Lutz to Letterman: 'We can't survive selling $100K cars'

The most recent battle over electric car technology isn't being fought in the showrooms, but on the set of the "Late Show with David Letterman."

The most recent battle over electric car technology isn't being fought in the showrooms, but on the set of the "Late Show with David Letterman."

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz was invited on the "Late Show," giving him the opportunity to respond to Letterman's negative comments about the Chevrolet Volt, which is an extended range hybrid.

Not really understanding the concept of a plug-in hybrid, Letterman had previously called the 40-mile all-electric capacity "insane" on a previous episode during which Tesla CEO Elon Musk was a guest promoting the electric Model S sedan prototype.

Lutz offered his rebuttal on Wednesday, Chevy Volt in tow, and tried to explain why GM doesn't sell an all-electric vehicle and is instead is coming to market first with a plug-in.

Did he succeed? Ehhh, not really. He defended GM's decision to bail on the EV1--GM's all-electric Saturn that cost $100K to build--after spending a billion dollars. And he tried to explain that Tesla's solution is impractical and expensive; that only recently did battery technology become affordable enough to put into production vehicles.

"We need to sell these things in volume," explained Lutz, "We already have a $100,000 car that sells reasonably well. It's called the Corvette ZR1."

So, $100K electric roadsters can't be the bread and butter of GM. Point taken. But he never really explained why GM doesn't offer an affordable EV solution.

After all, if Chinese auto maker BYD is saying it can build an all-electric sedan for around $22K, why can't the world's current second largest car maker?

Labor is one of the reasons, and lithium ion batteries are still expensive. GM plans to manufacture the Volt in the U.S., and BYD has the advantage of owning the battery company that will be powering its F3DM electric sedan.

But all things being equal, Lutz never points out that the infrastructure isn't quite there yet to support an all-electric car he can sell in volume.

In fact, Toyota Chief Engineer Akihiko Otsuka was recently quoted in BusinessWeek saying, "I don't think EVs can replace hybrids in the near future. We have to think about the balance between the EV driving range, the size, and the cost."

Perhaps Letterman should invite him on the show.

"Late Show with David Letterman" airs on CBS. CNET is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.


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