Bob Lutz: The Chevy Volt Should’ve Been A Truck


via-motors-lutzLife would be so much easier with a rewind button, and former GM exec and bigmouth Bob Lutz has spoken both for, and against the Chevy Volt, a car he helped push to production. In a recent interview Lutz, who now serves on the board of hybrid-truck maker VIA Motors, says that the Chevy Volt would’ve been better as a truck or SUV. Uh huh.

Why the sudden change of heart? Bob Lutz says that he now realizes it makes more sense to improve the gas mileage of large, inefficient vehicles, than small cars that are already capable of 40 MPG or more. Lutz has a point, as doubling the fuel economy of a 12 MPG pickup saves more fuel than adding another 5 MPG onto a 40 MPG car like the Chevy Cruze. As Maximum Bob also notes, America historically loves SUVs and pickup trucks, though high fuel prices have made them something of an endangered species.

The problem, as I see it, is convincing American truck and SUV buyers that paying a premium for a hybrid drivetrain is worth it. Before GM ever sold a single Volt, there was the short-lived two-mode hybrid pickups and SUVs GM cobbled together in the months before the company declared bankruptcy. While the 20 MPG highway rating was meh, these trucks were supposedly capable of up to 20 MPG in city driving as well, something other automakers are just catching up to four years later. With a $38,000 starting price though, imagine how much more expensive a Voltec drivetrain would’ve added to the cost.

Better yet, don’t imagine, but instead look at Lutz’s hybrid vehicle scheme, VIA Motors. Able to serve as both on-site generators while going up to 40 miles on pure electricity alone, VIA’s GM-based plug-in hybrid pickups costs about the same as a Tesla Model S, and no, that’s not an exaggeration. While the hybrid truck maker has found some traction in the commercial market, I can’t imagine a $70,000 hybrid pickup would’ve been a great seller in the middle of the Great Recession; the $40,000 Chevy Volt had a hard enough time finding buyers.

I guess for some people, life does have a rewind button of sorts, and VIA Motors is Lutz’s “do-over” button. Good for him.

Source: The Seattle Times

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 never thought I’d say this, but I agree. I’d go for a diesel-electric hybrid truck if it were available. I’d agree with the idea of between 15 and 20 mpgs for Chevy/GMC 1500 or 2500. It seems more realistic for when the vehicle is unladen except for driver and front passenger. But what about when the truck is fully-laden with construction equipment, more people? I would think that the heavier the load, the more an engine has to work. Whether it’s a gas or diesel, or even a hybrid engine, the harder an engine has to work, the more fuel it uses. I would think that between 10 and 15 mpgs.

    • roseland67

      Why build a vehicle with 2 separate drive trains?
      It would seem much easier to build an all electric drive train vehicle
      with a small on board diesel gen (running only on demand),
      to charge the on board battery.
      The gen could be duty specific to run @ 1 speed only to charge
      the battery?

      • Jason Carpp

        True, we’ve had hybrid cars since the Toyota Prius. If they can build a gasoline/electric hybrid in a small car package, why not make a diesel/electric hybrid? I’d prefer a 50/50 hybrid powered car than a 100% electric powered car.

      • danwat1234

        Atkinson cycle gas is nearly as good as diesel as far as efficiency is concerned. Cheaper fuel.

  • SomeHumanBeing

    Bob’s right on the money, and unsurprisingly, Susan Carpenter is not. A $70,000.00 pick up truck is really not that crazy, especially if it gets anywhere near double the fuel economy. I’m guessing nobody over at the Seattle Times bothered to check how much a fully optioned full-size truck costs right now, or did the math to figure our how much fuel a vehicle like that uses on average. I could easily see his Voltec-based hybrid truck powertrains saving their operators money pretty quickly, double the fuel economy or better, is gonna add up fast. Additionally, I’m betting the environmental impact of cleaning up trucks is huge.

    • Christopher DeMorro


      The problem is perception, and trying to sell a $70,000 pickup truck, 100 MPG or not, in the middle of a recession and bankruptcy filings just wasn’t going to fly. Think about how much flak the Chevy Volt got for its $40,000 price tag, even though there are plenty of $40,000+ cars out there to choose from.

      Sure, a fully-optioned diesel pickup can go for $50,000+, but selling hybrids to the NASCAR crowd, you know, the same people likely to buy a $50,000+ pickup, is harder than you think. Even on the commercial market, trucks like the VIA need to get a ton of usage over an eight-year period to save owners any money at all. GM couldn’t even sell the lower-priced hybrid pickups they built, which improved city MPG by some 30%!