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September 16, 2008



exciting news from detroit, joel. interesting challenge ahead regarding how GM communicates this new tech to consumers. my guess is that Extended Range Electric Vehicle will be a bit of a mouthful and tough to understand. can it be communicated as a stand alone Electric Vehicle? part of the toyota success is the "hybrid buzz" along with the fact that you can point out a prius from a mile away. the design of the volt does not do that (though it does look slick) and the branding of the technology is not all that compelling.

but very promising turn-around for an american icon!

also... surprised to see that GM has sacrificed the fifth seat! http://www.autobloggreen.com/photos/2011-chevrolet-volt-1/1039828/ is this due to the space that the battery pack requires?

John Dumbrille

The Volt is a VERY exciting "coming soon" technology. There is a buzz in the city I live in, Vancouver, over cheap Chinese made electric scooters - they have sprung up out of nowhere and are all over the road. Most people I know simply wont buy US cars, for historical reasons of repair incidence and slow innovation on design. But for the same reason they buy Chinese scooters - a compelling technology, popularized - they will go for an elec car, US or not. Go GM!

Jim Leemann

Nice softball piece on GM. I agree with you that the top two auto manufacturers probably do not exist today, but I don't think it will take until 2025 for this to happen. My prediction would be 2015 or sooner.

GM, Ford, and especially Chrysler have significant challenges ahead of them. NONE of these companies are agile enough to compete with Toyota or Honda or even BMW. They have entirely too many makes and models of vehicles thinking this is what the American public wants. If that were the case none of these guys would be in the tank and the American public would be buying their cars in the droves.

Today they are asking the American taxpayer to give them more money to bail them out of their financial difficulties. Sorry, in my opinion, if you make an inferior product that no one wants to buy guess what you are out of business.

These manufacturers need a complete systemic redesign of their companies in order to compete in the global marketplace. Indeed, they employ a lot of people, but so do a lot of other companies. This is not an excuse for tapping the American taxpayer to bail them out.

Based on Bob Lutz's resume with Ford, BMW and Chrysler, if Lutz cannot figure out how to sell cars, then the board needs to fire him and get someone that does or start thinking about how they are going to fracture the company and sell off the parts that are not profitable.

GM thinks the Volt is the silver bullet to their future success. If historical performance of GM is any indication of future results, the Volt will be a colossal disaster. The fact that GM and all the other American auto manufacturers FAILED to beat Toyota or Honda to the market with a high miles-per-gallon vehicle will haunt these companies until they are out of business. 10,000 Volts by 2010, give me a break - GM is DOOMED to dying by a 1000 cuts.

Lutz better wake up and stop being so arrogant and realize that he better deliver multiple energy efficient cars, trucks, and SUVs to the market within the next two years or GM is finished! Indeed, it will take 5 to 10 years to die, but it will die.

My prediction, several GM execs will get fed up with Lutz, break away, form their own company and deliver to the marketplace what the American consumer wants - a car that gets 50 to 75 MPG, and SUV that gets 40 to 50 MPG and a truck that gets 35 to 45 MPG.

I don't think these "old line companies" are agile enough to adapt to the new "green" realities even though buying a Prius from an economic perspective makes no sense. Consumers buy the Prius because it makes them "feel environmentally good" even though they will never drive the car long enough to reap the economic benefit.

If USA auto manufacturers think they have 10, 15 or 20 years to compete in this new market, they are either naive or incredibly stupid. It is unfortunate that USA automotive workers will pay the price for the mismanagement and shear arrogance of their companies' leadership.

