Bob Lutz: We Electrified The Wrong End Of The Business

DEC 5 2013 BY JAY COLE 50

Bob Lutz, former Vice Chairman of General Motors, widely considered to be the father of the Chevy Volt, and now front man for VIA Motors told the media this week at the LA Auto Show that he made a mistake in what he created with Chevrolet – in not so many words.

Related – Lutz Suggests Car Collectors Buy Model S Before Tesla Goes Belly Up

 “We electrified the wrong end of the business. Electrification makes the most sense with vehicles that normally use a lot of fuel.”

Read Also – What’s The Deal With Tesla’s Elon Musk And Bob Lutz?

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VIA VTrux At Los Angeles Auto Show With Solar Tonneau Cover Option Good For Up To 10 Additional Miles Of Range

Given his new occupation of promoting the VIA lineup of heavy plug-in vehicles, like the 40 mile extended range VTRUX based on the Chevy Silverado, this statement would seem a little self-serving; but after listening to Bob, we think he probably does actually believe in what he is saying today.

Whether its Ram, Ford, GMC or Chevrolet, or a Nissan Titan, or a Toyota Tundra, in town they are all around 11-12 miles per gallon…if you get that 11-12 miles per gallon to a 100, now you are making a huge difference.”


Separately, a PG&E Spokesperson Jason King says that their 3 year trial with VIA Motors has been great, and if the company replaced their entire fleet of pickups to VIA, they would save almost $10 million per year. The promo video also touts big demand for the VIA extended range products

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50 Comments on "Bob Lutz: We Electrified The Wrong End Of The Business"

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“but after listening to Bob, we think he probably does actually believe in what he is saying today.”
— — —
I don’t. He’s not wearing his pink tie! (j/k)

I’m still very bitter about not being bequeathed that tie when Bob left GM – promises were made!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

He’s got a point, though I don’t know if the average pickup truck buyer would have been as enthusiastic about the idea as the average hybrid buyer. There’s an awful lot of room inside a box frame for batteries, and FWD Voltec with a hefty rear electric motor for AWD would be a bit simpler and more robust mechanically.

Me, I’d like to see plugin hybrid semis with differently-geared traction motors for the rear axles, enough battery to avoid needing to run the diesel at rest stops and to handle low-speed traffic, and with an ISO-container-carrying trailer that has its own motors for improved regeneration and jackknife-prevention.

Yeh I agree. You’d think they could at least put some regen in these big rigs. I don’t understand why it takes so long.

If you look at their Via automobiles, they’re like $75,000 after incentives.

His statement that it makes sense to electrify the highest consumption vehicles first completely ignores pricing consequences.

If battery prices continue to come down, it will make business sense for mainstream brands like GM to have fully electrified or Volt-like SUV’s, etc. But until then…

Big rigs generally use most of their gas on the interstate at constant speed. As a percentage of total consumption, they’re probably the vehicle type for which regen is least effective.

Natural gas is a much better fit for them over the next 20-30 years, and maybe longer. Batteries aren’t going to get cheap enough to replace 200 gallons of diesel for a long time.

I don’t think they electrified the wrong part of the businesses. One thing I’ve continually seen is that people who buy giant vehicles really don’t care that much about fuel economy, nor do they care that much about high-tech geekiness, nor do they care much about the environment. On the reverse side, people who care about any of those 3 things very much aren’t likely to buy a truck in the first place.

Bob is only saying this because he works for VIA now and not GM.

IMO, everything should be electrified. Why would you want to limit fuel efficiency improvements to just one segment? Spreading the cost across all platforms is the best approach to make this technology affordable as well.

I agree – but I also believe most manufacturers are doing it right and starting with the smaller vehicles. The larger ones cost much more to build due to the larger batteries, power electronics, motors, etc. And those customers are the ones least likely to buy such a vehicle already. Then when you tell those customers they need to spend an extra $30,000 for a pickup truck so they can be “green” they will laugh at you.

They definitely need to get the costs down on the VTRUX. I think there is a lot of fleet demand for these. In the SUV market, the Outlander PHEV seems to be very popular. Again, the key factor is affordability.

