By on September 4, 2009

I tell my kids, if you’re going to apologize for something, never use the word “if.” I’m sorry if I offended you” is not an apology. Audi of America Prez Johann De Nysschen is not, by nature, a word-mincing machine. Only now he is, ish, via Audi’s Facebook page.

An online report today, subsequently picked up by various other forums, left an unflattering sense of my feelings toward electric vehicles and the people who support their development. Let me clearly state that, in my opinion, electric vehicles will be part of the future transportation of society – but only if we go about it the right way. In fact, Audi is working on electric vehicles. I do not specifically recall using the term “car for idiots” during my informal conversation with the writer. It was certainly not my intention to leave the impression that I’m opposed to electrical vehicles, and if I was unclear on either of those points then I need to eat crow.

What I do recall is the essence of my contention, namely that the feasibility of the Chevrolet Volt as a concept is questionable. And that policy decisions – and the industry’s reactions to those decisions – are leading us toward a technology that may sound tempting on the surface, but, as of now, also contains many deep and unsolved economic and technological compromises.

“Mass electrification” of the vehicles on American roads could lead to problems like a strained electric grid. Large-scale utilization of electric vehicles will require massive investment in new power stations that are much cleaner than the ones in use in the U.S. today. Otherwise, it could merely shift greenhouse gas emissions from the tailpipes of cars to the smokestacks of coal-burning utilities. That’s not just my opinion. The California Air Resource Board this past April concluded that electric vehicles presently are second only to hydrogen cars in greenhouse gas impact when measured on a well-to-wheel basis.

Returning to the Volt, my point was simply one of its economic feasibility today. The 50% or so price increase that the Volt represents over a similar gasoline car cannot be offset through the savings from reduced fuel consumption. The only way to offset the extreme premium for the Volt is through taxpayer-funded subsidies. So I question if that makes economic sense.

Does that mean the Volt and other electric vehicles are forever impractical? Of course not.

In recent broadcast interviews, discussions with journalists and meetings with policy makers I have asserted that the future of automotive transportation lies not in any one “silver bullet”, but in a range of technologies that meet different needs – all while lowering emissions and fuel consumption. That includes plug-in electric cars when technological and economic hurdles make them more practical. It includes hybrid vehicles. And it includes clean diesel along with substantially more efficient takes on today’s gasoline internal combustion engines.

Admittedly I am a passionate advocate for the role that clean diesel technology can play in easing this nation’s challenges. Cutting through misperceptions about clean diesel and other technologies can be frustrating. If you’d like to hear my thoughts on these issues, go to a video of my recent remarks at Meanwhile, know that we are working toward a more sustainable future.

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26 Comments on “Volt Birth Watch 164: Audi Prez Facebooks on the “Car for Idiots” Volt Diss...”

  • avatar

    Well, I do at least like De Nysschen’s rationale. The “silver bullet” theory is very misguided and disingenuous. A “silver buckshot” theory would be much more appropriate.

    Now, whether Audi is truly focusing on multiple modes (buckshot) instead of just clean diesel (bullet) is up for debate.

    I’ve not seen any serious work on other fuel efficiency technology out of Audi in the ‘States. Sure, they’ve had turbos here for as long as anyone can remember, but they’re not accomplishing fuel efficiency gains from that technology because they’re not downsizing their North American engines to capitalize on the “similar performance from smaller displacement” that a turbo can provide.

    When you think about it, Ford seems to be the only company post-2008 fuel crisis to use that logic– at least as far as the marketing for EcoBoost is concerned. Time will tell whether their priority is truly on impressive fuel economy once the smaller cars start getting EcoBoost engines.

    Couple that with no real hybrid or electric powertrain options forthcoming (at least that I’m aware of) and Audi really doesn’t seem to be subscribing to the “buckshot” theory at all. They’re putting all their eggs in the “clean diesel” basket, just like VeeDub. Combine that “clean diesel” with some hybrid technology– even a mild hybrid in the heavier vehicles– and you could have some great fuel efficiency gains from a maker not normally associated with miserly fuel economy.

  • avatar

    This guy needs to hire Bertel to do some damage control PR work.

  • avatar

    I agree with him that the Volt is a “car for idiots”. Idiots who think the car has zero emissions. Idiots who think paying an exorbitant amount is worth in the cause of going green. While you are at it also throw the Tesla Roadster in the “car for idiots” bucket.

  • avatar

    Ahhh, those Germans; they certainly are known for their tact.

    Said tact aside, the Volt is a massive waste of time, resources and tax dollars. Who in Buddha’s name is going to fork out $40k for a Chevy?

  • avatar
    Dr. Remulac

    tauronmaikar :
    September 4th, 2009 at 11:24 am
    ……..Idiots who think the car has zero emissions.

    Amen to that.

    My anectodal evidence suggests that at least 50% of the general population thinks this is true.

  • avatar

    Banger is “bang on”.

    The nature of the auto industry almost requires them to pick a ‘signature’ technology (that has merits, but is not universally sensible), to help define their brand marque.

    VW, Audi, MB = The engine with the German name.

