Bob Lutz has worked for BMW, Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Corp. and, most famously, General Motors, where he served as vice chairman until 2009 before retiring from GM altogether in 2010. He now serves on the board of Utah-based VIA Motors, which will soon start production on an extended-range electric truck, cargo van and passenger van using a similar powertrain to the Chevrolet Volt. The VIA Motors VTRUX can travel 40 miles as a pure electric vehicle and up to 400 miles using a gas generator. It is also equipped with 240- and 120-volt power outlets that allow the truck to export power and work as a back-up generator. We caught up with the 81-year-old Lutz to talk about his latest business venture and his legacy.
Former General Motors executive Bob Lutz has joined the board of Utah start-up Via Motors, which will make extended-range electric trucks, SUVs and passenger vans using a similar powertrain to the Chevrolet Volt.
Q. Do you think the Volt should have been a truck, not a sedan?
A. We started at the wrong end. The whole automotive industry made the intellectual mistake of thinking EVs were all about maximum range, so we all started with small vehicles that are basically very economical anyway. Yes, you do save fuel. You can use a smaller battery, but it makes less sense to take a 40 mpg vehicle and make it electric than it does to take a full-size pickup truck or SUV which in town realistically gets 11 to 12 mpg. If you take that to 100 mpg, now you’re really saving money and saving a scarce natural resource and reducing CO2 emissions drastically. The realization came to me suddenly late that the right place to electrify is at the heavy end, with full-size pickups and SUVs, which America loves but which are a somewhat endangered species with fuel economy regulations.
Q. Do you think electric vehicles would have the same marginalized, tree-hugging reputation if they had started with pick-up trucks instead of small passenger vehicles?
A. It would have changed it. Bigger trucks are the only electrified vehicles that I know of that make instant economic sense because the fuel saving is so large that you will more than get back your monthly lease price.
Q. What’s the return on investment for a VIA Motors vehicle?
A. The lease cost for the vehicle will go up by about $300 a month against a fuel saving of $400 to $500 per month based on how much you drive.
Q. Electric vehicles have been on the market only three years, so their batteries are far from being retired for a so-called second life as energy storage. But VIA is addressing that?
A. Yes. The batteries are warrantied for eight years and have an expected life of more than 15 years. The other feature is exportable power. Every one of these trucks has power outlets. Imagine a suburban homeowner owning a Chevy Tahoe with VIA technology. If you have a power outage, you go out and start your truck and plug in. You don’t have to buy an emergency generator. You’ve got a week’s worth of power.
Q. You’ve said some critical things about hybrid vehicles in the past. Is your embrace of EVs now a reflection of your concern about your legacy?
A. I am what I am. To some people, I am the environmental Antichrist because I own and fly a former military jet fighter. I have what is known as a very large carbon footprint. I like high-powered cars like Corvette ZR1s, but on the other hand people have trouble figuring me out because I’m also deeply involved and a believer in vehicle electrification. Unlike previous hybrids with little economic return, extended range EVs make economic sense for both the automaker and the consumer.
Q. How do you reconcile that?
A. They’re all interesting technologies. I like vehicle electrification because it will in the future be, by far, the most efficient propulsion form, and electric vehicles are great to drive. They’re quiet. They have enormous power. The only problem today is they don’t have enough range.
Q. When did you decide that electrification is the end game, rather than hydrogen or some other alternative fuel, in terms of fuel-efficient vehicles?
A. It was a gradual turning point. I’ve always been receptive to new technology, but what annoyed me in 2005, 2006 was all of this credit that Toyota was getting for the Prius. Only the Japanese, only Toyota could do this. General Motors had hybrids like that running in 1968. We just never elected to produce them because it was a bad business proposition. That was a mistake. But I continually said we need to do something to get GM’s reputation for advanced technology back.
*By Susan Carpenter. To view full story, please visit http://www.ocregister.com/articles/vehicles-541356-electric-vehicle.html
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