Executives That Champion Electric Cars: Should They Drive One?
Via Motors, an electric vehicle conversion company, announced on Monday that legendary car guy Bob Lutz has become a director on its board. Via Motors, based in Utah, was spun off in November 2010 from Raser Technologies, the company best known for converting a Hummer H3 into a plug-in hybrid.
Naming a high-profile auto exec like Lutz could help Via achieve its goals: to begin filling fleet orders for its range-extended Chevy Silverado-based pickups later this year and to start offering converted EVs to individuals in 2013. Earlier this year, when Lutz announced that he became an advisor to Current Motor Company—a Mich.-based maker of electric scooters—he said, “I’ve dedicated my career to bringing electric vehicles to the mainstream.”
But Chelsea Sexton—a long-time electric advocate and a contributor to this site—tweeted in response to this week’s news:
“Bob Lutz director to another EV Co. But when does he start driving the tech he champions?”
The fact that Via Motors converts internal combustion cars to all- or mostly-electric vehicles would be a golden opportunity for Lutz to transform one or more of his dozens of classic cars into an EV. How cool would it be for 79-year-old Lutz to convert his father’s 1952 Aston Martin DB2 Vantage into an EV—and swear off the use of gasoline for the rest of his life?
While he’s at it, he could convert his 1934 LaSalle convertible, 1955 Chrysler 300, 1985 Autocraft Cobra, or 1978 Dodge Li'l Red Express pickup? That would be wonderful. Then again, Lutz holds firm to his belief that “global warming is a crock of shit.” To be fair, when he made that infamous statement, he added, “I’m motivated more by the desire to replace imported oil than by the CO2 [argument].”
Horsepower versus High Horse?
This question of what executives in the EV industry are choosing for their person ride has lately been on my mind. Two weeks ago, Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place, told me that his “other car is a Prius.” I assume that his primary car is a Renault Fluence ZE with swappable batteries. I don’t know what Tesla’s Elon Musk drives everyday, but I assume that it’s a Tesla Roadster or a prototype of the Model S. Even though the S is advertised to seat seven, Mr. Musk has five sons—so I imagine that he needs some kind of SUV—probably powered by gas—for longer family trips. I also assume that Henrik Fisker earns good Karma on his commute, but who knows? Even though Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn deserves a ton of credit for bringing EVs into the mainstream, I somehow doubt that he spends a lot of time in an all-electric Nissan LEAF.
I do know for sure that an executive—who shall remain nameless—in charge of the electric car business for a major provider of EV charging equipment drives a full-size gas-powered Lexus sedan. I’m sure he’s waiting for the right opportunity to go electric, but let’s face it: selection is limited at this stage. I don’t think this makes him the transportation equivalent of mansion-dwelling cheeseburger-eating Al Gore. And I don’t think it’s right to “out” EV executives who continue to frequent the pumps—although I admit that I’m curious about who talks the talk, and who drives the change.
One of the primary complaints waged by old-school EV drivers is that Johnny-come-lately industry executives—only interested in making a buck off the EV revolution—make product decisions without the first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to drive an EV on a daily basis. And it incenses them that these same execs make critical decisions without thinking to consult with people who have been driving an electric car for many years.
Among the journalists I know who focus on the green car scene: some drive a Volt or LEAF; one drives a gas-powered Smart and another a sensible Honda Fit; one lives in New York City and takes public transportation; and one recently dropped off the waiting list for a Nissan LEAF and opted for a small gas-powered SUV as the single car for his family of four living in a rural area. That’s not a contradiction. It’s a sound choice of vehicle that meets personal needs and a budget—which is ultimately a decision that everybody needs to make.
Maybe I’m rambling about this because of my own situation. Most of our family miles are put on a Nissan LEAF these days, but we’re thinking of trading in our 2006 50-mpg Toyota Prius for a seven-seat all-wheel-drive used Toyota Highlander Hybrid—rated at half the mileage. This shift will better fit for our two teenagers and our carpool duties—and will allow easier trips to the mountains. But the very moment that we can get a mostly-electric four-wheel-drive SUV plug-in hybrid to match up with a pure electric car for local city miles, it’s the end of gas-only cars for me. I don’t expect everybody to make the same choices, but it seems reasonable that the people most vociferously espousing the benefits of electric cars should be driving one.
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