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GM’s Lutz: Not All Eggs in Hydrogen Basket, GM Studying Plug-Ins

28 September 2006

Writing in GM’s FastLane Blog, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz outlined the company’s roll-out plans for the newly announced Equinox Fuel Cell vehicle. The purpose of the 100-plus fleet (earlier post) is to demonstrate the basic capabilities of the system and to raise national awareness.

If progress continues on the cost-target side, Lutz expects the next step to be a 1,000-unit fleet in the 2010-2012 time frame. GM’s goal is to be the first manufacturer to put 1 million fuel cell vehicles on the road—profitably—globally. But, he noted, GM is not just rolling down the hydrogen highway to the exclusion of other advanced electric drive technologies.

The key word there is “global.” Like I said last week, China may be better equipped to switch to the hydrogen economy than the US, since they’re significantly less developed and would have a far easier time of it. To really get the ball rolling in the US, automakers, suppliers, government and the energy companies have to work together and work quickly. There’s simply no other way.

Let it also be known that we’re not putting all of our eggs in the hydrogen basket. It’s going to take time to make the hydrogen economy a reality, and we have several other alternatives in the works in the meantime, beginning with the expansion of our E85 offerings, and the expansion of our hybrid lineup, as you know. That will be highlighted by the addition of our two-mode hybrid full-size SUVs next year.

We are also studying plug-in hybrids, and will have more to say about those soon. The whole key there is the development of significantly improved battery technology. But rest assured I truly believe that electric-drive vehicles have a real future in this country and around the world; the only question is the nature of the power source or sources.

We’ll have architectures that will be flexible enough to accommodate a number of different sources. And yes, believe it or not, this really is Bob Lutz talking! We are sitting on the cusp of an explosion of new technology that will change the automotive industry like nothing since its very invention. I never would’ve believed it, but I must say I’m excited to be a part of it.

—Bob Lutz on FastLane

Among the products GM is showing at the Paris Auto Show that begins today is the Saab Bio-Power Hybrid Concept—an E100 flex-fuel vehicle that incorporates the GM two-mode hybrid transmission and reportedly has plug-in battery capabilities. (Earlier post.)

(A hat-tip to Felix Kramer and CalCars!)

September 28, 2006 in Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, Plug-ins | Permalink | Comments (51) | TrackBack (0)

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Is what GM does even relevant? They seem to be desperately trying to hang onto the FUV market even though the indications are that not many people want those things any more.

All of the hydrogen crap is just a hail Mary pass to try and keep the status-quo going a few more years even though many if not all of the experts have given up on hydrogen as a practical transportation fuel.

I predict that they will be in bankruptcy within a few years - a sad day to be sure, but GM hasn't exactly been a model corporate citizen.

Interestingly, all the comments on his blog mentioning "Tesla Motors" or pointing here get moderated away

They want to put 1000 units by 2010-2012? So why is the H2 car more profitable than the EV1? They only made a couple thousand of those and gave up. Sounds like a bunch of BS to me. GM, just start making the EV1 again and watch your profits rise again. You can make it more expensive, trust me, people WILL buy it! I will!

GM will be bankrupt before they could go hydrogen. They 35 years to develop decent small cars and could have made all their vehicles Flex Fuel at no cost, yet they did neither. Instead, they are trying to sell Hummers and Suburbans. Garbage company!

Lutz changes his tune like a couch-surfer changes TV channels.

Two months ago:
General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said in an interview this week that GM doubts the benefits of hybrids, but must build them to improve its public image. "Hybrids are technologically of doubtful benefit, and expensive, but necessary from a political and public relations point of view," Lutz told Just-Auto. "Toyota has said, economically, hybrids make no sense. The reduction in fuel [consumption] does not pay for the technological content and cost of the vehicle so therefore economically it remains fairly nonsensical, so that's the left-brain analytical argument."

"The right brain is it's the popular thing to do, many people believe that if we all drove hybrids the world would suddenly get cooler again and then it's the patriotic thing to do because if you drive a hybrid you will no longer be funding the Arab terrorists, and so forth."

"So, with all those beliefs out there, you have to do a hybrid for public policy reasons."

