Audi Chief Calls Chevy Volt “A Car For Idiots”  

Posted by Big Gav in

Gas 2.0 has some thoughts on some anti-electric car marketin from High-efficiency diesel promter Audi - Audi Chief Calls Chevy Volt “A Car For Idiots”.

So taking the diplomatic view, ignore, for a minute, his purposely inflammatory and derogatory statements, and consider his analysis. In de Nysschen’s mind, no one will be willing to pay the expected $40,000 base price of the Volt when the cars it’s competing with are $15,000 less (he thinks the Volt will be competing with Toyota Corollas). Also, he noted, the Volt doesn’t deliver a premium luxury experience and, therefore, its eco-lux price tag is inexcusable to the average consumer.

Keep in mind that de Nysschen is a strong proponent of diesel technology and Audi is currently investing a lot of energy and capital promoting diesels to Americans. He feels that modern fuel-sipping low emissions diesel technology has been largely ignored by the US government and that people have been wrongly convinced into thinking that electric cars are the answer.

His preference for diesels over electric and plug-in cars is based on his following conclusions:

* A wholesale shift from gas to electric cars in the US would result in a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions due to the fact that about 70% of American electricity currently comes from coal plants.

* Recent advances in diesel technology have resulted in very high mileage cars with extremely low emissions.

* Diesels already have the infrastructure needed to provide a fuel supply. Electric cars need to have infrastructure built and completely upgraded.

On the surface, he may have some thought-provoking points. But I’ve done some thinking on this topic in the past too, and this is what I’ve concluded:

* While it’s true that about 50% of American electricity currently comes from coal, that number is changing quickly as more renewables come online. In some areas of the country, large amounts of electricity already come from renewable sources. Given that EVs will come on relatively slowly as well, it makes sense to conduct the switch simultaneously.

* Regardless of that, there is research that shows even given the current ratio of coal power in the US, it would be less polluting to switch to plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

* It’s much easier and more cost effective to regulate a relative handful of single source emitters such as power plants than it is to regulate hundreds of millions of tailpipes. When new pollution reduction technology comes online all you have to do is go to your power plant and add the new technology there. Imagine trying to get that new technology into all 250 million cars.

* Transmission of electrical power is orders of magnitude more efficient than shipping refined oil all around the country to thousands of different fuel stations.

* If the power source in your car (electricity) is independent of the power generation method (coal, natural gas, wind, solar, geothermal, wave, biomass burning, etc.) you ensure that not only will your transportation method be adaptable to future changes, you also increase the stability and security of your transportation infrastructure because you have a diverse variety local power sources to choose from.

While I agree with Mr. de Nysschen that the US should be taking a good look at the viability of diesels (especially considering that Europeans can already buy a huge variety of high mileage diesels), his analysis of why electric cars are doomed to fail is completely off base. And his method of delivery of the message is tasteless and unnecessarily mean.

6 comments

the fact that about 70% of American electricity currently comes from coal plants

Most recent numbers put coal at 46% and in May of this year renewables hit 13%.

Thats a change from 2006 when the distribution was 49% coal and 9.5% renewables.

Even if EVs were charged using 100% coal produced electricity there would be less released carbon than if the same miles were driven by petroleum fueled ICE vehicles. Coal->electricity->EV->road is more efficient than petroleum->ICE->road.

advances in diesel technology have resulted in very high mileage cars with extremely low emissions

We would need incredible advances in diesels to make them as efficient as electrics. The typical ICE vehicle looses a very large percentage of the energy in its fuel to heat. Only 20% or so of the energy gets to the road. Electrics loose only 10% or so, put 90% toward pushing the car.

Diesels already have the infrastructure needed to provide a fuel supply. Electric cars need to have infrastructure built and completely upgrade

The electric infrastructure is already in place for roughly half of American drivers who have garages with outlets. Thousands of curbside outlets are being installed.

In one installation program Nissan has partnered with eTec to install 12,750 charge points in five states. So far 400 are in place and it is expected that the rest will be up and going before the Nissan LEAF starts arriving in numbers.



The US grid can easily absorb hundreds of thousands of EVs if charging is done during off peak hours.

As for the Volt/Corolla comparison, my understanding is that the Volt will be more upscale/middle market and not an econobox.

Diesels have been a hard sell in the US largely because until recently we had only high sulfur diesel in our pumps. We now have cleaner diesel, but it may be too late for diesel cars to deeply penetrate the US market.

Diesel is not that easy to find in fuel stations once you get away from the highway stations and I would imagine not many stations are going to be interested in spending money to change over one underground tank and set of pumps for a handful of diesel cars.

With PHEVs coming to market and, for most drivers, delivering equivalent MPG ratings in the hundreds, not tens of miles per gallon diesels won't be that attractive.

Let me put my argument in simpler terms....

Let's assume I'm one of the 90% of American drivers who drives less than 40 miles on 90% of all days. (Or a European who probably makes even fewer >40 mile trips.)

Why would I buy an Audi diesel that gets 50 MPG and has hundreds of moving parts that will need service and can break when I can buy a Volt PHEV and get 200+ MPG and danged little maintenance?

And why won't I buy a Nissan LEAF and get 356 MPG and almost zero maintenance?

Perhaps de Nysschen's outburst is that of a man scared that he has steered his company down the wrong (petroleum) path....

Robert makes some clear concise points about Diesel and Nissan.

That proves some right and wrong.

My fear is that the complexity, short lived necessity and limited applicability of dual mode over priced hybrids will kill the market interest for the obvious next generation electric vehicles.

Sure all we 'should' do it better... but the reality is that nearly ALL fleet vehicles and commerce was run on electricity at the turn of the century run mostly by alternative energy until cheap coal and oil shifted (bought) the market instead of evolving it.

But considering a 'future' run on coal and oil as not a future but, a lack there of.

Yes diesel is the lesser evil and a good stepping stone for massive fleets of cargo, air and military vehicles that WILL NOT be phased out for several decades.

Yet continuing to build subsidize and sell NEW petroleum powered passenger vehicles beyond 2012 makes no sense from a security, safe, financial
Supporting unless we think personal convenience out weighs the necessity of cargo, air and military vehicle?

NOTE - We should be throwing every extra 'passenger vehicle' nickle at storage, infrastructure and charging. Did someone say gas tax to bridge conversion gaps to electric?

Coal seriously? That's sooo 1800's.
Powering and charging our future on this would be as idiotic as buying a 'sustainable car' for $40,000.

I also see a vital shift to encourage both consumers and limited service vehicles to convert all aging petro fleets into sustainable natural/bio/syn gas fleets as they also will be on the road for the next 20 years historically.

Oh wait the US and AU did try to do this awhile back ;-)

If we want progress we should stop ignoring it.

Anonymous   says 11:01 AM

Now I know why I own an Audi.

len   says 8:57 AM

Well Rob(ert), ask yourself why more Audi's(pick a model) are sold than Chevy Volts and you'll have your answer.

Anonymous   says 3:29 AM

Robert--- give me a break-- the efficiency of an EV doesn't look so good when you factor in the losses associated with charging the battery and transmission lines. The most efficient means of transport would be using electric trams powered directly.

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