Bob Lutz Would Like A Do-Over On The Chevy Volt


Electric cars face a number of uphill battles, including managing weight while trying to add hundreds of pounds in batteries to give it a workable range. Never one to mince words, Bob Lutz has made it known that had he a second chance, he’d do things a lot differently when it comes to the Chevy Volt.

Lutz, in an interview with the UK’s AutoCar, says that looking back, it makes no sense to take a small, fuel-efficient car, and try to turn it into an EV. The Chevy Cruze, which the Chevy Volt and Opel Ampera are based on, can get up to 42 mpg on the highway, and a 50 mpg diesel version is on the horizon. There isn’t a lot of economic sense there, though the Volt and Ampera are among the best-selling plug-in cars in the world.

Had he a chance to at a do-over, Lutz says he would have started off using the range-extender technology in a gas guzzler like the Cadillac Escalade. The bigger the vehicle, the more economic sense the Voltec technology would make.

This is a fair assessment, no doubt, but Lutz also notes that people buying EVs are buying them based on philosophical or religious reasons. Even as a plug-in hybrid, would EV advocates really be willing to drive around a massive Cadillac Escalade? Nevermind the price would put it well out of reach of many buyers. With tax incentives, the Chevy Volt can be had for around $32,000, and the next-gen model is said to cost even less. An Escalade-Volt vehicle would probably be closer to $70,000 or $80,000.

While the Chevy Volt and Opel Ampera might not be making sales expectations, it is still the best-selling plug-in hybrid in the world. Lutz’s assessment might make more sense were he referring to pure-electric EVs, which have less room to work with and are particularly sensitive to weight. The Tesla Model S, a much larger EV than the Nissan Leaf, is arguably meeting with a better market reception. Elon Musk’s EV seems to have hit a pricing sweet spot, balancing luxury with range, cost, and performance. Most importantly though, the Tesla Model S is finally turning a profit.

GM doesn’t appear to have got the message though, as their next plug-in hybrid is the Cadillac ELR coupe, though a next-gen Escalade is almost certainly in the works…and it could be offered with a plug-in hybrid option, if GM wants it to.

Do you agree with Lutz’s assessment? Should the Volt have been a big Caddy instead? Or would that have turned buyers away?

Source: AutoCar

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.
  • Jason Carpp

    I don’t mind giving the Chevy Volt a make over, I believe it’s long overdue. Unfortunately, I don’t like the front grille and headlamps of the car in the picture.

    • Kram

      The picture is the Ampera (European model). The next Volt will probably not look like it.

  • Maybe the best results would be achieved by taking a vehicle normally used for public transport / public service applications such as a 12 to 16 seat minibus?

    These vehicles are larger and tend to do high mileage so are good candidates for the technology, but do not come with the image problem of a “gas guzzling” private car.

  • roseland67

    I recently attended my AEE local chapter meeting where a PHD from Argon Labs discussed the JCESR, (Join Center for Energy Storage & Research.
    The JCERS charter is to develop battery technology with 5x increase in energy density in 5 years @ 1/5th the $ today.
    This PHD indicated that 12 years ago the Panasonic 18650 battery cell had 1 ah/cell energy density,
    today it has 4 ah/cell.
    If technological increases @ that pace continue, it is only a matter of time where battery powered vehicles completely replace automobiles for urban transportation.
    Bob Lutz may get a “do over” on more than the Volt.

  • pjkPA

    Lutz is a salesman… he is now pushing his own interest… his truck conversion vehicles… the Volt is a great car built by great engineers not Mr. salesman Lutz.
    I have had my Volt for 6 weeks and it’s costing me 60 cents a day to commute 20 miles .. 10 miles each way… a total of 60 cents per day. No Prius can come close to the performance and the MPG of the Volt.
    I paid $22,900 for my Volt after incentives.
    What is Mr. Lutz’s trucks selling for these days?

    I do think what he is doing with full size trucks is a very good thing… but putting down the Volt is totally wrong… and makes my perception of this guy much lower.

    • Jason Carpp

      Perhaps General Motors needs engineers and car enthusiasts to run the corporation, not salespeople. Salespeople promote and sell the cars and trucks, and that’s fine. I’m not against that. But engineers and the people who actually test the cars are the people who truly know what’s going on behind the scenes. Where are you, Lee Iacocca, when we need you?

