Amid Fuel-Economy, Emissions Debate, GM’s Lutz Says Horsepower Still Sells


Wall Street Journal – April 9, 2007

Interesting article on the global warming problem. Can we change it if it is the fault of humans? I have read some extremists on the subject that say that we need to dramatically reduce the amount of CO2 that we put into the atmosphere. Some say that this decrease in carbon dioxide would need to be in the range of 50% in 5 years. The current proposals in Congress are more conservative – 4% increase in fuel economy per year for 10 years (which is about 34% in 10 years).

This article shows that may not be possible. Mr. Lutz, vice chairman for product development, says that current technology may not get there and that the cost of implementing that technology is extremely high. He also says that the US consumer is not interested in buying such cars – they want more horsepower.

Bob Lutz, General Motors Corp.’s vice chairman for product development … painted a bleak picture of the automobile fuel efficiency and global warming debate swirling around the auto industry today. And he had a challenge for the industry’s green critics.

he says, “The simple naked fact is every time you come out with a vehicle with more horsepower, it sells better than the old one with less horsepower.”

At the same time, leaders of Congress and the president, who agree on very few issues these days, are in harmony in calling for auto makers to do more to cut CO2 emissions and oil consumption, including boost the average fuel economy of new vehicles by 4% a year for the next 10 years.

Bolstering the case for more aggressive standards, studies like a recent paper from the Union of Concerned Scientists arguing that auto makers could build a minivan with about $300 in extra equipment that would exhale 43% lower volume of greenhouse gases and generate about $1,300 in savings to consumers over its lifetime — paying back the extra initial cost in less than two years.

Mr. Lutz says market trends show consumers aren’t willing to pay more for vehicles that use expensive new technology to get better mileage.

Auto makers over the past decade have tended to build cars that are faster and heavier. But Mr. Lutz says that’s a response to market demand in a country where gas is cheap, and that with modern technology just making cars slower won’t make much difference to their fuel intake. “If it were as simple as sacrificing 20% performance to get 20% fuel economy that’s the first tradeoff we’d make,” he says.

Lutz: “Take all of the available technology: Spark-injected direct injection, dual-cam phasing, electric power steering, active battery management — where the battery only cuts in when the alternator sends a signal that it needs it — go to lower rolling resistance (tires) … All of that gets you 4-5% at a cost of $600-$700.: Phase two, he says, is hybrid technology such as the starter-alternator system used to extend the mileage of GM’s Saturn Vue. “Now you are adding $2,000 on top of that, and that gets you another 7%. You are 14-15% short … And now we’re out of ideas.”

Out of ideas, he says, unless there’s a government subsidized push to transform the current gas-fueled vehicle market into a market in which all vehicles can burn ethanol — ideally distilled from low-cost materials such as wood chips Ė and operate in all-electric mode much of the time.

Lutz: “I know after you write your article the Union of Concerned Scientists will bombard us with letters saying, ‘What Mr. Lutz says is absolutely not true, they’re just trying to sidestep the thing again. The technology for achieving these goals is readily available. It costs very little.’ “My challenge to them is come to my office, meet with me and my staff. Show us your technology, and if it works and it’s cost effective and readily available, we will gladly meet the target using your technology. Gladly. Come to my office. Next week, if at all possible. Run don’t walk.”

Lutz: “Meeting these accelerated and very, very steep standards would consume the quasi-totality of our investment in engineering resources. So there’d literally be nothing left over to work on new architectures. If the choice is: ‘You can either spend the money meeting the law, or spend the money to do the cars you’d like to do but you can’t do both.’ Then you are compelled to meet the law.”

As is typical for articles in the Wall Street Journal (an excellent information source) I have been a little more liberal in taking information from the original article. I do this because most of my readers cannot get to these articles. If you can please go here.

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