"I don't care how much money you get out but when you've got two drivetrains, the sophisticated electronics and a big lithium-ion battery, you've got cost."

Lutz says diesels are also problematic. "The modern diesel is becoming more and more expensive as we have to have to gear up to meet Euro 5, which is very difficult."

"Let's not forget, a diesel engine is always going to be more expensive than a conventional petrol engine, that's the laws of physics."

In March, Lutz said GM is most enthusiastic about ethanol. "We think running the nation on E85 makes more sense than all the hybrids in the world," he said.

Well, common sense would have it that if a non-plug-in hybrid gets 50 mpg and a regular non hybrid (just petrol) gets 50 mpg, the pollutants are about the same, but the cost of the vehicle is much cheaper than the hybrid version. What GM is missing here, is the fact that a plug in hybrid should be able to be charged by plugging it in and consequently not burning any fuel while driving on electric only. This is in effect an electric car with a petrol backup! If GM would get on the ball with this, they could change their position real fast! I'm not holding my breath.

I keep saying, a HFC is just an electric vehicle with a fuel cell charging it. Use the same architechture and put 20mi-40mi worth of batteries and an efficient generator, using any fuel, as backup. When fuel cells and storage are solved, you could drop it right in.

Since I now know that GM just considers hybrids good PR, how likely is it that I or anyone else would buy their hybrids. I will buy from a company I know is committed to the hybrid, including continuous improvement and cost reductions. That would be Toyota and maybe Honda.

E85 better than all the hybrids in the world? Total BS.

No, we don't hate America. It's just too bad that America's leading automaker is GM. Pathetic.

wow

Couple of comments. First, it's not practical to turn a hydrogen car into an EV. The physical layout of the components would be very different. The H2 car has the fuel cell which needs to be a certain size, shape and orientation. Apparently performance critically depends on these aspects. Then it has the enormous H2 tank, maybe on the undercarriage. You can't just rip those out and replace them with batteries. Batteries have their own size and shape requirements, and environmental limitations. You can't necessarily put a battery in the same spot you were going to put a super-strong H2 tank. Yes, both kinds of cars have electric motors, but there will be substantial systems engineering challenges to solve in switching from one to the other. It's likely that in the end the two designs won't look all that similar.

The other point is with regard to the EV1. I looked into getting one of those and test-drove it but there were a lot of problems with that car. GM only sold 800 of them (leased actually) over the years, despite an active sales program. You had to build a special charging station in your garage to be able to charge it. It was only a 2 seater, and frankly even by the standards of back then the car felt cheap. Cars are much nicer today IMO, my kids have an 04 Civic which is so much more comfortable and pleasant to sit and drive in than the EV1 was that there is no comparison. The EV1 barely had an air conditioner, and people never got the rated mileage. You had to be in love with the idea of that car to love that car. As a practical vehicle it just didn't cut it.

I just started writing a post that argued this point:

- Shifting the power production from each car (i.e. burning gasoline) to the grid (i.e. burning oil and coal to produce energy for plug-ins and electrics) will only result in a marginal increase in overall energy efficiency and thus a marginal decrease in CO2 emissions.

Although I do feel that this would occur (due to lower costs to build powerplants that burn consumables), I realized that this would nonetheless be a step in the right direction.

Right now, we've got over 600 million cars each burning their own fuel. Phasing new technology in and out would require massive investments of both time and money from both companies and consumers. We can't possibly expect someone to go buy a new car that is 3% more efficient... nobody could produce that much new technology at the rate that new tech is discovered. So, we have a general slowdown in the creative process and nobody is really moving to make marginal improvements to existing technology; everyone seems to be waiting for a "breakthrough" of some sort.

Now, suppose that all of the cars were plug-in's of some sort, and now all energy production was shifted to the power companies (with some regulation of course). We'd still be consuming similar amounts of oil (because the power in your wall socket comes from SOMEWHERE); however, now the production is centralized and monitored. If there are 10,000 power generating stations dedicated to producing energy for transportation, it is much easier to phase new technology into that production process than having 600 million cars to do it in. We also remove the responsibility from the masses and (hopefully) place it on governments that actually give a damn about my kids (again, hopefully).

