Bob Lutz Lets Loose on Future All-Electric Volt & Range Surprises

We bid farewell to Bob Lutz as the frontman for General Motors’ (s GM) Chevy Volt nearly a year ago, when he announced plans to retire at the end of 2009 (it didn’t take too long for those plans to change). But the onetime climate change denier is like a cat with nine lives, always coming back with some of the juiciest comments about the Volt and plug-in cars amid the mass of carefully controlled corporate messages.

Here’s the latest: Lutz said at the North American International Auto Show that it’d be no sweat for GM to build an all-electric version of the Volt (the upcoming model is an extended-range electric vehicle — a small gas engine kicks in when the battery runs out of juice), according to several reports out of Detroit this morning. If it’s so easy, does GM actually plan to build this all-electric vehicle? According to the AP’s story, it does. Lutz didn’t specify a date that GM might roll an all-electric model into showrooms, but he said, “Once you’ve done the Volt, pure electric is trivial. You just leave some parts out.”

But while Lutz is already looking ambitiously ahead (what else would you expect from a guy nicknamed Maximum Bob?), he also mentioned to reporters some major potholes in the Volt’s road to electric glory. First, there’s the little snag of variability in how far the Volt can go on a single charge. GM advertises a 40-mile all-electric range for the vehicle, but Lutz said he only got 28 miles worth of juice from the battery when he drove a Volt for a weekend in Detroit this winter. He explained:

“The range can vary on any given day depending on temperature, terrain, driving conditions and so forth — especially temperature…The distance you can go in an electric vehicle varies hugely with the outside temperature, including with the Volt.”

GM’s Andrew Farah, chief engineer for the Volt, noted in a recent press briefing that climate’s effect on battery performance can go both ways: “We have a very sophisticated control system in the vehicle,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is hot weather storage, where we can’t control that environment.” But if you drive the Volt mostly in urban, temperate environments, he said the battery could last “significantly longer” than the guaranteed 10 years.

Another snag Lutz raised at the auto show this week has to do with gas prices. “If the rise in gasoline prices is gradual, I think that all of us in the industry would frankly welcome that, because there is nothing more illogical than forcing fuel-saving technology when gasoline is extremely cheap,” he said, according to a report on

This is one area where Maximum Bob tends to hedge, however. Speaking about the prospect of a gas tax hike last month, he said, “We’re not advocating that but if it doesn’t happen it’s going to be very difficult for these technologies.” This week he took a slightly stronger stance, saying that while he’s not speaking for GM on this, he thinks it would be valuable to steadily raise gas taxes to much higher levels.

Photo courtesy of General Motors