It’s obviously very logical to save fuel costs in pickups/SUVs, but practically speaking, David brings up a very good point. Your product can make all the sense in the world, but you need to convince pickup owners to buy them.

I think what scared automakers away is that hybrid SUVs didn’t sell very well at all, so PHEV SUVs/pickups were seen as a risky investment. We have yet to see if the Outlander PHEV has legs to hold up in sales.

What automakers need to do for plugins to really take off is to go for the smartphone model. Sell them below cost, but make people pay for e-gallons, e.g. $3 per 50 miles.

I disagree with your take on this one, David. It’s nowhere near 30k extra that an EREV formula in trucks/SUV would cost, and with the margins they sell for, the makers could have built in more of the technology, stayed profitable, and more easily passed on costs without inducing Volt-like sales. Who, in “smaller vehicle” land, options 10+k worth of stuff over base price? Notwithstanding your average truck buyer’s perception of electric drive, I think the economics could have been more easily digested.

I’d look at it as an engine and a battery are like a bell and a whistle. Not for the “econo” segment. Mandates and fleet requirments, while ultimately good, built a Frankenstein market of still-expensive vehicles and anemic adoption. The idea that electric drive is actually quite nice, has gotten lost in all of this.

Yes, electric trucks need to be marked correctly or they may never be accepted for retail sales. I’m not sure how to do this, as I never shop for trucks. Maybe they could show an electric truck with a lot more torque pulling a trailer out of the mud, while the ICE truck next to it can’t do it. Or show a truck doing a burnout (do they even care about that, i dunno?). I think the on-board power outlets is a huge selling feature. People that don’t use welders, still go camping or may want backup power for their house.

Maybe they could show a truck that is majorly lifted, is all wheel drive, but does not have all the transmission parts to get in the way.


The VIA truck really shouldn’t be so expensive. After all it has a battery the size of a Nissan Leaf (24 kwh).

If they choose to do no thermal management like the Leaf…

Everything else is bigger though.

Everything is bigger… except the size of the company! Via doesn’t sell 1,000,000 conventional vehicles a year to help keep the lights on. GM and Nissan can play the long game and establish themselves as leaders in a segment that could become very profitable in the future while absorbing all of the development costs in the mean time. VIA has to price their vehicles so that they can start paying for all of the development work they’ve done a lot sooner. The question is whether they’ll get the volume they need at that price. That approach certainly didn’t work for Azure Dynamics.

I don’t totally disagree with Lutz on this, but I think the SUV market is more ripe for plug-ins that the pickup truck market. There should be options in both markets.

However, I am not sure how successful VIA will be outside of fleet sales. I think it will be difficult for the average consumer to go for an after-market conversion in large numbers. If GM purchased VIA, added it into the vehicle line, and put them on every lot, things might be different.

I’d be happy if they’d just get the Volt in every dealer lot! 😉


I think you’re being too hard on Lutz. I listen carefully to what he says and I’ve only caught Lutz only ONCE making a self-serving statement.

He’s only electrifying Pickups and Escalades, not tractor-trailers.

That said, I’m glad he made the mistake, because only the Volt and ELR have a big enough battery in them for a PHEV to get the full tax credit (and go a decent distance so the vast majority of your driving is fully electric).

I don’t get the stupidity of the OTHER manufacturers, what with their 20 mile ev only range at best. While I think that the volt battery is too small, its gobs bigger than anything else in a PHEV. And its the ONLY car with a decent battery that will get me out of a jam since we dont have any superchargers in NY State.

I wonder if clipper creek has signed a deal with via to be their ‘preferred’ home charger, since the video had both 110 volt models and the 20 amp lcs-25, whichis odd considering they’ve now stated the trucks will have 6.6 kw chargers.

After reading the headline, I somehow had a picture of top-business-managers sitting in a special chair in my mind…

Electrification started from the wrong end, because expensive cars should have been electrified first before cheap cars. It should be that if the car costs more than $80 000 then it should have fully electric powertrain.

Electric cars are fully competitive in price category around $100k.

