Lutz on CAFE: Get Used to Downsizing

March 19, 2008
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GM vice chairman Bob Lutz is talking fuel economy and climate change at this week's New York auto show, and when the topic of new fuel-economy regulations came up during a special interview session with the blog community, Lutz frankly laid out how the new rules will dramatically change the General Motors product lineup.

Earlier in the day, Lutz told the Detroit Free Press that 80 percent of GM's products would have to be hybrids by 2020 if the company were to meet the new 35-mpg CAFE standard that the Congress crafted, and President Bush signed off on, last November.

"We're all going to have to get used to cars getting downsized, to getting cars with six-cylinders and four-cylinders," Lutz said. "And as we downsize, small rear-wheel-drive vehicles will probably be the exception rather than the rule."

The new CAFE rules probably mean that there won't be more rear-drive vehicles like the Solstice and Sky, Lutz added. And all development costs will go up - transmissions will need more gears, car bodies will have to be engineered to weigh less, and more complex turbocharged engines will take the place of larger-displacement and simpler engines.

And no single "green" powertrain will be the answer, he noted. Hybrids will be a big player; GM is also looking at start-stop systems and hybrids currently in vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu and Saturn Aura, and is trying to figure out how to pay to install them. "We'll have to look at generalizing that," Lutz estimated, which could be an increased cost of $3500 a car.

GM's two-mode hybrid system will cost even more. The $7000 hybrid system in the Tahoe "doesn't even come close" to paying for the cost of the system.

Diesels will be a part of the equation too, but Europe has much less stringent diesel regulations and American diesels will be similarly expensive to work in to the lineup.

"It's by no means locked in concrete," Lutz told The Car Connection.

Powertrains won't be the only vehicle components affected, either. Lutz said that improved aerodynamics, including moveable aerodynamics, are a part of GM's solution to the CAFE issue.

The Free Press notes that while GM and other automakers agreed to the new 35-mpg CAFE fuel economy standard, California's attempts to set even tougher regulations are being challenged in court.

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