Bob Lutz: Electric Vehicle Market Is Just Fine, As Slow As It Is

5 years ago by Jay Cole 16

Bob Lutz With His Newest Product, The VIA VTRUX-Coming In 2013 (Photo by Terrence Taylor, courtesy of Charged EVs Magazine)

Bob Lutz, the man behind the nation’s best selling plug-in, the Chevrolet Volt and now de facto front man (and board member) for VIA Motors, maker of the extended range plug-in VTRUX (which is essentially a plug-in conversion of a Chevy Silverado), has taken some time out of his busy schedule to give his ‘State of the Union address’ on the health and outlook of the electric vehicle market.

“After years of breathless hype surrounding the imminent triumph of electric vehicles, (wherein all participants, be they battery companies, the federal government or EV startups, got roundly drunk on their own wine), we now see all the revelers waking up to a colossal hangover.”

VIA Lineup Of Future Vehicles (Truck, Suburban And Van)

Bob takes the time to point out the failures of some high profile companies, like the recent bankruptcy of A123, and the troubles at Fisker and Coda automotive, while maintaining that the reality of “low fuel prices, abundant oil supply, and high EV prices” have put early over-enthusiasms in check.

Mr Lutz says he has always has had the opinion that the early days would be a slow process converting the public to plug-in vehicles, but predicts by 2020 10% of the US market will be electrified, but mostly by EREVs until pure electrics develop more.

“I have always maintained that pure EVs will have a limited future until there are cars selling for $30,000 with a reliable 300-mile range. Extended-range EVs (EREVs), like the Chevrolet Volt, overcome the range problem, but at a steep price premium. (The only segment where I see fast adoption of extended-range EVs is in full-size pickups, sports utilities and vans because their gasoline counterparts use so much fuel that the owner of an EREV version will actually save money almost from day one.)”

Mr. Lutz With VIA's Top Of The Line Crew Cab Truck That Features A 24.4 kWh Lithium Battery, Good For 30-40 Miles Of Electric Driving

It is worth nothing that Mr. Lutz’s current job is selling extended range trucks, and that it is still fairly hard to make the case that a vehicle like the VTRUX Silverado, which gets up to 40 miles of electric range for an “anticipated $79,000 in volume” will ever save the owner any money over just buying a traditional Silverado, which starts at around $24,000.

We do think that if GM themselves decided to electrify a truck (or SUV) of their own, they could probably have a much sharper pencil pricing it…and that it would probably be a good idea to get working on that now.

So, how does Mr. Lutz envision the future long term?

“Ultimately, of course, the world will be populated by EVs only, and I make that prediction frequently. Trouble is, nobody quite seems to hear “ultimately,” or can’t or won’t understand it.  There are amazing similarities between the “dot-com bubble” of the nineties and the “EV bubble” of today. In both cases, mindless, even dogmatic enthusiasm was rewarded by harsh financial penalties.

We never seem to learn! (And the media always seem to play their role in keeping us stupid.)”

Check out Mr. Lutz’s full commentary at Forbes, or  reserve your own VIA VTRUX (for only $1,000) here.
(Photo by Terrence Taylor, courtesy of Charged EVs Magazine)

Tags: , , , , , ,

16 responses to "Bob Lutz: Electric Vehicle Market Is Just Fine, As Slow As It Is"

  1. Jay Cole says:

    Just adding a thought (outside the story itself) it seems like Bob has a real disdain for “the media” these days, and never includes himself as being an integral part of the over-hyping of the segment.

    I have a lot of respect for Bob, but I always thought of him as one of the originators of the “over-enthusiam” behind the segment. His voice on electric vehicles was really the only one we heard back in 2007-2009 (we didn’t even have a competitor against the Volt back then), and still the leading authority in 2010… to say he was bullish at the time was an understatement.

    Here is a random quote Lyle Dennis got from talking to Mr. Lutz back in April of 2010 about the Volt’s outlook:

    My guess is the initial demand for the vehicle (Volt) will be so high that we will decide to expand capacity as fast as we can and as much as we can. The studies for this are starting, but we have to actually wait until the vehicle is on sale to see what the true world-wide demand is. But right now our production is being laid out for fifty to sixty thousand a year once we’re in full swing which will be the calendar year 2012.

    I believe that’s at least fifty percent too low. I believe the true word-wide demand is more like one hundred to one hundred twenty thousand and that may not be enough.”

    …I do agree with his position on the EV market at the moment (especially on the EREVing of larger vehicles), but I think his vision of history is a little revisonistic when it comes to his “Andy Rooney”-like commentary these days on the media

    1. Josh says:

      I read his article and felt the same that he was driving the hype as much as anyone, but it was probably required to keep the board supporting Volt through the bankruptcy. The tech will pay off for GM in the long run.

