Bob Lutz on the Chevy Volt—and His Future at GM

The 79-year-old, cigar-chomping car guy’s car guy on his decision to back the Chevy Volt (not to combat global warming) and his future at GM

Around 2007, people were deluding themselves into thinking that only Toyota could master alternative propulsion technology. This was seriously starting to affect the perception—and sales—of GM. So I thought, we gotta do something that’s truly the equivalent of the moon shot, something that would leapfrog all known technology. And that was the birth of the Chevy Volt.

I’m often portrayed as the champion of big American muscle cars. But my whole life I’ve been just as enthusiastic about exciting small cars, such as the Pontiac Solstice. And at Ford, I had them develop concepts that were smaller than any other American car. Yet, inexplicably, when anybody says “Bob Lutz,” they immediately think, “Aha! Dodge Viper.”

I think the fossil-fuel engine is going to be with us for a long time. The percentage of vehicles that are electric will increase. But they’re not for everybody.

What bothers me is that people equate your commitment to the environment with a belief in man-made global warming, and I absolutely reject that categorization. The belief that CO₂ causes global warming is, in my estimation, an extreme form of environmentalism that says: The Earth is going to come to an end if we don’t reduce our CO₂ consumption. They’ve been saying that since 1996, but the glaciers are still there, the polar bears are still there, Lower Manhattan is not underwater.

But just because you don’t believe in global warming doesn’t mean you can’t be concerned about the environment, the husbanding of natural resources, recycling, keeping forests and lakes pure, making sure that wildlife is abundant and safe.

I enjoy hiking and skiing and riding motorcycles, especially in the mountains in my native Switzerland. I used to do a lot of camping. I would say I’m in better shape than most 40-year-olds. I weigh 207 pounds, I’m 6 foot 3, I can do 40 impeccable military push-ups at the drop of a hat—and I still smoke one or two cigars a day. I’ve just rejoined GM in an advisory role. The probability is I’ll work a few more years, maybe until my mid-80s. It depends how long the company thinks I’m useful. But someday I’m gonna die, and at that point I won’t be in the car industry. — As told to Julian Sancton               

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