• Sep 4th 2009 at 8:58AM
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Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen has issued a public response to the firestorm he created yesterday when he reportedly told a member of the media that the Chevrolet Volt is "a car for idiots." Anyone who has met de Nysschen in person knows he is not one to mince words. He (and Audi) has been a strong proponent of diesel technology as an important near-to-mid-term method to reduce petroleum consumption, but given that Audi is planning electric vehicles of their own – at least in concept form – the remark caught many offguard.

In his new statement released on Audi's Facebook page, de Nysschen declares that he doesn't specifically remember using the words attributed to him, although he doesn't deny the sentiment behind them. Essentially, he, along with many others, is highly dubious of the viability of General Motors' ER-EV concept, particularly from an economic standpoint. de Nysschen also highlights the fact that government policies are one of the driving forces behind electrification.

While noting that in the long-term, electrified propulsion systems will be a major part of the transportation system, he points out that many questions remain unresolved including the readiness of the power grid and generation systems to support large quantities of EVs.

Just as de Nysschen questions these elements, many will make precisely the opposite argument. The reality is likely to fall somewhere in between, with a number of these technologies playing an important part for the foreseeable future. The grid is probably more ready than most doubters think, but the time frame for driving down the cost of batteries may not be so easy to tackle. Increasingly efficient internal combustion engines will be critical, especially for long distance travel. While history sorts out what technologies will be winners over the long haul, you can read de Nysschen's statement right now after the jump. What do you think? Drop your fellow reader a line in 'Comments.'

[Source: Audi | Image: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty]


A note from Johan de Nysschen, President, Audi of America:

An online report today, subsequently picked up by various other forums, left an unflattering sense of my feelings toward electric vehicles and the people who support their development. Let me clearly state that, in my opinion, electric vehicles will be part of the future transportation of society – but only if we go about it the right way. In fact, Audi is working on electric vehicles.

I do not specifically recall using the term "car for idiots" during my informal conversation with the writer. It was certainly not my intention to leave the impression that I'm opposed to electrical vehicles, and if I was unclear on either of those points then I need to eat crow.

What I do recall is the essence of my contention, namely that the feasibility of the Chevrolet Volt as a concept is questionable. And that policy decisions – and the industry's reactions to those decisions – are leading us toward a technology that may sound tempting on the surface, but, as of now, also contains many deep and unsolved economic and technological compromises.

"Mass electrification" of the vehicles on American roads could lead to problems like a strained electric grid. Large-scale utilization of electric vehicles will require massive investment in new power stations that are much cleaner than the ones in use in the U.S. today. Otherwise, it could merely shift greenhouse gas emissions from the tailpipes of cars to the smokestacks of coal-burning utilities. That's not just my opinion. The California Air Resource Board this past April concluded that electric vehicles presently are second only to hydrogen cars in greenhouse gas impact when measured on a well-to-wheel basis.

Returning to the Volt, my point was simply one of its economic feasibility today. The 50% or so price increase that the Volt represents over a similar gasoline car cannot be offset through the savings from reduced fuel consumption. The only way to offset the extreme premium for the Volt is through taxpayer-funded subsidies. So I question if that makes economic sense.

Does that mean the Volt and other electric vehicles are forever impractical? Of course not.

In recent broadcast interviews, discussions with journalists and meetings with policy makers I have asserted that the future of automotive transportation lies not in any one "silver bullet", but in a range of technologies that meet different needs – all while lowering emissions and fuel consumption. That includes plug-in electric cars when technological and economic hurdles make them more practical. It includes hybrid vehicles. And it includes clean diesel along with substantially more efficient takes on today's gasoline internal combustion engines.

Admittedly I am a passionate advocate for the role that clean diesel technology can play in easing this nation's challenges. Cutting through misperceptions about clean diesel and other technologies can be frustrating. If you'd like to hear my thoughts on these issues, go to a video of my recent remarks at www.audiusanews.com. Meanwhile, know that we are working toward a more sustainable future

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'm sorry, I forgot that it's a crime to speak up against a trendy policy in the US these days. I think de Nysschen has some great points in his argument. I'd ask Autoblog readers, would anyone that reads this website pay $15,000 (!!!) over the cost of a comparable car to drive the Volt? Isn't $15,000 over venturing into "idiot" territory. Plus, Sam, would you mind posting a reference on how the grid is fine as is for the arrival of electric cars or how coal consumption will not increase with the increase of electrical demand out of garage sockets? I would appreciate it for everything else I've read has been to the contrary.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yo soul brother like no other. He is just calling it like it is, and I have to pretty much agree with him too.
        • 6 Years Ago
        People pay $10,000 Extra to drive a VW that has no distinct advantage over any Domestic competitor other than to fall apart at 45,000 miles. What's to say that they won't pay $15,000 extra to be first on the block to not use fossil fuels to power their car?
        • 6 Years Ago
        People just don't seem to get it. The volt isn't going to be Gm's magic savior car that sells billions and puts them back on top in the public eye. GM is well aware of this.