This is, thus, a step in the right direction and would encourage marginal improvements in technology to occur more frequently and on a large scale.

Just thought I'd share that with you, feel free to comment. Although I throw my hopes out there, I don't actually have much faith in the humanity we've come to know and love. That's why I'm saving up for a self-sustaining farm in the mountains. :D

Richard, a 50mpg hybrid versus 50mpg gasoline only vehicle are going to be configured vastly different and have a different target customer. One will be something akin to a Prius and the other will be more like a Smart fourtwo (considering available new cars).

Adam:

Your thoughts are certainly shared by many.

It is difficult to believe that GM is serious or even cares much about hybrids and PHEVs. The 100 hydrogen vehicles is a nothing but a calculated PR move.

Toyota and Honda will probably have 100+ mpg PHEVs on the road by 2010 and 200+ mpg units by 2015 while GM and Ford will be looking for a 5% increase in mpg.

Since more and more Hondas and Toyotas are being built in USA/Canada, buying their efficient cars is not being anti-American. It is just common sense.

jw, thanks for that news clip. Lutz is going to say anything to make it look like GM is trying to get away from the "we only make SUV's and trucks" image. But if he really wants to change the look of GM, he has to actually have some shipping product.

And if they aren't allowing any mention of Tesla Motors on the blog, then that is sad because Tesla only needs time to become a major player.


Adam - "So, we have a general slowdown in the creative process ..."

You hit that nail on the head!

I got way out in front of the cutting edge a few years ago in a proposal to build a highly advanced automobile. Automobile manufacturers wouldn't even talk with me about it.

Since I didn't want to see the concept wasted or delayed for many years, I decided to give it away to anyone interested. Even then it's been like pulling teeth.

Only now are we seeing some features creeping, cautiously into the field.

If only we would see an embrace of the full concept, then I would share the next step beyound the drivetrain.

It's possible to make a safe, very lightweight vehicle, using modern materials and techniques. If you are not hauling tons of useless, dead weight around, you can start getting some remarkable fuel economy.

Implicit in Bob Lutz' statements is a tacit acknowledgement that he and his product development team wasted too much time hoping against hope that gasoline prices would fall back far enough to make profitable full-size truck-based SUVs attractive again. Hybridization may prop up that segment but automobiles are highly emotional purchases: many consumers would not be caught dead in such a vehicle these days.

At the very least, GM will need to add and heavily market highly visible hybrid-specific attributes to the exterior. A Toyota Prius instantly advertises its owner's green credentials because it's a hybrid-only model. By contrast, the key advantage of the two-mode transmission is that it's a drop-in replacement for a standard AT in the driveline assembly, except for the battery pack and power electronics. Transmission packaging reduces mfg cost and risk but it does nothing to visually differentiate the socially more acceptable hybrid variants from their gas-guzzling conventionally powered brethren.

GM has much stronger powertrain engineering expertise than e.g. Ford and may well figure out how to compete effectively against Toyota both on price and quality - with or without an alliance with Nissan/Renault. However, it will take time (and profits) to overcome a perception among the general public that GM is moribund. Innovation is about managing customer expectations, and those are running ahead of GM's ability to deliver right now.

A definite commitment to bringing T2B5-compliant turbodiesel options to the US LDT market by MY2010 would bolster credibility in the near term. So far, the talk is of an introduction "after 2009":

http://www.gm.com/company/gmability/adv_tech/100_news/lightduty_diesel_082506.html

Equally welcome would be a commitment to pair all T2B5 diesels with fuel systems that can cope with biodiesel blends up to B98, in analogy to the E85 marketing effort. In-house certfication should extend to the fuels from selected xTL and/or TDP partners, as well. The added cost and application overhead would be overcompensated by the enhanced green credentials, which diesel engines badly need to gain market share in the US. Besides, these fuel alternatives might actually take off in the next 15 years, so compatibility would bolster resale values.

Wrt cars, GM needs to put more oomph behind engine downsizing. It is no longer true that nothing beats cubic inches in terms of performance and, fuel economy really matters now. More turbocharged direct injection I4s and V6s in place of naturally aspirated V6s and V8s, please!

