By on April 30, 2009

Dave: “The Volt has a range of forty miles. That’ll get you down the driveway and back.”

Elon: “Yeah.”


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30 Comments on “Letterman Mocks and Calls “Insane” Chevy Volt in Elon Musk (Tesla) Interview...”

  • avatar

    The car, per se, is not insane; it’s an idea with some advantages and disadvantages.

    The price, the projected unprofitability and the idea that a bankrupt auto manufacturer should build unprofitable products… those are the things that make the Volt program insane.

  • avatar

    How does Letterman draw line of relation between what if auto mfgs had started producing electric vehicles sooner (decades ago) with the state of auto mfgs now, speciffically idling plants and having bankruptcy hearings etc?

    Am I missing something here? If the economy had taken the same downturn while GM and the nearly-newly-wed Chryco & Fiat were producing EV’s or whatever, yet those EV’s were oh lets say…. the same sort of flavor we have today meanwhile everybody else in the market was making the same thing but better… we would somehow be in the same situation? Does it really matter HOW the vehicle is powered so long as it is purchased by somebody for more than the vehicle cost to produce?

    Also… isn’t the technology in the Honda FCX clarity a lot closer to production and viability than 20 years?

  • avatar

    That was a disturbing rant. Change the subject from electricity to advanced design and this becomes a Carson + DeLorean redo. And that certainly ended well for the talk show host.

    (Carson was left stranded in a DMC-12 on several occasions)

  • avatar

    “Does it really matter HOW the vehicle is powered so long as it is purchased by somebody for more than the vehicle cost to produce?”

    Yes it matters because HOW it’s powered ultimately determines the cost, and the lower the cost, the more economically feasible it is and the more widely adopted it will become. The Volt is not an “every person” car. On a global scale, the Volkswagon Beetle (old style) was an “every person” car.

    I see three futures for transportation.

    1. Hydrogen becomes a contender in the world fuel market, but not through traditional energy delivery methods. Using electrolysis from solar energy to create the hydrogen is a very real possibility. Tap water could be purified or distilled at the fuel station to remove pollutants before electrolysis. The explosive nature of hydrogen will deter/forbid home installations.

    2. Diesel-electric generators such as those used on train locomotives. Similar to the Volt concept, but the generator turns the electric motor that powers the car instead of charging a battery bank.

    3. A world of smaller cars based on motorcylces. A little more far-fetched, but as a personal transportation device for commuters, it makes sense. Smaller, lighter-weight, smaller-engine vehicles, possibly even powered by my options in #1 and #2, that carry one or two people will reduce traffic congestion and be economical in purchase cost, energy costs, and cost of ownership.

  • avatar

    Dave, Dave, Dave – apples and oranges. My understanding is the range for the Volt when fully juiced is 400 miles. Try that in a Tesla.

    I agree with the criticisms of the Volt in the comments here, but fair is fair. If it could be built at a reasonable price point (and it can’t), then the Volt approach would make sense for many of us who don’t commute 60 miles one way into NYC.

  • avatar
    Crazy Canuck

    First things first, the Volt doesn’t have a “range” of 40 miles, it’s supposed to have an electric-only range of 40 miles. Theoretically the range should be infinite when using its ICE. Nitpickers rejoice.

    I also like how Letterman completely ignores Elon near the end, when he is desperately trying to say something important about the sedan prototype. Instead Dave fakes an electrocution.. nice.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    People in fiberglass prototypes…

  • avatar

    I love Letterman, but anytime he veers away from being funny and is trying to make a point, I just want to say, “Shhhhh”. He’s just not that bright.

  • avatar

    Dave’s knowledge about cars is limited to buying them and getting speeding tickets. I quit watching him a long time ago because he appeared to be not much more than a petulant child.

    As to the Volt’s viability, not at 30 or 40 or 48 thousand dollars. When not if Toyota releases the plug in Prius who in their right mind is going to buy a cobbled together Volt. A better name will be Bolt.

  • avatar

    Ek-tu-al-ly, had the Big 2.8 not forgotten the lessons of the 70s, and built SUVs/4dr pickups LIKE THERE WAS NO TOMORROW- they would have survived. Now there IS no tomorrow- for them. They had 35 years to prepare for $4.00 gasoline, and that is what killed them. (Never mind that it is cheaper now. The price will rise.) You can quote me. :-)

  • avatar
    Phil Ressler

    Letterman is a car guy but not a gearhead. He knows not of what he speaks in this exchange. Volt is an electric car with a range extender using conventional fuel. Tesla is an electric car solely dependent on the capacity of its on-board batteries. I could not manage my transportation needs with a Tesla as my only car, but I will be able to do so with a Volt.

