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GM's Maximum Bob: Don't tell me how to make an E-car

June 28, 2008 | 11:46 am

Times staff writer Ken Bensinger, who covers the auto industry, filed this post:

A living legend in the auto industry, Bob Lutz has worked for Ford, Chrysler, BMW and, since 2002, General Motors, where he heads product development. The Swiss born, fighter-jet-flying, bespoke-suit-wearing ex-Marine isn’t known to mince words. This spring, he famously referred to global warming as a "crock of sh**." When outcry ensued, Lutz, in his trademark raspy growl, told reporters that those were his personal opinions, not those of the General.

Boblutz On Friday, Maximum Bob (as gearheads call him), showed he’s not afraid to mix it up with the rabble as well.

In response to a Times article on the multiple woes of GM and other automakers, a particularly vociferous reader -- known to call electric cars more important that "the so-called immigration issue, falling home values, and man-bites-dog stuff" -- copied Lutz in on a letter to the editor. The gist: GM, after losing $39 billion last year and with its stock at a three-decade low, could save itself by bringing back a 10-year old, two-seat electric car.

"There is one option GM has not considered, which would turn things around, both in image and in reality. GM could resume production of the 1999 EV1, using Panasonic lead-acid batteries," the reader asserted.

Furthermore, he wrote, GM’s plans to produce a four-seat extended-range electric car called the Volt, set for release in 2010, "depends on Lithium batteries which don't yet exist."

Maximum Bob was not about to let that backtalk from a green transportation activist go by without comment:

He shot back in an email: "The EV will not meet any current safety laws. Putting a version into production that meets regulations would put us out to ’11 or ’12. They cost us well over $80,000 to produce, and, being a two-seater, we could only sell 800 in four years. We lost over one billion dollars on that experiment."

Ev1 As for the Volt, Lutz had choice words as well:

"I don't know why you insist that lithium-ion doesn't exist. We are getting packs from our suppliers, they test well in both hot and cold, they store the energy as claimed, we are fast-cycling them to make sure they last, we are doing high-temp, high-load testing with the cooling system shut down and are experiencing no thermal problems. Trust me, the battery will not delay the car."

As any outraged activist would, the reader quickly fired back a reply, copying four Times addresses, an additional GM employee and a contact at California’s Air Resources Board, calling for distribution to all members of the body.

Too early to tell if Lutz will call these revealing comments his own personal opinions as well.

Photos: Bob Lutz. Paul Sancya/Associated Press; a funeral for the EV1 in the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car."/Sony Pictures Classics

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