        What the volt is, is a step forward to test the waters with their new drive train technology. The fact that they have the drive train actually out on the road is. By the time the second generation of this vehicle comes out it will be a much more practical vehicle because by that point production, demand, and suppliers for such a product will be more readily available.

        Furthermore the 40k price tag is nothing more than speculation. No one knows how much the car is going to cost.
        • 6 Years Ago
        To be fair there are very few comparable cars to the Volt.

        Usually you would use things like wheel base, number of doors, and/or price etc to compare different models. The Volt has all those things but really is starting a whole new segment. I think it's fair to argue that comparing a Volt to say a Corolla is not really an accurate comparison.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I think that the CEO's will make statements and jibber jabber back and forth and when the dust is settled we'll probably have cars with the same drivetrain as the Honda FCX. When the dino juice is gone that seems to be the only car that fits the average lifestyle because you can fuel it up in under 10 minutes and be on the road again.
        • 6 Years Ago
        No, he's probably just pissed because Audi doesn't have the tech. If you were a major player in the industry and a competitor just told the press they had a 300+ mpg car that would sell for $40K, what else would they say, "good job Chevy"? Not likely, they will make speculative criticisms based on assumptions to drive down interest, meanwhile touting their own soon-to-be EV and pumping up diesel, like that's going to be powering cars in 50 years...

        Chevy has done some awesome work to push forward the viability of EVs, and while all the solutions aren't there, you have to start somewhere. If you don't like it don't buy one, but they have got the jump on something big, and in 10 years it may not look so 'idiotic'.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "As far as the Audi guy, I don't think that there is a car company in the world that has the money to properly R&D EV technology and offer 600 mile ranges on a 2 minute charges"

        Money doesn't matter. The technology isn't there. Period. And won't be for quite some time. Battery technology hasn't advanced a whole hell of a lot.

        If any car company has the R&D money, it's Audi. VW's most profitable brand, working to release another dozen new models, etc etc. If the technology was out there, or close to being realized, they'd be on it, like everyone. But it's not, and that's his point. Everyone's clamoring for a 300+ mile EV at 'reasonable' prices and no one's delivering, because no one can. Thus his focus on many alternative technologies, and clean diesel. If everyone had a TDI for long trips and an EV for city jaunts then you'd be able to realize your dream of 600+ mile range when needed, and EV for everything else. And that's exactly the sort of picture he's pushing. The realistic one.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @akboss302 - i wasn't aware chevy competed directly with Audi, I'm looking forward to reading more about model parity between both companies.

        As for the volt's claims, non-EPA verified claims, they're just that. We have no evidence a production volt will achieve the ridiculous 300+ number you've fabricated, or even the 200+ number chevy marketing's been positing. So until that happens other automakers will, instead, be relegated to looking at GM’s previous efforts, which have been paltry in the automotive sector in regards to hybrid performance (when compared to their competitors).

        No one’s saying the Volt can’t matriculate in to more viable tech 10 years down the road, in fact, none of the comments he’s made disparage a higher percentage of alternative/electric vehicles in that time span. You’re actually agreeing with him when bringing that out of context comment in. People will remain skeptical until this car hits the streets and achieves a real EPA rating, not your fanciful number.

        I sincerely doubt he or Audi is freaking out. In a month or so Audi’s customers will be able to buy an A3 which achieves the high 40s and low 50s on the highway in the real world. Now.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Bottom line, this chief executive embarrassed his company and offended a lot of American buyers. Many of us Audi owners enjoy adopting new technologies and being called an "idiot" for looking forward to this new powertrain is insulting.

        So, uh, f*** Audi.

        Secondly, what's with all these *idiot* car companies using Facebook to tarnish their brands? Honda and now Audi?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Re: Zam,

        The last time I checked both Audi and Chevrolet make cars, which by definition makes them competitors, smartass. And according to your post, I am solely responsible for generating the mileage numbers on the Volt, as you refer to them as the numbers 'you've fabricated'. The achievements of the Volt have neither been proven nor disproven, so arguing over the stats is moot - not exactly sure why you brought up the 300+ mpg's as it surely is a shot in the dark.

        My point was that a lot of people are going to be skeptical of the Volt before people can test it, as they should be with something offering so bold a claim. But changing the automotive landscape with such a vastly different car puts a lot of people on their toes, especially ones who have invested their money elsewhere. If it works, and we will find out soon enough, then this clown from Audi is going to be the one that looks like an idiot, and shouldn't be making such definitive claims before the car hits the road. I hope for Chevy's sake the car sells like crazy. It will prove that investment in this stream of technology is worthwhile, and a lot of good things could come out of it, like starting to rebuild the foundations of North America's industrial landscape.

        I'm all for Audi's efforts in making diesel a cleaner, more efficient option, but applaud Chevy for going out on a limb and risk what Audi wouldn't.