    However, right now, that 40 miles of battery-only range for the Volt would allow me to drive 70% of my requirments without using gasoline.

    Letterman has a bad habit of fawning over subjects that align with one of his personal agendas, or to mock anyone or thing that instigates cognitive dissonance in his trifling mind. I watch him over Leno, but interviews like this seriously undermine his credibility, even as a comic.

    In a comparison with a Tesla Roadster, it’s the Volt that looks like the vastly more sensible proposition for the reality of 2010 through at least the decade following.


  • avatar

    Just 2 lbs of gasoline can cut and bag 600 lbs of grass…Including all the huge losses of an ICE…That is pretty impressive especially for something that weighs less than water.


  • avatar


    Setting aside packaging differences between the Volt and the Tesla and perhaps the once or twice a year trip to grandma’s, how does a 244 mile battery range not cover the 30% gap that the Volt can do in 40 miles?

    I can’t assume my driving needs are the same but I could be 90% electric only with the 40 mile range the Volt offers or 100% for 2- to 3- days with the range of a Tesla.

  • avatar

    When Dave realizes the image of the Volt is related to obama’s image, he’ll start praising it. Might even buy one.

  • avatar

    If the Volt was associated with the Obama image GM would have no trouble selling them.

  • avatar
    Aloysius Vampa


    Maybe GM should put his picture on the side of it.

  • avatar

    Dave’s ‘schtick’ was a smart guy playing the dumb guy. But, like a child making faces (when your Mom said, “If you keep that up, it will stay that way!”), it’s starting to become a self-fulfilling persona.

    Dave’s losing it.

  • avatar

    I love Dave, but this reminds me of all those infomercials for products like Coral Calcium and others.

  • avatar

    I thought it was pretty embarrassing how Dave showed complete ignorance of the capabilities of the Volt while fawning over what amounts to a different sort of vaporware. The sad thing is, his opinion will weigh heavily in the minds of the buying public.

    Also, gosh, I just have a hard time taking Elon Musk seriously – he’s shown himself to be dreadfully unprofessional and quite unable to successfully run Tesla, all the while carrying this smug Silicon Valley “I’m smarter than you” attitude that gets old very quickly. It’ll be interesting to see what his real future is in the industry once people stop making googly eyes at him and expecting value and continued innovation.

  • avatar

    Dave Letterman is a douche and hasn’t been funny for years. Why should anyone give a damn about his opinion on a subject he clearly knows nothing about?

  • avatar

    Let’s take Letterman’s thoughts about how GM should have done an EV2, EV3, etc.

    When gasoline went to $4.25 a gallon a mere 18 months ago in my area, I had a Prius.

    I was hurting a little bit but nothing like the folks who couldn’t even fill up their SUVs and work trucks because their credit cards would crap out at “only” $50. Not to mention that they were spending this much multiple times per week, many of them.

    Now, let’s go down the alternate universe wormhole and surmise that GM had decided they’d do what they (lied about/pretended) with the automatic Hydramatic transmission, and pretty much “be first” (they weren’t – Reo was, in 1934 with the Self-Shifter, a full 4 years ahead of GM).

    So GM starts leasing improved Saturn EV2’s nationwide with 4 seats and say, a 60 mile range. Sure they lose money on the first few thousand, but gradually, people even in areas where you would not expect electric cars to flourish, start to lease them (i.e. the north).

    Then by 2000 the Saturn EV3 comes out, with 5 seats, 120 mile range, and it’s cheap enough to buy. Suddenly 9/11 happens a year later and people start thinking that maybe it’s time to get away from driving vehicles fuelled by oil imported from those-who-want-to-use-our-money-to-kill-us. And GM has to convert SUV plants over the EV3 production, which they suddenly realize starts to make component prices come down due to major mass production – and instead of raising their price, due to a backlog of orders, they actually lower the price and run plants on 3 shifts to supply demand. Oh yes, and make a profit ono a premium priced mid-sized vehicle (say, $35,000).

    In the meanwhile, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, and Volkswagen have not stood still but have innovated with hybrids AND pure electrics.

    So during global peak oil, which hits in 2007, doesn’t totally turn the global economy to mush.