FCVs, PHEVs and BEVs are all sexier concepts than better ICEs but for a volume carmaker, they are medium-to-long term solutions at best. Besides, producing a very small number of super-green models to greenwash all those gas-guzzling sinners is the industrial equivalent of medieval indulgences. GM should leverage its huge sales volume to let as many of its customers as possible contribute towards GHG reductions in the NEAR term. It's all about defining what the letters GM will stand for going forward.

Adam,

Very little US power comes from oil. Coal is #1 followed by a mix of nuclear, natural gas, hydro, then oil, wind and solar. In fact you could add together oil, wind and solars contributions and it is still smaller than any other energy source we use for electricity generation. Around 50% of electricity is generated by Coal alone.

To state the obvious: this guy has no credibility. Like Bush, he should be judged on results not intentions or rethoric. In both of their cases these are grounds for dismissal. Bankruptcy is the path both are on. When or Will Americans wake up?

Bankruptcy is fine for GM. They get rid of their debts, their contracts, and get to start over.

I don't think bankruptcy would work for the US though...

"And yes, believe it or not, this really is Bob Lutz talking! We are sitting on the cusp of an explosion of new technology that will change the automotive industry like nothing since its very invention."

Believe it or not Bob Lutz, GM will be a part of this explosion of new technology- the shrapnel. You and W are mission disadvantaged.

Toyota fanboy who wants his PHEV

I want the Dodge Avenger to come out with a hybrid drivetrain and under 3000lbs more than any Toyota. Does this make me a Chrysler fanboy? (This would be with the assumption that they can make the non hybrid come in under 2800lbs which is unlikely when you look at the 4000lb weight of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, but I can always dream!)

Patrick, if the hybrid car is not recharged from the grid then you still have a car that is totally dependant on oil. Whether you have a hybrid or an non hybrid with the same gas milege, you still have an oil dependand vehicle, and ultimately, the point is to move away from oil consuming cars. The hybrid system just adds to the cost of the car. A plug in hybrid would be worth it because you are running your car on other forms of energy, best case cenario, solar or wind, therefore costig nothing. If you can't plug it in, you might as well have a car is efficient but without the added cost of a hybrid system. That, by the way, is VW's stand on why they aren't developing hybrids. Pretty sound thinking.

Guys, i'd REALLY recommend reading the presentation over at Tesla Motors site. Biased maybe, but its damn hard to argue with the merits of a pure BEV, and its getting harder by the day as batteries are improving fast

Here is the presentation link again:
http://www.teslamotors.com/blog1/?p=25

Richard, if I bought a PHEV it would be a HUGE waste of money for me as I would be paying for components and functionality I could NEVER use. I don't own a home nor do I have the $500,000 to buy the average home where I live. I could buy a condo but I'd be in the same predicament: no ability to charge up any type of battery powered vehicle (whether it is BEV or PHEV).

Who cares about the added cost of the components of a hybrid drivetrain? I want the lower fuel consumption. I love your thinking: why should I buy a Toyota Corolla and pay $17,000 when I can buy a Dodge Caliber for $15,000 even though the corolla gets 32/40mpg and the caliber struggles to get 25/31, because by your line of thinking I'm not going to save $2000 in gas by going for the Toyota.

A car WITH a hybrid system combined with an efficient engine is still ALWAYS going to use less gas than an equivalent non-hybrid drivetrain that is efficient.

Hal, I actually leased an EV-1 for 2+ years (took over from an owner who died; it was the only way to get one). The interior design was on par with GM cars of the time. Didn't feel cheap. Wasn't a luxury car. The AC worked fine here in SoCal in the summer. I have no idea why you'd say it was weak. My wife and I both drove that car on trips and for daily commuting. We had the Gen II NiMH version and could do 120+ miles. On trips we'd find a plug-in and have lunch nearby. Sure, you couldn't go anywhere, but we were counting on GM advancing to EV-2, EV-3, EV-Hybrid, etc. Never saw anything out of them after that but SUVs rebadged as Cadillacs. Personally I won't believe their fuel cell work is serious until they move away from compressed gas storage.

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