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Charged up about GM's Volt hybrid

September 22, 2007|Martin Zimmerman | Times Staff Writer

Bob Lutz sounds like he's about to change his name to Reddy Kilowatt.

Lutz, vice chairman of General Motors Corp., was in town this week to talk about his company's 2008 vehicle lineup. But the subject that really got his engine humming was the Volt, GM's potentially revolutionary battery-powered concept car.

The Volt incorporates GM's E-Flex electric drive system, functioning as a plug-in hybrid with a 40-mile, all-electric range.

"This vehicle is about allowing most Americans to make their daily trips without having to hear the sound of an internal combustion engine," Lutz said.

GM, you may recall, was the reluctant star/villain of last year's documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?," about California's failed attempt to jump-start the use of electric vehicles on the state's freeways,

Whether the experiment failed because of a lack of political will, corporate negligence or a dearth of consumer demand is still hotly debated. But Lutz clearly believes that electrons will be a key automotive power source in the future.

And not the distant future either. Lutz repeated his belief that GM can have Volts with plug-in hybrid powertrains in showrooms by the end of 2010. Price: under $30,000.

Meeting that deadline will require advances in lithium ion battery technology that Lutz is convinced can be attained. Battery packs from GM's outside suppliers are due to be delivered before the end of the year. The packs will be dropped into Chevy Malibus next spring to begin real-world road-testing, he said.

The timetable also could enable GM to leapfrog rivals such as Toyota Motor Corp., the current hybrid leader.

"Five years from now, there will be one technology leader in the world," Lutz said, "and it will be GM."

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