    Suddenly I prefer this alternative universe.

  • avatar

    I wish the camera would have had a better shot of Elon’s face when Dave said, “this is a Lotus with an electric motor.”

    I love how the Tesla devotees pretend otherwise. It’s a Lotus that’s overweight by 600 pounds (!)

  • avatar

    Elon Musk goes around bashing GM and he is selling a POS $100,000 roadster that hasn’t even been completed. I bet you the “fit and finish” and the “feel of the dash” will be horrible. Don’t you find it funny that this guy flew across the country on a jet to do this interview and talk about how he is saving the world from CO2? This green crap makes me sick

  • avatar

    a commercial for tesla – and a demonstration of just how little letterman knows about the Volt.

  • avatar

    Does the Tesla dude even get to make fun of anyone? Sure, Volt isn’t even real yet, but the concept behind it is actually pretty solid.

  • avatar

    Well said Menno, very well said.

  • avatar

    Elon Musk came unstuck when he was persuaded to use a motor of half the size actually needed.
    The original electric motor was indeed able to deliver the 0 to 60mph ramp in 4 secs but it needed the complete 13,500 rpms that were available. To achieve the 130mph top end the intention was to use a two ratio gearbox.
    In which case changing gear meant going from a 14.4 ratio to a 7.4 ratio. The input at this crucial point in time is a mass of copper and iron rotating at 13,500 rpm. Gearheads here will recognise this as quite some feat had they been able to pull it off. As it turned out there would need to be an extensive research program to overcome the significant reliability issues encountered !!

    I understand they have now dropped the top speed requirement to 120mph and are using a larger motor with higher current semiconductor devices together with a single fixed ratio gearbox to make this a successful design.

    The GM’s Volt is a completely different kettle of fish.
    First they should have resurrected the EV1 so they would have a platform on which to characterise their Li-ion battery pack.

    Second they should have experimented with a pure series hybrid platform. Hybrid in the sense that mechanical power is converted to electrical for superior powertrain flexibility.

    Third they spec out a 120mph top speed. This, obviously, is a marketing decision. A decision like this stresses the acceleration performance when dealing with fixed ratio drives as the Tesla fiasco revealed. The 100 mph Prius being the target, I would have set the Volt to a 85-90mph limit, since every reduction here will help improve the 0 to 60mph figures down below.

    Finally both these platforms would use an EV1 style single induction motor power train to cut costs.

    When it came to the series hybrid layout GM mistakenly selected a conventional automobile engine. It is unsuited to this type of duty but that’s what they did.

    Consider that the electrical generator should be – as in the Prius – a robust concoction of fixed magnets on the rotor nesting inside a stator with a stationary winding not unlike that of a conventional car alternator. Such a machine will optimally require low torque and higher rpms. In fact considerably high rpms approaching peak power. Therefore you need the appropriate prime mover which in this case would take the form of something closer to a motorcycle engine, as someone mentioned before.

    Not that anyone here is likely to call me out on this but the hybrid would require an electronic inverter for the traction motor that would accept an input of a very wide range of bus voltage ranging from 100 to 650 Vdc but fortunately testing of this type of design can be conducted outside of an automobile setting.

    It is of course unrealistic to expect a TV celeb to be aware of any of these issues particularly on late night television. I remember Dennis Miller on one occasion quoting that he wouldn’t drive a Prius “smug-mobile” unless it was fitted with a V8 engine.

    I would think Letterman would be more credible if he could find guests to comment on the future of television which is also in financial trouble. In Canada we have the Global Canwest network which is $4B in debt and has just sold off three of its ‘A’ channel holdings in the local television market. The Financial Post newspaper has announced it is eliminating its Monday edition to save on newsprint costs. I wonder just how Letterman’s advertisers are going to react when they learn that terrestial TV transmitters are to be shut down after midnight to save on their electricity costs also !

  • avatar

    Meanwhile Jay Leno comes to the Detroit area to put on a free show for the struggling workers. He gets it. Letterman’s ignorance is painful to watch.

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    Dave Letterman is such a douche. First off, the Volt has more than a 40 mile range. That’s just with the engine off. And the electric car was just too slow and had too little range to be practical 20 years ago, and the battery technology was the same simple lead-acid battery. He’s also a crappy comedian, at the time just before I could stomach no more of him, half of the punchlines were “George Bush is an idiot”, and look at how Elon Musk is pretending to laugh at his retarded jokes.

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