Audi Chief Calls Chevy Volt “A Car For Idiots”


Bring on the war of words. In a frank conversation with MSN writer Lawrence Ulrich, Audi of America President Johan de Nysschen has said that the Chevy Volt will fail and that anybody who buys the car is an idiot. Not only that, de Nysschen has lumped proponents of any type of electric car into a category of “intellectual elite who want to show what enlightened souls they are.”

I’m guessing that means a fair amount of the people reading this would be considered idiots and pompous intellectual elites in Mr. de Nysschen’s book. Funny that. Hearing an Audi executive mocking any other car as being for intellectual pompous elites is, err, interesting, given that Audi is known for being in exactly that category themselves. Agh.

So taking the diplomatic view, ignore, for a minute, his purposely inflammatory and derogatory statements, and consider his analysis. In de Nysschen’s mind, no one will be willing to pay the expected $40,000 base price of the Volt when the cars it’s competing with are $15,000 less (he thinks the Volt will be competing with Toyota Corollas). Also, he noted, the Volt doesn’t deliver a premium luxury experience and, therefore, its eco-lux price tag is inexcusable to the average consumer.

Keep in mind that de Nysschen is a strong proponent of diesel technology and Audi is currently investing a lot of energy and capital promoting diesels to Americans. He feels that modern fuel-sipping low emissions diesel technology has been largely ignored by the US government and that people have been wrongly convinced into thinking that electric cars are the answer.

His preference for diesels over electric and plug-in cars is based on his following conclusions:

  • A wholesale shift from gas to electric cars in the US would result in a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions due to the fact that about 70% of American electricity currently comes from coal plants.
  • Recent advances in diesel technology have resulted in very high mileage cars with extremely low emissions.
  • Diesels already have the infrastructure needed to provide a fuel supply. Electric cars need to have infrastructure built and completely upgraded.

On the surface, he may have some thought-provoking points. But I’ve done some thinking on this topic in the past too, and this is what I’ve concluded:

  • While it’s true that about 50% of American electricity currently comes from coal, that number is changing quickly as more renewables come online. In some areas of the country, large amounts of electricity already come from renewable sources. Given that EVs will come on relatively slowly as well, it makes sense to conduct the switch simultaneously.
  • Regardless of that, there is research that shows even given the current ratio of coal power in the US, it would be less polluting to switch to plug-in hybrids and electric cars.
  • It’s much easier and more cost effective to regulate a relative handful of single source emitters such as power plants than it is to regulate hundreds of millions of tailpipes. When new pollution reduction technology comes online all you have to do is go to your power plant and add the new technology there. Imagine trying to get that new technology into all 250 million cars.
  • Transmission of electrical power is orders of magnitude more efficient than shipping refined oil all around the country to thousands of different fuel stations.
  • If the power source in your car (electricity) is independent of the power generation method (coal, natural gas, wind, solar, geothermal, wave, biomass burning, etc.) you ensure that not only will your transportation method be adaptable to future changes, you also increase the stability and security of your transportation infrastructure because you have a diverse variety local power sources to choose from.

While I agree with Mr. de Nysschen that the US should be taking a good look at the viability of diesels (especially considering that Europeans can already buy a huge variety of high mileage diesels), his analysis of why electric cars are doomed to fail is completely off base. And his method of delivery of the message is tasteless and unnecessarily mean.

Source: MSN autos

Image Credit: Audi USA

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.