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Lutz on Letterman Talks About The $100K Car

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Bob Lutz cuts past the fact that the Volt has a range of 40 miles and costs $40K.

By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG CBS via YouTube

ONE hundred grand seemed to be the magic number.

Soon-to-retire GM Product Czar Bob Lutz was on Letterman recently (yours missed the initial broadcast). This media appearance, the Detroit exec extraordinaire managed a back ‘n forth with our man Dave far better than he did with our man Stephen (Colbert).

In the jolly banter, there was one reference that Mr. Lutz kept coming back to: the one hundred thousand dollar car.

Apparently, the EV1 – conspiracy theorists pay attention now – cost General Motors over $100K per electric car. According to Mr. Lutz:

“The people never owned them [EV1's]. We were absolutely unable to sell them. Finally, we leased them for $300 a month. And the maintenance of this fleet that we owned was becoming so onerous that after a billion dollars the finance guy said that’s enough.”

Mr. Lutz’s account of history did gloss over the fact that there were plenty of EV1 drivers who wanted, nay, demanded to keep their cars – in vain. But moving on…

The next reference to the one hundred thousand dollar car was the Corvette CR1. Our man Dave asked Mr. Lutz why small California car co. Tesla could produce an electric auto with a 200 mile range and mighty GM could only manage a 40 mile range on the Chevy Volt.

Mr. Lutz: “We can. But we need to sell things (Chevy Volts) in volume. We have a $100K car that sells fairly well, it’s called the Corvette CR1…”

-Signature Dave laughter filling time -

Mr. Letterman: “Can I have one of those, Bob?”

Mr. Lutz: “We can’t survive on selling hundred thousand dollar cars.”

Fair enough. But you’d think that a car was ready to be built in America and sold worldwide would have the scale of production to lower the costs of parts…like price on lithium ion batteries. Does the old Ford model of mass production not work for Chevrolet?

Mr. Lutz closed his time on the show by showcasing the $40K ($32,500 +/- after Gov’t incentives)Volt that may appear in what showrooms remain next year. Mr. Letterman pretended to be shocked by the car’s electricity. And Mr. Lutz closed on a note of patriotism.

While this style of present-our-case and pitch-the-product may seem outdated to some- Price Is Right-ish? – we can only hope that it was effective.

Further, though I’ve never had any great love for Bob Lutz, watching him representing GM was oddly comforting. It’s like he didn’t scoot out the backdoor, but was, in fact, seeing this one last sale through.

For an exec who could just as well be sitting back and watching the clock run out until he collects his pot ‘o gold, ending his tenure on a note of commitment to GM was the right thing to do.

June 01, 2009
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About the Author: Gunnar Heinrich is publisher of Automobiles De Luxe online and is executive producer of the Automobiles De Luxe Television series on PBS member station CPTV.

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