On top of the test drives (Wheego Whip), test rides (Coda Sedan) and a visit to the unlimited energy booth, a highlight of the AltCar Expo last weekend was getting to hear the LA Times' premiere auto scribe Dan Neil moderate two sessions called "Some Inconvenient Questions." Neil was lucky to have on his panels some of the most knowledgeable people in the green car world who were able to discuss and promote their favored technologies (plug-in hybrids, hydrogen, etc.) without beating each other up. Well, Neil dished out a few critical hits at the idea of hydrogen cars but also allowed Honda's Steve Ellis to rebut his doubts about the efficacy of H2 as an energy carrier for vehicles. All in all, it was an entertaining three hours (four-and-a-half if you count the Tech Review Panel that took place just before Neil's events) in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. We've got details and audio recordings of everything after the jump.

First, the one newsworthy bit. Responding to a question from an audience member during the Q&A for the Tech Review Panel, GM's Dave Barthmuss said that GM would consider selling Chevy Volt gliders (that is, vehicles without a powertrain) to EV enthusiasts who want to make their own pure electric versions of GM's halo car (the audio for this starts at around 1:15:00 in the file, see below). Selling gliders is not something that GM has on the table right now, but Barthmuss said "maybe that's a profit center for us ... maybe there's something we can give you to do your own conversions." Barthmuss also said, repeatedly, that GM will build "tens of thousands" of Volts in the first year. Later in the day, Barthmuss also said that GM is on record saying that they are prioritizing the plug-in powertrain of the Volt over the fuel cell powertrain in the Equinox.

Dan Neil touched on CNG, LPG, BEVs, and hydrogen during his first panel. While CNG is being promoted as an alternative to gasoline vehilces, Neil made the point that the competition for CNG cars is really pure electrics, because the range of the BEVs is approaching that of CNG cars and the infrastructure is more widely available.

Neil hasn't been shy about his distaste for hydrogen cars, even one as beautiful and sexy as the Honda FCX Clarity, and his opinion caused the first serious disagreement of the day. "Hydrogen doesn't have one problem, it has many problems on the road to viability," he said, adding that more stakeholders only multiplies the error. This prompted Honda's Steve Ellis, one of that company's hydrogen fuel cell technology's biggest boosters, to respond: "Dan is just wrong." Ellis added that the DOE's own timeline for hydrogen adoption was being met or exceeded, and the auto industry was shocked by the DOE's hydrogen vehicle funding cut earlier this year. One thing the panelists seemed to agree on was that the companies most invested in building hydrogen fuel stations – today's oil companies – make mountains of cash and yet want government subsidies to build the new stations. Mike Lewis, the general manager of Pearson Fuels, explained that hydrogen fuel stations are "money hole(s) the likes of which you've never seen." Insurance costs are outrageous, he said. Ellis then offered some slides that showed the cost wasn't that bad.

click either slide to enlarge

During his second panel, Neil said that cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i MiEV have "punitive 100 mile ranges" (UPDATE: or maybe he said "putative"). Even though almost everyone would be perfectly well-served with an EV like that on a daily basis, selling electric cars that have a three-figure range is vital. Even more important is to educate people that a 100-mile range is more than enough in almost every circumstance. Want to hear more? You can listen to the full presentations using the flash players below:

Inconvenient Questions 1 (84 min)
Moderator: Dan Neil, LA Times
Panelists:
  • Steve Ellis, Manager - Fuel Cell Vehicle Marketing, Honda Motor Company
  • Mike Lewis, General Manager - Pearson Fuels
  • Dave Barthmuss, General Motors - Western Region Environment & Energy Communications




Inconvenient Questions 2 (84 min)
Moderator: Dan Neil, LA Times
Panelists:
  • Jeff Curry, Better Place
  • Tom Gage, President and CEO - AC Propulsion
  • Dean Taylor, Senior Program Manager & Scientist - Southern California Edison




Tech Review Panel (77 min)
Moderator: Rick Sikes, Fleet Superintendent - City of Santa Monica,
Panelists:
  • Steve Ellis, Manager - Fuel Cell Vehicle Marketing, Honda Motor Company
  • Dave Barthmuss, General Motors - Western Region Environment & Energy Communications
  • Dean Taylor, Senior Program Manager & Scientist - Southern California Edison
  • Terry Karges, ROUSH




Alternately, if you'd like to download and take the MP3 files with you, you can grab them (right click) here:


Apologies for the skips in the MP3 files. Have no idea how those got in there considering we used a flash-based recorder. Also, thanks to Zan Dubin Scott for help with this post.

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