    Toyota = A gas-electric technological masterpiece that most sensible and educated people agree is the best present-day solution.

    GM – The Volt = “We have to be different than the preceding, so we’ll hitch our wagon to a system that has merits, but overall is not the answer to the problem; it’s just ‘brand definition’.

    As the the next steps in automotive transportation, you have to find a niche (s) (urban commuter, suburban Home Depot runner, large family, empty-nesters, campers/nature lovers, super greenies), and apply the appropriate drivetrain tech with the maximum efficiency to make it feasible in that niche.

    Trying to be all things to all people will produce a Volt.

  • avatar

    ” I do not specifically recall using the term “car for idiots” during my informal conversation with the writer.

    You know, I don’t know what I dislike more about this guy…that he’d be arrogant enough to utter the “car for idiots” line, or that he’s too much of a pussy to stand behind it.

    Save the “blame the media” BS for when you have lunch with Sarah Palin, Doc.

    I think I just crossed Audi off my shopping list.

  • avatar

    Too bad we can’t call folks idiots when we truly believe it, right or wrong. I’ve heard all the bs about Audi’s “big mouth bass” grill, just being an overpriced VW, but I don’t care. I love driving my A3.

  • avatar

    I like this guy, because he’s right.

  • avatar

    This clown makes Lutz look like the Dali Lama.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    “Canucknucklehead :
    September 4th, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Ahhh, those Germans; they certainly are known for their tact.”

    Audi of America Prez Johann De Nysschen is a South African.

  • avatar

    If the saying “the mass marketing success of a car is inversely proposal to it’s pistonhead cred” is true, the Volt is the car that’s actually going to revive GM.

    Seriously, most ordinary people out there do less than 25miles per day. They go to their job, then to the grocery store, then back home. Car stays parked for 4 hours. Then, they go out for dinner at night, and back home again. Total miles traveled: 25 miles. Tops. In fact, most times it’s less than 20. I’ve lived with non car-passionate people, and this is the way it is. Everybody in the know is aware that 80% of the national oil consumption is generated from moving in a 20mile range around your house, usually by those non-pistonhead people
    For these people, the ability to travel more than 40 miles a day is needed only on holidays and on weekends. What exactly is wrong with this particular attitude? For these people, the Volt is a technological miracle. A miracle that can do all their daily commute without burning a drop of oil. This keeps their gas tank full, waiting for that time in the weekend they ‘ll venture out in the highway.

    These people do not care about the price. They do not give a dime about that all-important ability of a car to sprint from 0 to 60 in less than 10 secs. In fact, they don’t care about even if they are going to ever make a return on the money.

    For them, it’s more about sticking it to the gas station owner that has been ripping them for all those years, getting rid of the nation’s reliance of arab oil, and so on. If a car can free them from that duty, don’t you think they ‘ll buy it right away? There are people who bought the Prius, for god’s sake. So, the Volt is going to be a success, if GM doesn’t screw it all up in the enginnering department, like they did with the Vega. If they do scew it up, the japanese are going to come and steal the idea, and take all the credit, like they always do.

    What do I think? The Volt is a terrific second car. Tesla kinda got the equation backwards. Why someone should spend 200.000$ for a sportcar that will do less than 300miles per charge? With the Volt, you can have your good muscle car for weekends, with the conventional engine and everything, while having the plug-in for the grocery shop. Also, the gas tank is always there in the Volt ready to be used. So you never run out of juice, like in the Tesla

    So, what is wrong with you pistonheads? Do you really hate people-carrier vehicles so much?

  • avatar

    Hence, GM has an exit from it’s dire situation.

    Any news from Chrysler? Any plans for what’s gonna happen between now and before those new cars from fiat are (supposed) to arrive in 2011? None. With the exception of the new Ram, all their new cars are either non-existent or fictional.

    Can we have a Chrysler-bashing article instead, please?

  • avatar

    It occurs to me that we may be on the verge of the term “volted” becoming a euphemism for a death knell. It could replace “jumping the shark”. Now, how do I patent that idea so people have to pay me a quarter every time it gets used?

  • avatar

    kurkosdr :
    September 4th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    These people do not care about the price. They do not give a dime about that all-important ability of a car to sprint from 0 to 60 in less than 10 secs. In fact, they don’t care about even if they are going to ever make a return on the money.


    Right, such people do exist. But only in obscurely small numbers.

    Let’s say only 10% of the population can afford a $40k+ car (the other 90% typically buy Camry or something like it).

    Out of them, 10% don’t care about cost and performance (the other 90% typically buy 335 or something like it).

    Yet out this subgroup, 10% would buy a GM instead of something from Europe of Japan (the other 90% typically buy Prius or Leaf or A3).

    Now you have 0.1% of the 5 million passenger cars sold per year (the other 5 million are trucks), which is 5,000 units per year.

    Tell me, how can GM make money on 5,000 units? Let’s say, wsn is biased against GM, let’s multiply the figure by 10, to get 50,000 units. That’s still only 12% of Camry sales. How can GM justify the cost of development based on 50,000 units per year?

    That kind of figure may work for Telsa, but certainly not for GM, considering the number of mouths to feed.

