GM 2007 Ride and Drive

Monday night I represented TH at GMs recent Collection show with 13 other blog types — some environmental, some car related and some all-around Southern California blogs. This is their traveling show presenting all of their cars achieving 30+ mpg, and a few prototypes of things to come. I was hoping there would be more riding than driving, but this event was actually a chance to sit down with GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz and talk all things hybrid, electric and flex fuel.

The evening started with a tour of the fleet — held at Universal Studios outside of the Terminator 3D ride and the Mummy ride. All of the cars were arranged on a green runway carpet. We mingled out front and got a quick rundown of the showcase cars. Dave Barthmuss, of GM, held the tour and reiterated GM's commitment to have the most fuel-efficient line of vehicles among all car companies. Currently GM has 24 vehicles that get 30 mpg or greater. To achieve this goal, GM is focusing on hybrid vehicles and flex-fuel (ethanol and biodiesel) vehicles. GM has 5 hybrids now, and plans to have 12 hybrids out on the market by the end of 2008. The ultimate goal for all of this is to reduce the amount of fuel used.From here, we wandered inside the Globe Theater where four vehicles were displayed, along with mockups of newly designed interiors. While I had my fingers crossed for the ride-along in the Chevy Volt, but that was not in the cards tonite. But the room was lit up like an auto-show unveiling and we were all chomping at the bit to check out the four celebrities.

The Chevy Malibu (both regular and hybrid) versions are completely new for 2008. The goal was to create a $20 thousand dollar car that feels like a $40 thousand dollar car. Therefore, Malibu owners can add any interior upgrade that they would be able to find in any GM car. Malibu Hybrids are available for around $23 thousand dollars.

The Chevy Volt, an all-electric car, that at this time is still a concept car, is cool to look at, and someday picture yourself behind the wheel. At this time, finding a technologically available and steady battery supply is the only hitch. Ideally this car is perfect for the 40 mile daily commuters, therefore enabling the car to run almost entirely on battery power and no gas. Hopefully, the Volt should be available by 2010 or 2012.

Barthmuss and his colleagues brought up an interesting point, particularly when considering electric cars, namely that there are a lot of interior parts and programs that run on electricity in your average car. Therefore, for the electric cars (the Volt), one option under consideration is to make varying levels of Volts, for example to have the eco-freak type package. This would allow car owners to choose to save electricity for car driving by choosing to roll windows up by hand, for example.

The Chevy Equinox is the fuel-cell vehicle, and this brought up an intense round of discussion on why the decision to look into hydrogen fuel-cell cars when the infrastructure is unavailable at this time and when electric cars seem to be the local next solution. GM said that they want to have lots of options in their portfolio and that none of the cars are a silver bullet. Most of the technology for the fuel-cell vehicles came from the EV-1 and GM likes to think that they didn't kill the electric car, but rather just improved upon it. There are 30 hydrogen "fill-up" stations in California today and Barthmuss said they have every expectation that this number will only increase.

100 of the Equinox vehicles will be tested in three markets — California, New York and Washington, DC. You can go online to see if you qualify to test one of these demonstration vehicles by going to Chevrolet.com and clicking on "Fuel Solutions."

GM's flex fuel vehicles are also coming on the market, as GM is working to make E85 more available. Currently they are working with 14 states (moving West to East in the US) to increase distribution at fuel stations.

Overall there is an increase in attention to detail, particularly the interiors of the cars. All of the cars have an update in color schemes, textures, lights, lines feels, seams, steering columns and other design words that I know nothing about. The emphasis makes each car feel like a luxury car.

At the end of the tour we wandered back to the hotel for dinner. Now with the wine flowing and food in front of our faces, we sat down with Segueway driving, $5,000 watch wearing, GM Vice Chairman, Product Development and Vice Chairman of GM North America Bob Lutz. Some of the techno car talk was over my head but can be found on Matt Kelly's blog at The Next Gear.

A few interesting points from the techno talk included a comparison of hybrid cars and what makes the consumer choose one hybrid vs. another or a hybrid vs. regular auto. Of particular note, Lutz pointed out, was that most hybrids now are just a new version of an old car, whereas the Prius is a new car all unto itself. This may account for the green marketing of Toyota and the appeal of purchasing a car that is known as a "hybrid."

The conversation also included discussions on climate change and the impacts of the auto industry on global warming. Lutz quoted several statistics on how the auto industry is having a minimal impact on the climate change situation, which leads one to ask why they would spend so much time and money engineering hybrid, flex fuel and electric cars for an issue they feel they are not responsible for. As repeated above, it seems GM is interested in reducing the fuel consumption of all of their cars, as this is a finite resource and they want to be prepared when that fuel supply runs out or at least is not optimal. While I don't necessarily agree with them, I'm happy that they are making hybrids and alternative vehicles, whether it be for climate change or to reduce dependence on oil.

The conversation also heated up over discussions on whether the auto industry will be able to meet the proposed standard of 35-mpg fuel efficiency for all cars and trucks. Lutz stated that at this time the technology is simply not there to be able to meet this standard and that no automaker will be able to abide by this regulations should it pass.

The evening ended with an apple tart, a la mode. Yum. As the only vegetarian in a room full of meat-eaters, (or a Treehugger in a room full of auto-lovers) at times I felt out of the loop both in the techno talk and on discussions on American consumption patterns. But, I did appreciate GM taking the time to sit down and have an open and honest discussion about their products, their plans for the future and why this automaker hopes to be the producer of the most fuel-efficient vehicles available.

For more information about fuel-efficient GM cars, check them out online at GM.com. GM is also active in the blog world and hosts their own site at Fastlane.

Tags: California | Fuel Efficiency | GMO | San Diego

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