Mark W. McElroy

Here again we see Joel trumpeting industry evolutions under the halo effect of 'sustainability' (his credo) that are arguably anything but. If he was serious about sustainability (his credo - oh, did I mention that?), he'd tell us whether or not GM's new products are sustainable (God forbid), and also whether or not GM's new manufacturing processes to produce them are sustainable (or will be). I guess we're all supposed to ignore the fact that GM's new products may be less outrageously unsustainable than they used to be, but still unsustainable nonetheless. Thanks, Joel, for disclosing the nature of your commercial relationship with GM, but I think we all kind of figured that out. Let us know when you decide to take sustainability seriously. Glossing over it is not particularly helpful.


mateo bueno

mark, i think you have to pick better battles and rethink your approach.
1. GM has serious environmental issues. however, they are almost entirely around their product, not their plants/manufacturing. they are actually considered pioneers in EHS issues in the industry.
2. unlike Ford or others who want to brag about how green their manufacturing facilities are (think fancy green roofs), GM is recognizing that 90% of the life-cycle impact of their product is in the use phase, not production. so making a better cars is actually far more important than making them in better ways. and as mentioned, they already have this second base covered.
3. your tone is weak. thanks to people like joel, environmentalists are invited into board rooms and can actually influence the strategic direction of these companies.

Mark McElroy

Mateo, when considering the sustainability performance of a company, the life-cycle impacts of their products is profoundly not the point. If two products of equal function differ dramatically in terms of their life-cycle impacts, is one sustainable and the other not? What if both are utterly unsustainable when measured against ecological thresholds despite the eco-efficiency edge one has over the other? And how are we supposed to know whether one or the other is sustainable in those terms, if the companies that produce them, like GM, and the so-called green journalists who cover them, like Joel, refuse to address the issue as if it didn't matter? It is yours and Joel's refusal to confront these issues honestly, my friend, that is weak, not my tone, as you put it.


Mark W. McElroy

Mateo, I wanted to be even clearer about the concerns I have about what you said, and the implications of the position you (and Joel, and perhaps many others) have taken on this issue. You speak of environmentalists in the boardroom. If you claim to be an environmentalist, and yet you speak only of relative improvements in eco-efficiency, and not at all about absolute thresholds, and whether or not a company’s products or operational impacts are falling within actual, finite ecological limits, then you are not an environmentalist at all, and those of us who are would really wish you would not enter the boardroom in the first place. Because when you do, you give aid and comfort to those who would co-opt and distort the environmental agenda, and corrupt it with their non-sustainable actions.

Indeed, what we need in the boardroom are bona fide sustainability advocates who (a) do not think only in terms of environmental issues, and who see sustainability instead as something that also includes social considerations, and who (b) do not confuse ‘green’ or eco-efficiency with sustainability. It is not enough to simply lower emissions, or energy use, or to make a contribution to a local charity. Sustainability determinations must be made relative to actual social and environmental conditions in the world, relative to whether or not such conditions are sufficient for human well-being. Even the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) recognizes this principle, although most users of its guidelines for corporate sustainability reporting (including GM) fail to adhere to it (again, including GM).

So when you, Joel, or others speak in terms of sustainability, yet have the effect of undermining it, please understand that I object only because I take the concept seriously, and because I wish you would, too. This is why I say Joel’s approach is not particularly helpful.


Joel Makower

Mark: Thanks for your comments, always provocative. However, to be clear, I defy you to point out in the above post -- including Mateo's comments -- where either of us referred to "sustainability." The S-word simply doesn't appear here. I (and Mateo, I believe) are commenting strictly on GM's slowly shifting environmental stance.

You may fairly criticize GM's efforts for being inadequate from a sustainability perspective, but no one here is claiming that it isn't.

-- Joel

Mark W. McElroy

Joel, with respect, your entire blog is cloaked in the S-word, as is plainly evident by your use of it in your masthead: "Joel Makower. Sustainable Business..." If on the other hand, you are now saying that your work and your posts are not really about sustainability after all, then lose the S-word in your banner as if they are. Better yet, make a statement for all to hear that you understand that 'green' and 'eco-efficiency' are not the same sustainability. And remind you readers, assuming you agree, that to settle for 'green' without measuring for sustainability is irresponsible. To glorify 'green' is to undermine sustainability. And that, as I say, is not particularly helpful.


Mark W. McElroy


One more thing. As long as you're 'defying' me to find any sign of the S-word in your latest (GM) posting, let's raise the stakes, shall we? I defy you to show me any posting you have EVER made in which the concept of sustainability was used in a literal sense. You invoke the term in your masthead, but when have you ever used it seriously and not just for its halo effect?


Mark W. McElroy

Still waiting.

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