Tony Posawatz Reflects on Volt, Fisker and Future of EVs

By · April 15, 2014

Tony Posawatz and Fisker Karma cars

Tony Posawatz, during his Fisker Karma days.

Talking with Tony Posawatz makes one optimistic about the future for electric vehicles. The executive who helped create GM’s Volt, and tried to save Fisker Automotive, is now spreading his talent around to many EV-space companies and he is stoked. “I am a passionate believer in electric drive tech and auto clean tech stuff,” he told PluginCars.com.

“Not only is it possible, but I know how the customers respond and what the business case is” for electrification.

Posawatz is now working independently as an advisor to a number of small companies in the electric vehicle space.

“I believe innovation is more likely to come from a very small company or start-up,” said Posawatz. “These companies need a lot of help. They don’t know vehicles that well.”

Wireless Future

What does he think will have the most impact on EV adoption in the near term? Wireless charging, said Posawatz. Fast charging is critical for the future adoption of EVs, he said, and wireless is the most convenient way to achieve fast charging.

“Think about pulling up to a wireless charging pad and having that charging time reduced by 75 percent,” he said. “The fascinating thing is the technology helps facilitate the fueling process by increasing the speed, but also if you have many of these installations you could reduce battery size and cost.”

Of course wireless—or inductive—charging isn’t being used on a wide scale anywhere right now. But Posawatz is working with a small company in Pennsylvania called Momentum Dynamics that he believes has great wireless charging technology.

When will the average EV driver be able to use wireless charging? Not soon. Posawatz admits that it will likely be used in the commercial and industrial space first. He is “very bullish” on opportunities for electrification in those segments, he said. Autonomous driving also grabs his attention, though, as a “wild card” because of its potential impact on telematics and electrified vehicles in general. “Stay tuned, over the next couple of months there will be some announcements,” he said, without providing details.

Once wireless charging is more widely used in the commercial and industrial spaces, it can move to the consumer space, he said.

Act Local

Posawatz, who is living in Michigan again after a brief spell in California, is also working with the Electrification Coalition, a group of large companies that aims to break ties between the U.S. transportation system and the global oil supply. Electrification is a key element of that strategy.

For the Coalition, Posawatz is advising on two small-scale community electrification projects, in Orlando, Fla. and Ft. Collins and Loveland, Co. The Orlando project is heavily focused on the tourism industry, getting tourists to lease EVs and providing the infrastructure they need to have a seamless enjoyable experience driving them. In Colorado, the communities are the driving force behind the electrification projects.

His role, said Posawatz, is to use his expertise to “help complete the experience on a small scale ecosystem,” making sure the Coalition has thought of everything that will make using an EV easy in those projects. The easier it is, the more people will try EVs. Getting consumers into an EV can drive sales because in preliminary results half of consumers that spend time driving an EV say they will consider purchasing one.

Continual Improvement

Posawatz was a key player on the General Motors team that created the Chevy Volt and its range-extending EV technology. He still believes vehicles with some combination of battery power plus gasoline are the best solution to get consumers into EVs in the near term. But he is bullish on pure electric vehicles as well, said Posawatz.

He left GM after 30 years for the opportunity to work with different companies, but he stays in touch with the Volt team. As for future improvements in the Volt, he won’t talk specifics, but Posawatz said, “Folks at GM are going to look continually at making the technology better, more efficient, and less costly” so they can increase volumes.

GM is going through some tough times right now. Its new CEO, Mary Barra, was grilled before Congress for a problem with the ignition switch in some GM models. Will this problem, for which GM is bound to take a financial bath, make GM less enthusiastic about electrification? Posawatz doesn’t think so. “It would be my expectation that electrification is here to stay,” he said.

Those may be more than just diplomatic words. GM announced on April 8 that it was investing $384 million in the Detroit-Hamtramck plant that produces the Volt, the Cadillac ELR, and the Opel Ampera.

Posawatz’s short tenure as CEO of bankrupt plug-in hybrid electric vehicle maker Fisker Automotive was less successful than his GM stint. What drew him to Fisker was the company’s combination of technical and design capabilities, said Posawatz.

He came to the company when it was already struggling to find funds to produce its second model, the Atlantic. Lack of cash was the main reason behind Fisker’s demise, said Posawatz. “Automobile companies require capital to survive,” he said. “It is always the second or third vehicle where you make the big improvements.”

Expect to hear more from Tony Posawatz. He has been playing a behind-the-scenes role with the small companies he advises, but will become a more prominent player in the future, he hinted. Posawatz seems like a man who has found his niche. “I have been liberated” he said. “Not working for a big company, you can see how many ideas are bubbling out there.”

Comments

· · 21 weeks ago

The irony is that neither the Volt nor the Fisker are EV's. They are plugin hybrids. But, you were saying ...

· · 19 weeks ago

Advice from mustache guy who joined a sinking ship? I don't think so

· · 19 weeks ago

@NeilBlanchard,

It's comments like these that hurt the general success of EV vehicles. I hate to tell you they are both EV vehicles (i.e. electric motors power the vehicle). Yes they do carry secondary power plants that makes them hybrids (combination of two things). In the Fisker the ICE is truly used only for generating electricity. For the Volt the ICE is used for generating and propulsion is specific cases to increase efficiency.

In the end hybrids will win out. Even fuel cell vehicles are technically hybrids. Tesla's idea of having very large batteries that you carry around that are little used in day to day use makes little sense. You pay for capacity that's really there just to increase the life of the battery since the batteries are rarely drained.

The benefit with vehicles like the Volt is you have modest battery capacity for day to day use but can carry a few gallons of gas when you need it. If you need to go further you refill it in minutes or if you have time, recharge it. One would argue the BMW i3 is the best EV out there. Their issue was they gimped the fuel tank and the ICE is too small. And of course the looks :)

Fuel cell vehicles offer the same benefits. But the issue with fuel cells is hydrogen production. So in the same way vehicles like the Volt are stop gap I think pure EV's are stop gap as well.

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