  • GM still designing cars for the 20th century paradigm even as we approach the mid 21st century requirements? America still entranced by her Golden Age, (and for good reason, it was glorious) seeks to extend the same rather than shift into the new reality, the now 21st Century paradigm, one where the Asian realities are fully acknowledged, the notion of sustainability is accented, the new American Economic Realities are recognized. In fewer words: Americans must adapt to the new economic reality and this does not include electric Cadillacs! A Diesel Cruze with Prius electric drive system for longer ranges? An ‘on the fly recharging’, three moving piece electric drive train, hemp/aluminum body, ‘service vehicle’ for rapid, clean, cheap, ‘domestic energy’, transportation in cities?
    Frightening proposition for a very comfortable America but the fact remains: The Yuan will replace the U.S. Dollar very soon now. The huge American Debt, combined with the growing Social/Military/Economic threat from Asia is reducing the 70% of world resources we currently consume. This translates on the ground to modest, sustainable, housing, diet, and transportation for the American masses – not Cadillacs that get good mileage at all. More like smaller ultra light two-seaters, hemp and aluminum bodies, with three moving part electric power trains, and room for the latest rechargeable batteries as they come from Asian Scientists. Given the current PPP of the U.S. Dollar, these will be made in Asia, and very durable for very long time, time enough for Americans to pay down their suffrage to Japan, China, at current slave-wage levels. ‘Good Times Charlie’ has slipped behind the curtains, the magic show is over, and the interest on the national debt alone, is breaking our backs. Not a time for Electric Cadillacs at all. Time for an electric VW running on domestic energy – even from coal if that is the best we can do. (China Thorium LFTR reactors Google this). America at a cross-roads – both leading to economic Hell? Time for practicality, sustainability and reality training. Bob Lutz? “lost in the 60’s” I’m afraid.

  • tony D

    The low hanging fruit for decreasing our fossil fuel dependance in US is the pickup truck. Average in the low to mid teens for tens of millions. They should all be series hybrids. Electric motor driving the wheels for whatever grunt is required, ice generator capable of producing enough juice to move at 70mph @ 2gph = 35mpg! Add enough battery storage for transition (passing) and stop start in traffic as a minimum.

    Get the cost to 15,000 for a retrofit then spend 7,500 tax rebate from feds. The ICE must be E85 so there is no problem with any blend level.
    This will make a real difference in your use pattern.

  • apeweek

    Article says “…people buying EVs are buying them based on philosophical or religious reasons.”

    While it’s common wisdom that EV buyers are committed environmental or lefty ideologues, the reality doesn’t match this assumption.

    A political poll of Volt drivers on owner site shows that owners are relatively evenly split between right and left.

    A car is a major expense. In the real world, folks don’t let politicians or talk show hosts tell them what car they’re allowed to drive.

    • Why do you assume that responsible consumption can’t be an ideal shared by non-nutjobs on the right AND left of the political aisle? From the strictest readings of the Bible and Torah to the most atheistic interpretation of science and observation, the idea that we are stewards of this planet and that we need to care for it if we intend to leave it a better place than we found it for our children is a pretty good idea … and anyone who thinks otherwise, I think, we should probably imprison for life.

      • apeweek

        I agree with you. Perhaps you didn’t read my comment very closely…

        • Jason Carpp

          Who says we’re leftists? Some of us buy EVs and hybrids because it’s something different that they’ve never tried before.

          • apeweek

            ?? What manner of bizarre trolling is this? Again, please actually READ my comment. I have already agreed with you, EVs are definitely not purchased by “leftists” whatever that means. I pointed out this “common wisdom” is complete hogwash.

            READ MY COMMENT.

          • Apeweek, I agree with you and I was one of the conservatives who was in that poll at I look at EREV’s like the Volt ( BEV’s at this point are either prohibitively expensive or too short ranged, but they are getting better) as simply being the coolest car out there that also allows me to use American electricity instead of gasoline, half of which is imported. I am also trying not to buy Chinese goods but that wouldn’t be half as fun as buying a Volt. But I don’t have a parking space with a plug and $31k net is still too much for my budget.

          • Or because we’re gear-heads and LOVE the idea of instant-on torque! 😀

        • Sorry, I should have made it more clear that I was on your side. I didn’t direct that you. 🙂

          • apeweek

            Apology accepted – Internet discussions easily lead to confusion.

  • toompln

    The odd thing here is that Lutz is second guessing himself. The decision to start with a small car and add larger vehicles later makes since, it is easier to upscale a product than to downsize it. In my estimation the proposed MPV 5 concept should be the smallest vehicle that this technology is applied to. The Cadillac ELR may appeal to a higher priced demographic but, it may be too small. That said, I don’t think GM has made a terrible blunder. The Volt is one of the best selling EVs on the market.

    • I disagree 100%. New technologies always diffuse from the top down, in terms of price/market segment. This model is the inverse of that, and makes the explanation for all the recent troubles at GM painfully clear: they have NO IDEA what they’re doing.

      • Jo, I agree with you about one thing. The MBA’s and accountants at GM are truly clueless. They took a car that was a home run, designed by some of the most brilliant engineers in the world, and botched the presentation in a fundamental way. GM’s engineers built a great car, but the boffins priced it too high to start and then built too few when they could have sold more if the inventory was higher.
        The sad thing is that GM may never recover from their early errors. The Volt is damaged goods and GM could decide to pull the plug, no pun intended, on what could have been a star if they had priced it $1000 lower than they did to start and if they had built enough so that showed a few thousand more Volts available these past few years. Just those tiny changes would have made a huge difference, but GM is risk averse and the Volt needed a risk taker to ramrod the introduction. Instead they had bean-counters crunching numbers.

