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Have Electric Vehicles Been Over-Hyped?

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(File photo by Jeff Gilbert)

(File photo by Jeff Gilbert)

jeffgilbert Jeff Gilbert
Automotive reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBS Radio News....
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DETROIT (WWJ) – One of the driving forces behind the Chevrolet Volt says the vehicle has been a victim of unrealistic expectations.

Retired GM Vice Chair Bob Lutz, who says he gets better than 200 miles per gallon with his Volt, says the vehicle was never meant to be mass market, but was often portrayed that way.

“There was exaggerated hype, and exaggerated expectations,” said Lutz, in a morning keynote address at the SAE World Congress. “The way the media made it sound is that everybody’s next vehicle was going to be electric.”

Lutz, who did not stop to talk to reporters after his speech, said nothing about GM’s aggressive public sales projections for the Volt, which the company had to back off on. GM now says it will build the Volt to market demand.

Electric Vehicles will become practical, Lutz says, when they have ranges of 400 miles, recharge in less than an hour, and cost the same as gasoline vehicles.

“I personally believe in the future of electric vehicles, because they are very efficient,” he said. “They’ve got far fewer moving parts.”
Lutz is far less bullish on diesel powered vehicles, at least in the U.S. market. He says American clean air rules make the technology cost more here than it does in Europe, where diesels make up more than half of passenger car sales. European government policy also makes diesel fuel far cheaper than gasoline.

“The American public by and large has figured it out,” he said. “Diesels from a cost of ownership point—in the United States, with present technology and present emissions—diesels do not make economic sense.”

These comments come just hours after Lutz former employer, General Motors, announced that its diesel Chevrolet Cruze will get the best fuel economy of any non-hybrid, 46 miles per gallon. GM says the diesel Cruze will have a starting price of $25,695.

BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes all sell diesel powered passenger cars in the United States. Lutz admits they have a loyal following.

“That gives diesel a certain cache in the United States as the intelligent way to save fuel. But, it’s mostly psychological.”

Lutz returned to many of his familiar themes, saying that the best way to get Americans to buy fuel-efficient vehicles is to raise the gasoline tax….and saying that skeptics should be included in the debate over global warming.

But, Lutz admitted that neither of those ideas had much traction, given the current political climate.

He told the engineers in the audience that they were needed to solve a number of future problems, including meeting new fuel economy rules. Lutz joked that while he’s not an engineer, he’s never had a problem telling engineers what to do. His advice today, forget about also trying to get a business degree.

“I would say concentrate on being a hard-core, hands on, highly skilled, highly successful engineer.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Email: jdgilbert@cbs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/carchronicles
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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