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 Meanwhile, know that we are working toward a more sustainable future

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