  • billy bob banana

    I wouldn’t be driving my Volt if it were a Caddy. Maybe something in-between like an Equinox?

  • patb2009

    I think the VOLTEC drive needs to be a platform, much like the Toyota Synergy drive is in the Prius,Camry, Avalon, Highlander.

    Also, the Volt needs an inverter.

  • Given that Lutz just started a company to sell converted plug in trucks to fleet owners it’s clear he thinks this is so. I don’t agree. The commuter car market had to be first. Most of the vehicles sold around the world are cars in the Volt’s size category. Besides, the Volt needed to poach buyers from the Prius, it can’t do that add an amp-guzzling SUV.

  • religious reasons?

    • God made the world and as a faithful steward it is our job to care for the planet.  Living simply on what God has given without wasting the earth’s limited resources.  I drive a Volt because it is for me, first and foremost, a faith issue.  (Saving a ton of cash from the pump and parking in most of Detroit serves only as a bonus.)

      • Ziv Bnd

         Good on ya, Richard! I want a Volt because it is cool and it uses almost no gas, (half of which is imported) while being a full utility car that I can, almost, afford. I think there are as many reasons to buy and love a Volt as there are Volt owners, or Volt owner wannabe’s like me.
        The “good steward” is a message I am hearing more of lately, and I like it.

  • Ndahl

    I agree with Mr. Lutz that the big-picture “bang-for-buck” when thinking about plug-in hybrids makes more sense for larger cars (and trucks, for that matter), but it’s still important and revolutionary that in the case of the Volt, the the car can go about 32 miles on battery alone – that means zero gas burned and zero tailpipe CO2.  If the average trip never exhausts the batteries (say, a daily < 32 mile commute with opportunity charging at work), then the owner never burns any gas.  A Cruze Diesel commuting the same 32 (highway) miles each way at 50 MPG for 250 days a year would consume 320 gallons of diesel at $4.15 per gallon, which works out to a cost of $1328 per year for fuel.  Over a 5-year ownership period, that adds up to $6,640, and brings the comparable adjusted cost of the $32,000 Volt down to $25,360.  The MSRP of the 2014 Cruze Diesel is $24,885.  Now, here's the kicker – over that 5-year span the Cruze Diesel will add about 3 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, compared to zero for the Volt.  Aint that worth $475?
    By the way, Mr. Lutz is also an investor in Current Motor Company, which makes commuter-oriented (vs. sport) electric motorcycles.  They're about the price of a Suzuki Burgman scooter and not quite as fast off the line, but they'll comfortably do 70 MPH and have a (typical) commuting range of 50 miles with zero CO2 out the tailpipe.  Ride to work, plug-in (standard 120V, 60 Hz), ride home.

  • secretsausage

    As a Volt owner I wouldn’t have even considered an Escalade style EREV. The cost of ownership for the Volt is far less the the Jetta I traded in. Performance & amenities are roughly the same. An $80,000 tank would be too expensive & not fun to drive.

    There is a place for the “Escalade style” EREV & I think Mr Lutz’s involvement with VIA trucks might be the motive behind his comments. Hopefully the soccer moms will be ready to buy one!

  • I have to disagree.  The size vehicle is is talking about more than likely would have a range of say 20miles on electric only and that just isnt nearly as appealing.  I am all for moving the technology throughout the fleet, but the best 1st choice was a vehicle that most people can drive to and from work 5 days per week without using any gas at all.

  •  “The Tesla Model S, a much larger EV than the Nissan Leaf, is arguably meeting with a better market reception.”   – Oh?,… I think there are a few more Leafs out there than S’s.  Like, about 3000 Model S’s (, and over 50,000 Leaf’s ( I wish these “reputable”, “pro alternative fuel” sites would do a little bit more accurate reporting on the state of the ev industry. 

  • logical_thinker

    Lutz has a bit of a bias on this topic since he’s now working with VIA motors.

  • Lincaroline

    I disagree with Lutz. I bought a Volt last year (still loving it) but would never have considered a big tank. Early adopters are going to look at efficiency first, and that means not carrying more weight than needed. Other options for me were Prius, fusion hybrid, or waiting for fusion or C-max energi plug-ins.

  • David Milet Fb

    SUV buyers couldn’t care less about the environment, and won’t pay a cent more for an EV version. The Volt suffers from the bad reputation GM has in its home market, where people believe they get a better deal buying a Japanese or South Korean car. Japanese/Korean carmakers are known for quality, German carmakers are known for luxury. GM is known for what? Gas guzzling SUVs and cars with sub-par reliability and outdated technology. The Volt is none of that.
    GM should sell the Volt as a Toyota… American consumers are so shortsighted and stupid and unpatriotic they’d buy the Toyota Volt in droves

    • Stephenl

      I think GM bigger error was making it ugly and just too small. One more passenger would have made a word of difference for the average consumer ( avg family size is 4.2). Japanese cars now have a track record of superiority over American brands for over 40 years now.  Judging people for using common sense is a bit dumb.

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