Q&A: GM's Bob Lutz on the Volt and More

The General Motors "car czar" explains the company's plans for overtaking Toyota.


Our team says the end of 2010 is an impossible target. But instead of the normal GM routine, the usual gates, we removed all that. There are no milestone meetings. No gate reviews. Nobody has to prepare papers prior to meetings. We make decisions on the spot, then the team marches off. How much of a risk is this for GM?

It's not our way to kick off a major program without knowing what the overall investment will be. But there's a huge tradition of technological leadership at this company. We invented the catalytic converter. The electric starter. The automatic transmission. We were the technology company. Losing that in today's environment is very bad news, and we have to get it back. The sales goal is pretty low, though, just 60,000. That's a pretty small portion of all the cars GM sells every year. Can the Volt make a difference at those numbers?

Within a few years we hope to be producing hundreds of thousands. This is potentially the reinvention of the automobile. Another gasoline alternative is cellulosic ethanol, which isn't a GM technology, per se. It's something that would be available to all the automakers and won't require much change for ordinary cars to run on it. If that turns out to be a solution, would it give GM some kind of competitive advantage? Or would it simply lift all boats?

We'd be happy if cellulosic arrived and it lifted all boats. The advantage for us would be cost avoidance. To get the same mileage without it, we'd need a $6,000 diesel engine or a very complex series hybrid and all these lightweight materials. Biofuels would be the quickest way to get to a nonpetroleum fleet. So of all the different technologies GM is working on, how would you prioritize them?

Electric. Advanced hybrid. Plug-in hybrid. Advanced clean diesels. And far out, there's hydrogen.

General Motors
  • Rick Newman

    Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success and the co-author of two other books. Follow him on Twitter or e-mail him at rnewman@usnews.com.