+1, but even much cheaper ground than $100k was the right turf to develop EREV/EV’s, as a premium luxury drivetrane. Instead, we’ve had to suffer years of square peg, round hole, auto-economics and political fallout.

I love the solar panel bed cover pictured at the end of the second video. It doesn’t do anything much for range, but as a green cred and emergency zombie apocalypse/resilience option, why the hell not? That plus the big battery and generator plus outlets makes pickups a part of the resilience solution, not part of the problem.

10 miles of range seems significant to me. That could be $4/day of diesel.

Yes, although that’s under pretty optimistic assumptions, like no shade on a sunny day.

Try and punch the numbers into for your location.
800 W DC peak, an optimistic 0.85 derate factor (assumes new, clean cells, efficient DC/DC with MPPT, and zero shade 365 days/year), 0° tilt.

In NorCal, this gives me 1.1 MW*h/y, or 3 kW*h per day on average, again assuming no shade ever.
Possibly worth it for someone who regularly depletes the batteries (as it basically extends them by 3 kW*h) and usually parks in the sun, otherwise those 2 grands would be better spent on stationary grid-tied solar.

I agree with him. For pickups, the awesome torque of an electric drive train makes it the best performing vehicle as well. Like the model s, get best performance and cheap fuel is a side benefit.
Other uses include commercial vehicles that do lots of in town driving, like busses, delivery trucks for ups, fedex etc.
Sounds like he’s saying the volt was a mistake.

Agreed insofar as the technology is long overdue for real hybrid pickups.

I also agree that marketing needs to be genuine and strong – the mainstream companies have to want to sell these vehicles and provide sufficient advertising budgets.

I am in line for a Model E (or more likely the SUV version in, what, 2018 maybe?). I never thought I would own a pickup, mostly because of the poor mileage and also because I don’t need one most of the time. You can rent F-150s at some U-Haul locations, for example.

However, I think this truck is awesome. Sure, it’s a HUGE vehicle (dwarfs my 2010 Mercury Mariner hybrid). However, I am so thrilled that someone finally had the vision, guts and ability to get a real truck to market like this. I would be willing to buy this truck to replace my hybrid, getting a fuel-efficient useful vehicle that can power my house if the power goes out. Pretty slick.

Yeah, this is why:

— The Nissan eNV-200 has been in a perpetual trial for the past two years;
— VIA Motors has not yet sold a single vehicle to anyone;
— Azure Dynamics is gone;
— We see battery electric buses nowhere.

With trucks there is also a viable alternative fuel competition. Biodiesel and natural gas reign big. Lastly if range is of concern for compact cars driven 40 miles a day imagine what that does to trucks driven as much as 600 miles a day.

I agree with kdawg, everything should be electrified, but it is not easy.

Most vehicles are used to shuttle a couple of people around and do not need to be trucks. From a holistic viewpoint this is where the largest impact is made.

“We see battery electric buses nowhere.”
— — — — —
Really? It seems like I read a new article every week about more battery electric busses.

the point was that have you seen them? I have seen few hybrid buses, but not a single electric bus.

I don’t live in a bigger city where the buses seem to be going first (and non-US countries also), so in the flesh, no I have not seen a pure battery-electric bus. I do see hybrid buses and CNG buses pretty much every week though.

Santa Barbara is one of several cities that run electric buses every day.

Zion National Park.

Yosemite National Park…

…and in Europe…and China…

I wish Via luck, because selling a conversion vehicle puts them at a disadvantage from a pricing perspective compared to when (if) OEM’s get into the game. IMHO,the additional cost payback time matters to most buyers.

As I’ve said before you can’t pour perfume on a pig. Yes there is a lot of fuel to save by getting rid of gas guzzlers but pickup drivers are the most stupid and not likely to pay a high premium to be reasonable. That’s like selling universal healthcare to the idiots on the right.
Sure those are the ones in need of being convinced but they are also the biggest shitheads.

I know pickup owners that paid all the premiums to have a decked out truck. The EV part just needs to be marked correctly. If they sell it as an upgrade/boost/performance enhancer/whatever-ya-wanna-call-it, as long as it shown as superior, they will buy it. If its marketed as economical/frugal/green/efficient (aka wimpy), then it wont sell as well.

