better cars, engines and alternative drivetrains.
        • 5 Years Ago
        There was no way to drive the pack price down low enough to make that car viable. How much value exactly do you think people put on a 2 seater that only goes 130 miles and cannot be filled back up quickly? The answer is they didn't put enough value on it compared to how much the car cost to make and sell.

        It is explained rather well by the Ford guy in "Who Killed the Electric Car?". He said (something to the effect of) "Electric cars cost a lot more to make but when we explained what it could do (limited range, etc.) people expected to pay less for the car than a gas car, when due to the costs it had to be priced much higher."
      • 5 Years Ago
      Do you even read what you write?

      "At the end of the day a $40,000 car makes no sense right now. The economy is in the hole and there are cheaper alternatives, like the new insight which costs half and gets great milage."

      hmm how could i counter that point you made? Oh I know... I'll counter it by plucking another quote right out of the same damn comment you wrote:

      "Any brand new tech is expensive in the first generation and then the prices drop in future generations."
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