  • avatar

    Round these parts, gas for farm vehicles is colored purple. If an inspector finds the purple gas in your car, big fine, because you have eluded the gas taxes.

    How long is it going to be before the same idea is used to jack up electricity rates? Because if I’m paying a gasoline tax to drive on our roads, I’m damned if I feel like letting somebody have a day-in, day-out freebie on the road tax part of gas tax, just because his vehicle is powered by electricity from the grid.

    Seems like everyone is ducking this issue.

  • avatar

    A 40 thousand dollar electric Chevrolet is pretty idiotic, that much is clear. Give the guy his due: even Germans can make sense, when they’re not trying to take over the world. On the other hand, why do these guys from VW look so…um…er…German?

  • avatar

    Buying a $40k Audi doesn’t make financial sense either but people still do it instead of a $19k Toyota

  • avatar

    You are absolutely correct.
    I have a degree in management, I crunch these numbers for a living. I personally don’t give a shit about the numbers. If I can move my energy consumption from Arab oil to Kentucky coal I will spend the money.
    Yea I know the coal problems. We can solve that too. The first thing to do is get the problems within our own control.
    You are correct, there will have to be a method to spread the tax burdon for roads etc. to home charged vehicles.

  • avatar

    If I can move my energy consumption from Arab oil to Kentucky coal I will spend the money.

    That’s the point behind the Volt. It’s about stoping the Arabs from ripping off America.

    Till recently, the problem was that no company would like to invest in such thing as the Volt due to the fact that, during the first years of it’s life, it’s inevitable that the Volt is gonna appeal to a niche market only. With the automotive industry being as short-sighted as always, companies are reluctant to invest into something like the Volt. But as oil prices rise by 2012 (and run out completely by 2017) word of mouth is going to create demand for Volt-like vehicles. So GM’s electric experiment will turn a profit if it lives up to the promise. If.

    Maybe nationalization of GM wasn’t all doom and gloom eventually. After all, the first generation of EVs was given a chance thanks to the California mandate, another case of the government fiddling with the business of the auto industry.

  • avatar

    kurkosdr :That’s the point behind the Volt. It’s about stoping the Arabs from ripping off America.

    How are Arabs, selling oil on the world commodity market, ripping off Americans? Are they forcing us to buy at a dearer price than, say, our pal from the south, Chavez? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of the Arab states (or banana dictators, either), and I sure wish the US was more energy independent (nuclear car, anyone?), but I think your political views are interfering with your economic views.

    As for this being the “point” behind a forty thousand dollar electric Chevy…well, I’ll take your word on it (wink wink).

  • avatar

    The Arabs have a nice lobby that’s ruining all the chances of doing anything ecological. This is because the banana dictator of the UAE has plans to sell off all of the country’s oil by 2016 and use the money to build an exclusive travel paradise for rich businessmen, that will compete with Monaco and the like. You go to the UAE, and you see things like artificial islands, skycrapers full of malls, lots of skycraper hotels, artificial gardens (plants die there during summer, so they replant them every year) all intended towards the rich businessmen tursists that seek for artificial paradises. The dictator made all these with oil money.

    If the word had moved to electricity production from nuclear, solar and air, as it has already happened in most of Europe, and everybody had a small second car for it’s daily commute like the EV1 (wink wink), then the civilized world would say to the dictator: “drink your oil, we don’t need it”. And the dictator’s plans would go bust. People in the UK, France and Germany have electic cars, despire the automakers reluctancy to build many of those.

    So, the tax-funded General Motors Volt may be America’s 21century gulf war: Dirty, but beneficial for America.

  • avatar

    Johann De Nysschen: “No one is going to pay a $15,000 premium for a car that competes with a (Toyota) Corolla. So there are not enough idiots who will buy it.”

    Bet he wouldn’t say it to Ferdinand Piëch’s face.

    (The VW EOS–basically a two-door Jetta just without the roof–is $39,000 at our local dealer…car for idiots, indeed.)

  • avatar

    Hank: the EOS is more or less the same size as the Jetta, but different engine (it has the GLI engine), and a nicer interior than basic Jedi. Also, you can garage an EOS for about 32, not 39, so let’s not be idiotic, here. Finally, any drop top coupe is probably going to be about 5-6 thousand dollars above the comparable hard top coupe/sedan. Think of an EOS as a convertible GLI, and you’ll understand. So, the EOS may be an idiotic car, but it is not nearly as idiotic as an electric Chevy.

  • avatar

    Banger wrote:

    Sure, they’ve had turbos here for as long as anyone can remember, but they’re not accomplishing fuel efficiency gains from that technology because they’re not downsizing their North American engines to capitalize on the “similar performance from smaller displacement” that a turbo can provide.

    I don’t think that’s strictly true. To my knowledge, both the 2010 A4 and A3 are solely available in the NA market with turbocharged 4-cylinder engines–making Audi the only European manufacturer to not offer a V6 in those segments. Elsewhere in their range supercharged V6s are replacing V8s and turbos are giving diesels better performance than equivalent displacement petrol engines.

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