Sad, but true, kdawg!

I think Lutz has lost all perspective here and got it all completely backwards.

First, he keeps brandishing this meaningless “100 MPG”.
He misses (or choose to ignore) that how much gas can be saved IS the amount of energy the battery can provide — regardless of the vehicle type or inherent (in)efficiency.

Next, there are on the roads dramatically more private, passenger vehicles than fleet pick-up trucks and vans (the only market Via is after for now, realistically).
Obviously ideally everything should be electrified, but if one had to start somewhere, it makes sense to go after where most of the fuel is getting used overall. Not per vehicle, but by all vehicles of one type.

Anyway, kind of a moot point, as making one specific vehicle more efficient in no way prevents improving others as well (it may even help actually). It’s not either/or, it’s “all of the above”.

Again, you guys are being too hard on Lutz. He’s talking the average daily routine of the avg pickup and he says that his Via will use gas at a 100 mpg rate driven the average distance… Thats almost an order of magnitude decrease in gasoline consumption..

Sorry, in this case you guys are all missing his point.

One other refreshing note: Lutz does not do Pedantic displays.

There’s one or two things he doesn’t feel necessary to constantly mention to avoid insulting his audience’s intelligence.

If Chevy could have built a 38 mile range PHEV HD truck for the same price premium as the Volt, then yes, that would have been great. It would have saved more gas. In reality, the Volt was the best choice, because smaller cars have a smaller price premium make them into a PHEV.

The same happened in the regular hybrid world. That is why the Prius was a success and sold millions, and the Silverado hybrid didn’t. Selling more cars is better than selling much fewer trucks, even if each truck saves more gas than each car.

Bob is a good salesman, I’m glad he’s selling EV/PHEV’s. But he should stick to selling what he has to offer, and back off on trying to take down other EV/PHEV’s.

He’s right and Elon Musk knows it. When the Model S chassis is fitted with a truck body, Tesla will lead the industry down the electric highway…

“When the Model S chassis is fitted with a truck body, Tesla will lead the industry down the electric highway…”

And what kind of hwy is that?

I love the model S. But with the weight and its powertrain and battery size, it is NO WHERE close ready for a pickup truck. It will be lucky to get 2 miles per KWh in a truck body and if you ever tow or haul, the range will be less than 100miles.

Who is going to buy a truck that cost $80K and has less than 100 miles range in “working condition”?

I agree. An all-electric pickup truck, a useful one, would be great, but I am really skeptical. Current technology is simply prohibitive.

The inverter option on the VTrux is sweet. Many people who own pickups tend to live in the ‘burbs and particularly farther out from the population centers. Out there, most power lines are above ground, and when the power goes out (someone hits a pole or a tree brings the wires down, for example), it can be many hours, (and with these big storms, even days) before the power is restored. This truck would be awesome for anyone who wants/needs a pickup and lives outside the urban centers.

Now to get red neck truck buyers to buy in.
Bob is 100% correct, however you couldn’t start at that end of the market could we.

Martin you’re from down under correct? Why are they closing all the Ford and Holden Plants in your Continent? I thought the only place Holden was manufactured (other than the Volt) was by you.

Before I would commit so much money to one of these for personal use, I want to know a lot of things: 1) is it one-pedal driving (like Tesla), or do you need to use the break pedal to engage regen? 2) does it need a dedicated charger, or can you just plug it in to a 240V outlet (like Tesla)? 3) is it a permanent magnet motor or an induction motor? 4) how much power and torque can the truck really deliver with only a 24kWh battery pack? The base Model S, weighing over 2 tons, puts down over 300hp and goes from 0-60 in less than 6 seconds; but it’s drawing power from a carefully-managed 60kWh pack. 5) are there selectable driving modes (charge sustain, electric-only, etc.)? 6) since the controller is “dual channel”, will they consider making the 4×4 version with a second electric motor? According to the video on their site, the 4×4 version uses a standard transfer case (not that it’s a big deal, but would be more powerful and have better electronic control). 7) who supplies the cells, and what Li-ion chemistry do they use? 8) will all of the usual amenities be available… Read more »