GM’s magic, and lack thereof

When Business Week asked GM’s Director of R&D, Alan Taub, how alternative-powered vehicles will reshape the auto industry, he responded thusly:

There are two driving forces, as seen by GM. One is around emissions. The charter we have given ourselves is to take the vehicle out of the environmental equation, to get tailpipe emissions to the point where they’re no longer an issue. Also, we’re developing diversified forms of propulsion.

So, how exactly does one take the vehicle out of the environmental equation? GM’s communications team must have been out sick when he did this interview. Let’s give Taub the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was trying to say that GM’s priority is to cut harmful tailpipe emissions using whatever means possible—regardless of whether or not that necessitates a change in vehicle design.Reduced tailpipe emissions is excellent, but how does that reduce oil consumption? Or maybe that’s not the automaker’s problem, since they can only control what goes out of the car. Taub mentions GM’s goal of increasing electrification of vehicles, where a car would pull energy from the grid and use it to charge a fuel cell or battery. But we’re still talking about making a fossil-fuel based grid produce more energy. Is that what you mean by “diversified forms of propulsion”?It gets better…

Q: Why not offer something for consumers now?A: The only way to impact the market in a big way is to sell vehicles at high volume. Selling thousands or tens of thousands of alternative vehicles may be good for image, but it doesn’t change the equation. Customers won’t tolerate any compromise in performance. We’re [waiting] to develop a truly commercially viable technology.

Come again? Your answer to not selling hybrids now is because you’re WAITING!? to develop a “commercially viable” technology? I’m not much of an economist, but if the Ford Escape hybrid SUV has a 1-2 year waiting period because demand exceeds supply, wouldn’t that make it commercially viable? And if you’re able to sell vehicles at such a “high volume,” don’t you play a role in determining what’s commercially viable or not?Sounds like we may still have a long way to go in Detroit. Or at least at GM.

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