Big Picture: GM’s new CEO Mary Barra gets classic Bob Lutz comments

Mary Barra GMChanging of the guard is starting to happen in Motor City. Right after General Motors paid off the federal government for its post-bankruptcy bailout loan, CEO Dan Akerson announced he’s leaving his job and that GM is getting its first female CEO, Mary Barra. She’s previously served as senior vice president of global product development and has championed GM’s leadership role in electrified and fuel efficient vehicles. Ford Motor Co. is also flooded with gossip about its shining star CEO Allan Mulally leaving and going back to Washington to captain the Microsoft ship. As for Barra, ex-Chevy Volt guru and former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz had his usual bit of banter to share. On a Detroit radio talk show last week, Lutz praised Barra for leading GM’s product development and had something very Lutz-like to say: “I don’t know if you know what she looks like, but she is medium height with an attractive, athletic build, nice face — she’s not a little old lady with glasses; she is very athletic looking, very active and it’s easy to imagine her behind the wheel of a car.” So, she may not be a car guy, but she’s alright with Bob Lutz.

And in other clean transportation news…..

  • Fisker Automotive Holdings Inc. is continuing at a fast pace through bankruptcy proceedings.  Its lawyers convinced US Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross in Wilmington that the process should roll forward. The hearing started last week as the judge gave creditors more time to sell their assets and not just sell it all off to Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li. Attorneys on both sides disagreed and asked that a hearing be scheduled for January 3, which Gross did approve. At that time, the judge will decide if the reorganization plan should be allowed to go forward, along with the structure for selling the company’s assets.
  • Green Car Reports lambasted dealers for many times mishandling plug-in electric vehicle sales experiences. Here’s the rub: “Remember two things about dealers. First, they make very little money selling new cars, perhaps $100 to $200 on average. Their profit comes from selling used cars, and providing parts and service for existing cars. Second, every salesperson’s mission is to close the deal, today, at maximum profit with minimum time invested. Selling a plug-in car takes three to five times as long for a dealer as does selling a gasoline car. It requires explanation, education, training, all of the fuss and bother associated with installing a charging station in the garage if the buyer wants one, and so on.”
  • Ever hear much about methanol as being an advanced alternative fuel of the future with plenty of benefits? Nobel laureate Dr. George Olah and Surya Prakash, director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute at USC, are singing the praises of methanol. They’ve won a million dollar prize from the Israeli government to conduct research. They say that methanol can be produced by combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide and it can be used to power vehicles. One of the outputs can be the diesel substitute dimethyl ether, which Volvo Trucks has been testing out.
  • Check out this flyer from Sacramento Clean Cities promoting Propel Fuel’s 10th fuel station in that region. And you get free fuel — $10 worth of ethanol and biodiesel from December 18 to 20.
  • Sapphire Energy and Phillips 66 have an agreement to produce algae crude oil to commercial scale production and turn it into fuel. Their goal is to complete fuel certifications to move forward Sapphire Energy’s renewable crude oil, called Green Crude, for wide-scale oil refining. Perhaps algae biofuel will actually make it to the market – there’s been quite a few enthusiastic fans out there waiting for it to reach commercial scale.
  • Ford is joining the race for driverless cars to make it to dealer lots. “Our goal is to test the limits of full automation and determine the appropriate levels for near- and mid-term deployment,” said Raj Nair, a vice president at Ford, about the automaker’s Fusion Hybrid research vehicle. While Ford says that most of the automation it’s testing won’t be deployed until after 2025, it intends to phase in pieces of it little-by-little before then. 

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