The news from Bob Lutz's opening keynote address for the LA Auto Show was that GM would be working with some California utilities to test a fleet of 100 Volts. But there was a lot more delivered in that speech and, in the best Lutz-ian tradition, the message was clear and simple: the Volt is GM's most important product. Oh, and he would not be addressing the abrupt resignation of GM CEO Fritz Henderson.

At times, Lutz sounded like a regular ABG reader, name dropping Fisker and Coda and saying he was thankful to Tesla Motors for "furnishing the proof that was needed by those of us who championed the Volt in the corporation that other people believed in lithium-ion technology as well." Now that pretty much every automaker has at least a small li-ion project, he feels vindicated for his early support of the Volt, even though he apparently took some heat for it back then. How confident is he? He said that he predicted that the market for plug-in vehicles would be about 250,00-300,000 in five years, with maybe half of those being GM vehicles. Read on after the jump to find out more about what Maximum Bob had to say.

A key part of GM's strategy to bring cleaner vehicles to market is variety. Lutz said:
At GM, we deeply believe that, in an energy-constrained world marked by dramatic growth in developing markets, it is critical that the global automotive industry – as a business necessity and as an obligation to society – develop alternative sources of propulsion based on diverse sources of energy. ... Going forward, the automobile industry simply can no longer rely on oil to supply 98 percent of the world's automotive energy requirements.
He highlighted recent progress GM has made on this front around the world: a deal with Reva to build EVs and to work with the Indian government to develop a recharing infrastructure; a new China Science Lab in partnership with SAIC, and a new Brazilian technology lab for further ethanol work. In the U.S., GM helped get the new national CAFE standard passed in D.C. "The new standards are hard to meet, and they are very tough, and they are very fair, and they are going to raise the average price of the vehicles, but we at GM are committed to meeting or exceeding them or all future requirements in this area," Lutz said. He added that GM will meet these standards by further refining the ICE, working on cellulosic ethanol (see: Coskata and Mascoma) and, of course, by working on hydrogen vehicles. The technology that gets the most attention around the world, though, is the plug-in vehicle. "Movie titles to the contrary, the electric car is far from dead at GM," Lutz said.

Three years ago, when the Volt was announced, there were many critics (especially the Japanese competitors, he said) who said that li-ion would never work in an automobile. Now, three calendar years and countless testing years later, Lutz said that GM is confident that the 16 kWh pack in the Volt will be more than up to the task of powering the Volt. The batteries are being designed to perform as advertised for ten years, but if the battery fails in the 11th year, the customer would need to bring it in and have it replaced, which will likely cost about as much as an engine overhaul on a traditional gasoline-powered car, Lutz said. "I don't see why it should cost more than that."

The Volt has been designed to comply with all major safety regulations around the world, and once production has been ramped up, and he expects that they'll be able to sell all the Volts that they can make, about 50,000-60,000 a year starting in 2012.

Lutz was preceded by Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Auto Aliance, who said that, "No U.S. industry is doing more to reduce CO2 emissions than the auto industry." He said that, for model year 2010, the EPA has rated nearly 200 models at over 30 mpg on the highway, a 47 percent increase over 2009 model year vehicles. The U.S. can't do it alone, though, and McCurdy said that Europe is a partner in reducing fuel use, and he said he "welcomed" the recent announcement of U.S.-China partnership to work on energy issues (like this one). You can listen to both speeches below.

Lutz (download 19 MB, 39 min):

McCurdy (download 4 MB, 9 min):

Our travel and lodging for this media event were paid for by the Auto Alliance.

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