Tuesday, December 16, 2008

detroit is all talk

If you haven't seen the docu-tainment (documentary-entertainment) film titled "Who Killed the Electric Car", you've got to. Period. If you have seen it already, then you probably know where I'm going with this conversation.

The pending auto bailout for Detroit's big 3 is nothing more than a band-aid for a much larger, and grotesque ailment- specifically GM's uncanny ability to talk the talk, but not walk the walk.

GM acquired 51% of Sweeden's car maker Saab in 1990. To be fair, Saab is much more than a car maker. Since 1937, Saab has been one of the world's most innovative builders of civilian and military aircraft, heavy trucks, buses, and other technology. Saab was the first car maker to turbo charge a production passenger car in 1978, giving a standard 2.0 liter 4cyl engine the power and performance of 6 or 8 cylinders, yet maintaining the fuel economy of the smallest Asian imports. Since then, Saab has led the way in powerful fuel efficient automobiles.

Jump to 1985 where Saab introduces the EV-1 (Experimental Vehicle One: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saab_EV-1). So advanced and cool looking, this car was even featured "as is" in the second Back to the Future movie. Beyond that, this car featured 66 PV solar cells on the all-glass roof that powered a ventilation system and a 285HP 4cyl, 16 valve turbo charged engine capable of pushing the car 0-16 in 5.9 seconds. Take that, Lotus!

OK, so GM acquires Saab in 1990, and by 1996, had hijacked the EV-1 brand name. It took the name, slapped it on a hap-hazard effort at putting an electric vehicle on the road, and ultimately bastardized the brand.

Here’s how: The GM EV-1, leased through Saturn dealerships in California and Arizona, was an unmitigated disaster, not because the cars weren't up to task, but because GM had no intention of continuing support for the cars past their 3 year leases. Further, GM “robbed” the Nickle Metal Hydride battery technology from a small battery maker, Ovonic Battery Co, it “partnered” with, and then sold the patents to Texaco in 2000. What does an oil company want with rechargeable battery technology? http://www.allbusiness.com/company-activities-management/company-structures/9321068-1.html

Also during this time, GM's engineers imposed their Detroit Will on the design and engineering of the Saab product line. Consequently, beginning in 1994, the NG (new generation) Saab began a major decline in quality and customer satisfaction. By 1999, GM handed the majority of design work back to Saab, and there was a resurgence of innovation and quality.

In the early 2000s, Saab begins experimenting with biofuels, specifically, E85 ethanol "dual fuel" engines. Jump to 2006 and Saab showcases its 310HP "BioPower" touring sedan (aka, stationwagon!) powered by, you guessed it, a 2.0 liter 4cyl turbo charged engine. Super efficient, super clean and super fast. Did I mention it has the cargo/payload capacity of most SUVs!

Then in 2007, Saab goes one step further showcasing a 100% ethanol powered hybrid-electric convertible at the Detroit auto show. The engine was the standard Saab 4cyl turbo, but get this, the hybrid-electric components were all GM! This car reportedly can be operated on battery alone, or with battery/engine working together.

Oh, did I mention that Saab has sold 100,000 BioPower cars in Sweeden! In other words, Detroit not only has the technology, but it has the ability and resources to put this stuff on the road.

So where am I going with all this?

How about... GM is at it again! They killed the EV-1, and now with the market and economy in the toilet (including the pending auto-bailout), even though they say they want to be “clean and green”, they are willing to toss aside Saab and everything it has achieved. Additionally, GM is looking at allowing the Saturn brand to go away as well. FYI, Saturn has the most fuel efficient hybrid SUV on the market today. http://blogs.consumerreports.org/cars/2008/12/saab-volvo-satu.html

Enough already! It’s time for the Big 3 and the UAW (which is holding Detroit hostage) to step aside, and allow the smaller, more nimble, less burdened, and truly innovative companies take the helm for our transportation future!

Detroit, you say you want to build more fuel efficient cars, lower emissions and help build a greener future. You talk it, now walk it... or take a hike!


Casey said...

So...do you still drive a Saab? And do they make anything that seats six comfortably?

steve greene said...

Nope, I gave up Saabs a few years ago. I'm driving a old diesel Benz running on biodiesel/veggie-oil most of the time.

New Saabs are still pricey, but the 9-7X SUV probably seats six. And I think they are offing it in a hybrid or dual-fuel sometime soon.