      After reading his article, I was pissed that we do not have a CrossVolt yet. Maybe he didn’t have his larger vehicle EREV epiphany until he was cashing VIA cheques (thats for you Jay ;)).

  2. shawn marshall says:

    Nice to see you and Bob making nice!!!

    1. Jay Cole says:

      We never really agreed on how popular the Volt was ultimately was going to be, but how can you not love the guy?

      He has (had) just the right amount of crazy in him to kick start a project like an electric car.

      I imagine this site (and others) would not exist today if not for him green-lighting the Volt. The same can probably be said for the $7,500 federal credit that everyone enjoys today, which always seems both timed to the Volt’s release, and tailored to the Volt’s 16 kWh battery.

      His over-enthusiam/confidence back in 2007-2010 at GM probably also lead a lot of other manufacturers to get serious about their plug-in programs or be left in the dust…which probably directly lead to the car that are getting released today ie) Prius plug-in, Ford C-Max Energi, etc.

  3. BlindGuy says:

    For the general public, I think the price at the pump is the #1 reason for people to invest in an EV. Unfortunately for EV adoption, we saw regular gas for $2.89 at our local station today. I do think the trend to buy more efficient vehicles is happening but EV sales will suffer with gas prices relatively cheap here in the USA. I am glad that we bought an American EV now to help this long-term solution grow sooner, because drill baby drill can only be a short-term solution and the American auto industry needs to be competitive in the EV market. JMO.

  4. scottf200 says:

    I quite bullish on the EREV trucks/SUV/van … for long term fleets. The cost calculator is fairly convincing!!! http://www.viamotors.com/vtrux/life-cycle-savings-calculator/

    1. GeorgeS says:

      Seems like fleet vehicles that run less than 40 miles a day are the best place for this vehicle to pay off. I don’t see the general public wanting to pay that high a price even if the pay off is there.

      The other problem I see is the statistical part. The average daily driving general public drives 40 miles or less but I’m not sure we would see that for business/ fleet trucks. It would be nice to see the marketing data for average daily miles driven for different types of businesses that use trucks like these.

      1. scottf200 says:

        I’m not sure why you are stuck on 40 EV miles. What if they go 60 or 80 or 100 miles. What is their net “MPGUsed” … still way higher than a standard heavy duty pickup. Remember these come with a “mobile generator” as well vs hauling/pulling one. Lot of press releases that have good tidbits in them from various fleets/companies. http://www.viamotors.com/category/news/press-releases/

        Truck sales every month are HUGE. Blows me away seeing them compared to ‘popular’ cars. Food for thought.

    2. vdiv says:

      Yeah?! So how are the Via Truck sales going? ‘Cause you know I see at least one every day.

      I think Maximum Bob is full of it. Sometimes it’s good stuff, sometimes he is just making noise.

  5. Herm says:

    There is probably no payoff electryfing a $24k Silverado, but a $55k one is a different story

  6. Dave K. says:

    I think Blindguy hit the nail on the head, $3/gal. gas is not painful enough to change people’s behavior. But I (and others with math skills) am absolutely certain there is a payback for most of the production EVs and PHEVs now. A factor not often mentioned in this context are incredibly low interest rates, something that pays back in 10 years is worth doing if you can get a 1.75% loan (local C.U. add this AM!)! The real problem is that gas prices are artificially low, if we were paying for the subsidies, added health care costs, and military expenitures at the pump you would have a hard time selling an ICE car.

  7. Delta says:

    He is still being bullish by claiming 10% by 2020. That is 2 million EVs a year just in US. That would be phenomenal.

    1. evnow says:

      You are being bullish by claiming a 20 million sales figure for all cars in the US by 2020 😉

  8. Taser54 says:

    GM will not venture into the Full-size truck/SUV realm on its own. It doesn’t make commercial sense to risk it at this time.

    What is going to happen is that GM will allow VIA to continue to perfect its platform and when commercial orders for the VIA platform begin to outstrip production capability by a certain margin, GM will purchase VIA and bring it into the fold. VIA’s owners will be rewarded for taking the startup risk. GM will be rewarded with a commercial EREV platform. The customers will be rewarded with GM’s production capability, quality controls, and dealer network servicing.

  9. Schmeltz says:

    That’s an interesting theory you have there Taser. I would add that Via also has quite a bit of street cred since the “Father of the Volt” Bob Lutz is deeply involved in their endeavors. It’s almost already a sub-brand to GM, all they would need to do is put a Chevy bow tie on the front.

  10. scottf200 says:

    Quantum does conversions for the F150 but they are pretty basic by comparisons. No built in generator as an example. PDF here: http://www.qtww.com/f150-phev

    Via motors deliver 25-30kW for 120v/240v. Recent article in the Charged Elec Vehicle mag had article on “eFleets” that gave a lot of examples of scenerios. PG&E ulities provided some of using the generators for work and as temp power of a section of a grid.