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GM Calls Internal Combustion Engine 'Simply Not Sustainable'

2009 Cadillac Converj Concept

2009 Cadillac Converj Concept

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On its Fast Lane Blog, General Motors makes the bold claim that the internal combustion engine will ultimately go the way of the horse and buggy, calling it "simply not sustainable." Larry Burns, GM vice president for R&D, quickly makes the point that high development costs of electric drivetrains and attendant new-tech batteries mean that "we must work together to overcome [these] challenges and make this technology a reality."

Burns wants you to seriously consider buying an electric vehicle from GM in the near future, and he wants the new powers at the helm in Washington to contribute - and contribute copiously - to this shift in automotive propulsion to make it an affordable, profitable enterprise for his ailing company. Estimated cost for a 2011 Chevrolet Volt, for example, rings in at around $40,000, and we imagine that only the greenest glitterati in Hollywood would likely shell out so many clams for a small Chevrolet sedan, perhaps consigning that vehicle to fate worse than another overpriced small Chevrolet Cadillac, the unloved Cimarron.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

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Having rolled out E-REV (extended-range electric vehicle) concepts like its 2011 Chevrolet Volt and, most recently, the Detroit Auto Show's Cadillac Converj powered by the same Voltec powertrain, GM is showing us that it's serious about building electric. They have the double mission of enticing the public with sexy silhouettes like that offered up by the Converj while also making a dubious Congress believe that the company can pull a swift about-face from 9 mpg HUMMER H2s to 40 mpg E-REV misers.

Click through Burns' Powerpoint, below, used for his presentation last week to the Transportation Research Board and weigh in with your comments. Is Burns' argument convincing, worthy of your tax dollars, or a just a desperate plea to avoid chapter 11?

Converging on Sustainability: The New DNA of the Automobile

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Comments (3)
  1. "Reece"

    When BMW/Mercedes say the internal combustion engine is dead I will believe it, GM doesn't have a great record on predicting the future for a long time. It is probably at least 15 years, if at all, that internal combustion engine is dead. It works in so many ways that electric does not. I worry that GM and Chrysler has ve been so stung by failing to see rise of hybrids they are stretching for the next best things that may not be what people really want. It could be a danger if they put too much into this one basket and it doesn't turn out to be the promised land.

  2. "Tom"

    The internal combustion engine will eventually stop burning petroleum-based fuel simply because we derive so many important chemicals from oil that burning it will simply be insane. This is decades out but will eventually happen. Whether biofuels will ever fill the gap remains to be seen.

  3. "agreed, tom & reece"

    Reece, it is a bit concerning that GM seems to be putting all of its eggs into the electric/E-REV basket. Then again, with their gargantuan fleet of gas-burners, it would be nigh impossible for them to abandon gas even in fifteen years. Though GM's latest round of two-mode hybrids, like the 3.6-liter V-6/electric hybrid powertrain in the new Saturn VUE gives me hope that they are truly exploring all possibilities for alternative propulsion.
    Tom L - also agreed. Cellulosic ethanol (produced from municipal waste), blue-green algae biodiesel, waste vegetable oil, sugar cane ethanol...I think the solution will be many-faceted, not one cure-all.

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