        • 6 Years Ago
        @sw, while I am a big fan of technology as a whole, reality is that EV vehicles make more sense. Let say you equip your house with solar panels, you have free energy to charge up your car. And thats it. But hydrogen for vehicle uses needs to be produced using either renewable or non-renewable energy sources. With EV cars, solar power is the energy source, with hydrogen you need other forms of energy to produce hydrogen, and to produce hydrogen you need lots of energy, it's not very efficient. Plus EV cars are simpler, there is no need for transmission or exhaust system, Hydrogen cars, more or less, work similarly as internal combustion engines (which by the way is a freaking 19th century invention).

        Down the road we will probably see various types of technologies, probably some hydroelectric hybrids. Each technology has it's own problem (EV cars require battery development) but I also know that the number of days of petrol internal combustion engines are rather numbered.

        As far as the Audi guy, I don't think that there is a car company in the world that has the money to properly R&D EV technology and offer 600 mile ranges on a 2 minute charges. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, best example, LCD TVs in 1990s, first models were like $16000 and picture quality wasn't the greatest, it was an unproven/expensive technology, but 10 years later look at it. Same thing with PCs in the 80s/90s, top of the line computers were in like $10,000 range, today top of the line PCs not only are more energy efficient and much more powerful but also a lot cheaper. Technology is constantly evolving, first generation is always expensive to develop, companies can't afford to wait to perfect the technology, developing new technologies wouldn't make much sense as no one would be able to absord the costs except for some huge corporations with government help.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I guess he overlooked the fact that his company is about to unveil an EV itself?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Nope, it's not black or white. he's quite aware. if you read the original statement or subsequent rebuttal. He's saying, quite accurately, that EVs aren't the magic solution. Audi can continue to work on their supercar concept and production EV fully understanding the technology will not meet everyone's needs for quite some time.
      • 6 Years Ago
      To Audi be careful what you say because GM could pull the card out of the hat and put a diesel electric version of the Voltec drive train out on the street. They honestly could get away with putting a vehicle out under Buick or a Cadillac at the same price range as a A4 or A5.

      It would be nice to see GM take on everybody with 3 versions of the Volt, a diesel-electric, and gasoline-electric, and a hydrogen-electric version all at the same time and limit production so they can guarantee a profit. Pick your own tree to hug.
      • 6 Years Ago
      1. The ICE is here to stay for another 100 years. It continues to be cleaner, more powerful and more effecient.

      2. Oil may indeed be a renewable resource. There has been a number of studies suggesting such a thing backed by solid scientific data.

      3. Electric vehicles are for idiots.
      • 6 Years Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Johan de Nysschen is basically the AJ Foyte of the automotive industry, so if you don’t like what he has to say “ DON’T LISTEN”. The problem with what he said, is he is correct. I have been a GM guy my whole life (up to the day it became Osoma Motors) but they are so far off the target with this. Not to mention it is ugly as sin, what happened to the concept ? that was an amazing look.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Nim rod you do know that the first set of money given to GM was by Bush, don't you?
      • 6 Years Ago
      The point is not whether he is right or wrong about his statement.
      The point is that he is in the business of selling a product, cars to the public and you do not insult your customer, any of them.
      What if you have a current A8 customer and he is considering buying his wife a Volt, now you just told him that he and his wife are idiots.
      They should seriously consider terminating him.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'm a little biased after owning 4 VWs, 3 Audis, and 1 SEAT, but I have to agree. The problem with his arguement is that while there are misconceptions about diesel, there is clearly a demand for diesel-powered vehicles. Right now, our options for a diesel car can be counted on one hand. If Audi is so committed to diesel power (as I hope it is), it wouldn't have limited it to the slow selling A3 and the bloated Q7. Give me an A4 TDI and I'll buy it. Seriously. The excuse that the govt. is in your way is valid to a point. The govt can pick on the current diesel market because it's dominated by heavy-duty trucks and a few VWs and Mercs. If say 10% of a car company's lineup was diesel, things would definitely change.
        • 6 Years Ago
        it'll be here in a few months, in the A4, and hopefully the A5 next year (the first for sure, the second my wet dream).
        • 6 Years Ago
        BTW, if you really want to turn heads, shoe-horn the V6 TDI from the Q7 into an A4 or an A5 and call it "S4d" or "S5d"... That would be a blast to drive
      • 6 Years Ago
      Refreshed story, new pic, same d!ck.
      • 6 Years Ago
      He is not more despotic than an American boss who will call you an "idiot" to your face.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I have respect for the man, he his telling how it is!
      The volt looks pretty cool, but too damn expensive to make a political statement!! Unfortunately coal is king(for most of America), and plug in hybrids don't make sense at the current time.

      The majority of volts that will be sold, will not
      be bought for the green movement, they will just be
      political statements. This will make the hippies mad man.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The notion is that money is not buying a luxury car. you can argue the relevance all you want, but that's his point. it's probably the same reason you don't see GM jumping over themselves to get this on sale in europe.
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