The video above is GM chairman Bob Lutz eating a little crow on Bloomberg Television. In the past, Bob has said GM would beat Toyota by "a year" in the lithium-ion battery race. Now, that Toyota has said they will release lithium-ion plug-in hybrids ahead of GM's new EVs, Bob does not want to play anymore, saying it's "immaterial" who's first by a few months on next-gen EVs. The Bloomberg interview also has some juicy details about the Saturn Vue plug-in (it will have an 8- to 12-mile electric only range) and Bob says the Volt's internal release date is November 2010. Here is exactly what Bob said:
Bloomberg: Lets talk about Toyota. You know those guys. They came out yesterday and said they are going to have a plug-in electric car on the market by 2010. That's the year that you said as well. So who is going to win this race?
Bob Lutz: Well, I think it's immaterial who comes out a couple of months ahead of somebody else. And notice that they said they didn't say plug-in electric car, they said plug-in hybrid. That will be our Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid which still relies mostly on the gasoline engine coupled to a hybrid system which improves your mileage and it will have about an 8 to, maybe somewhere between 8 and 12 mile electric range. Not to be confused with the Chevrolet Volt, which is a genuine electric vehicle, which operates electrically all the time with the engine only coming in, in case of absolute necessity to recharge the battery.
Bloomberg: So, you are going to argue we're still going to be #1 when we get to 2010 coming out with an all electric plug-in car?
Bob Lutz: Yes, we are coming out with two. There is a great deal of confusion, frankly, among the media and the public, the difference between a plug-in hybrid and an extended range electric vehicle. We're doing both. The Saturn Vue is going to be a plug-in hybrid which will get about 8 to 12 miles purely electrically before it starts operating on the piston engine. The Volt is an electric vehicle, which in many circumstances will never use the piston engine at all.
Bloomberg: Lets clarify about the Volt though. Because it depends on a lithium-ion battery. You're still trying to figure out how to fully develop that technology. You're still sure you are going to have that ready for 2010? Can you give me a guarantee right now? (Smiles and laughs.)
Bob Lutz: (Sighs.) Yes and no. Yes, I guarantee that the official internal General Motors target date is November 2010. You know, so far, the batteries are not a hold up. All of the testing, bench testing we are doing on battery packs, they fully meet our expectations.
Bloomberg: When do you start production then? You gotta start production of those batteries sometime in 2009 to have them ready for the Volt. When do you start production?
Go below the fold for more Bob.
Bob Lutz: No, battery pack production can start at the same time as the vehicles.
Bloomberg: How about, Toyota, as you know, they are hugely profitable. They have been that way for the past two years. They got a much larger budget for capital spending. They wanted to catch to you guys, they could spend limitless amounts of money on technologies to catch up, can't they? That's a disadvantage compared to GM.
Bob Lutz: Yes and no. However, the fact that we are not earning anywhere near as much money as we would like to earn or should earn. But the point is, we can fund our research and development. We are spending as much on fuels cells as Toyota is. I would think we are probably spending more on hybrids right now than Toyota. So, one of the reasons we could probably instantaneously improve our profitability if we stopped doing as much advanced research and development but we see that as our future. Never forget, that's one of the reasons why I always insist on keeping the creative spirit alive in a company because money isn't everything. Less money with more creativity and more new thinking will get you more.
Bloomberg: Lets tick off, we got 90 seconds, I want to tick off a few cars. The new Hummer concept model.
Bob Lutz: HX.
Bloomberg: Yeah. Can you change the image of the Hummer as being a gas guzzler. Your sales are down pretty dramatically in the past year. How is this thing going to change your image?
Bob Lutz: Well, I think that and other Hummer vehicles are going to have to come down in size, weight, engine size and up in fuel efficiency, if the brand is going to have a future. No question about it.
In my first article about the delay in the Volt, one comment said "This incident goes to show the dangers of braggadocio and hubris" and another said "someone PLEASE point out the *promise* there." You are both right. I have to admit I thought the press coverage saying the Volt was "late" was a bit unfair. I even think I saw the Bloomberg reporter laugh a little when asking the questions about the exact release date, which he probably knew Bob could not give. There was a race though, with both sides pumping it (American Toyota staff are anyway), not just the press and GM might have well released a PR with an official release date.
Lastly, right now, while a little worrying, all of this is not a big deal. The delay is only a few months for the driveable Volts and at most a year for the release. If it does not go out any further than 2010, I really think it's forgivable and will probably be forgotten. Also, and this is really worth mentioning, Bob Lutz, even if you disagree with him, he rarely pulls his punches or lacks enthusiasm. I have not transcribed anyone else this much at the Detroit Auto Show because the guy is a really, great public figure for GM. Bob knows the car industry and loves the car industry. So, whatever comments you make, take it in that spirit, please.