Talking Volts with GM's Bob Lutz


Rick Wagoner and Bob Lutz at Launch of Volt in Detroit

Bob Lutz met with a few journalists and bloggers in Toronto after the launch of the Volt. Although Mike's the car guy here and might have asked better questions, I was local and got to go. Although he must have been tired after the flight and the traffic into town (He wondered why people were driving into Toronto in the late afternoon) he was an entertaining host who knew his stuff. I had the chance to ask a few questions:
Lloyd Alter and Bob Lutz the evening of the launch
How will you service the thing?

Just drop the battery right off the bottom of the car and ship it back to Detroit- we don’t want service people getting into the cell level. Inside the battery there are 250 cells, each sort of soft in a kind of ziplock bag, wired together into in modules of 50. We can make it longer for bigger cars or shorter if we want to. We can also tune the car for either performance or range.

I think the reason so many of our Japanese competitors are saying this lithium-ion technology will never work and it’s going to blow up on us… maybe they think we’re going to use the whole battery? In other words that we are 16 kilowatts and are going to use 16 kilowatts and stretch the battery by going to full charge and full discharge, which is very rough on lithium-ion batteries.

Actually, in anticipation of that we designed the battery pack twice as big as it needs to be… We have a 16 kilowatt battery and we use 8 kilowatts, by charging to 80 per cent only and discharging to 30 per cent only. So we’re using this 50 per cent slice of the battery’s capability, and that is the slice where a high-tech battery like lithium-ion breaths very easily.

We think that by not charging it above 80 per cent and not discharging it below 30 per cent, we can get that battery to cycle thousands and thousands of times and last 10 years… It’s the battery’s comfort zone.

How quickly can you ramp up production?

We are building 50 this year, a hundred next, we are going to run them millions of miles in every kind of climate for the next few years. I don’t know when we will release it; we are ahead of schedule because so far there have been no problems.

But there are a series of questions to be answered:

does it work?
Will people buy it?
What if the recession kills demand?

(Tyler Hamilton at Clean Break got greater accuracy with his little tape recorder)

Let us say that over the next 18 months the world goes into a major recession, car sales and fuel use drop dramatically, the steel companies produce less steel and therefore use less energy, China finds it main export markets drying up, so they are into a contraction and use less steel and aluminum and plastic. And at the same time Canadian tar sands come onstream, and coal-to-liquids come onstream. All of a sudden there is a reduction in primary demand in petroleum plus all these additional new supply sources… And the oil barrel drops to $25 a barrel and we’re looking at gas pump prices at $1.25 a gallon. I personally don’t think that’s going to happen, but that would be a dramatic event for the Volt because everybody would say, ‘Ha!, why should I bother?’

What about the price?

It is clear that it will cost more than we hoped, but there will be enough demand from rich people at first. However we have built this thing with a belt-and-suspenders attitude; as we get more experience with it we will probably be able to get a lot of the cost out. If we want to generalize the technology the price has to come down.

Could the Volt (and increasing transportation costs from Asia) help bring back Detroit and the North American manufacturing sector?

There will have to be a painful period of readjustment for the trade unions. You cannot have a society where everybody has job security, wonderful benefits, high salaries, and then you go to Wal-Mart and buy $19.99 DVD players.

What do you think of hydrogen?

I plead the fifth.

See also Tyler Hamilton in Clean Break

More on the Volt in TreeHugger:
GM Releases 2011 Chevy Volt Photos & Specifications! (Tons of Photos)
Unofficial GM Volt "Handraiser" Waiting List Tops 33,000, Potentially $200+ Million
GM Volt Gains a Cylinder, Loses a Turbo-charger

Tags: Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles | Hybrid Cars | Transportation

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