GM's R&D boss Alan Taub says combustion engines will be a dying breed in 12 years

When General Motors’ advanced technology supremo, Larry Burns, retired last year, Alan Taub was the man who stepped up to take control of GM’s global R&D division.

He joined GM in 2001, having been a specialist in crash safety and materials engineering for Ford and, before that, spending 15 years in R&D for General Electric. Here, he answers our questions about GM’s latest efforts in the technological avant-garde.

You’ve just introduced the EN-V, a two-wheeled electric city car concept that’s supposed to be impossible to crash. Could you ever put it into production?

The EN-V is designed to surprise people — to really make them consider how car-to-car communications, powertrain electrification and autonomous driving technology could change the cars we drive. It’s not really designed for the road but to do 30 indoor demonstration shows a day at the Shanghai World Expo 2010.

It shows what’s possible within 20 years, more than what’s probable. Still, something very like the EN-V could become a common sight in the megacities of the future. If we’re going to avoid terminal gridlock, let alone environmental meltdown, we’ll need cars like this.

See pics of the GM EN-V concepts

Will autonomous cars actually work on real-world roads?

Not in isolation. It will take metropolitan and national government legislation to make inner-city zones accessible only to autonomous cars to really see the safety benefits of the technology. But I believe that will happen. One million people die in road traffic accidents every year around the world, and autonomous driving technology, working in tandem with car-to-car networking, could drastically reduce that figure.

Won’t it eventually make drivers totally redundant?

Not in our plan. I love driving, and I know that GM isn’t going to stop catering for driving enthusiasts. But I also know that there are times when you’d rather not drive. And you only have to look around at traffic lights to see people texting or emailing at the wheel. These people already see driving as the distraction.

What kind of cars should we expect to follow the Volt and Ampera in GM’s E-REV series?

With battery technology as it currently stands, extended-range vehicles that are larger than the Volt — luxury saloons, trucks and SUVs — aren’t really possible; they would simply be too heavy to be efficient. For those types of cars, fuel cells and biofuels are the future. Ironically enough, the E-REV powertrain won’t really package in a much smaller car than the Volt, either. So expect them all to be between four and five metres long.

What’s the state of hydrogen fuel cell technology as far as GM sees it?

Fuel cell technology is looking much cheaper today than it did a few years ago. Certain OEMS are now trialling fuel cells containing little or no precious metal at all. Within 12 years, we’re expecting an average family car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell to be as cheap to produce as one with an internal combustion engine, given that over the same period exhaust after-treatment systems are going to become more and more expensive in order to meet tougher emissions regulations.

Will battery technology ever eclipse the internal combustion engine in passenger cars?

When it comes to small cars, absolutely. With larger ones, the advantage you gain with an electric powertrain becomes less significant than the weight penalty associated with fitting enough batteries to run it. That will remain the case until the next big leap forward in battery technology after lithium ion.

But given the rising price of oil, it should become cheaper to buy and run an electrically powered supermini than a combustion-engined one before 2020.

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17

21 April 2010

"Fuel cell technology is looking much cheaper today than it did a few years ago. Certain OEMS are now trialling fuel cells containing little or no precious metal at all. Within 12 years, we’re expecting an average family car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell to be as cheap to produce as one with an internal combustion engine, given that over the same period exhaust after-treatment systems are going to become more and more expensive in order to meet tougher emissions regulations."

Good to see hydrogen news.

"given the rising price of oil, it should become cheaper to buy and run an electrically powered supermini than a combustion-engined one before 2020."

Surely this has got to be the biggest monumental slip up ever, what he is saying is that it is not worth buying his or anyone elses electric cars until 2020, 10 years before its actualy an intelligent purchase. Ahahaa what a fool. Why did he say that?

21 April 2010

[quote beachland2]

Good to see hydrogen news.

"given the rising price of oil, it should become cheaper to buy and run an electrically powered supermini than a combustion-engined one before 2020."

Surely this has got to be the biggest monumental slip up ever, what he is saying is that it is not worth buying his or anyone elses electric cars until 2020, 10 years before its actualy an intelligent purchase. Ahahaa what a fool. Why did he say that?

[/quote]

I guess the prices will be subsidized one way or another with taxation- or Govt subsidized prices if they really want to push it as an enticement to anyone not allured by being a vanguard early-adopter.There's often a transitionary period for new technology before it overlaps in price terms with the old technology. But it is interesting that in , let's say , another 2 generations of a car models life- the internal combustion engine could be consigned to history. I like the idea of the GM EN-V, especially in crowded cities. Its gotta be a better option than public transport in most of them

21 April 2010

I've known GM's 'combustion engines will die' for years.

It's a quality thing. Did no one tell them?

21 April 2010

Quote: 'With battery technology as it currently stands, extended-range vehicles that are larger than the Volt — luxury saloons, trucks and SUVs — aren’t really possible; they would simply be too heavy to be efficient.'

Perhaps he hasn't seen what another US company is doing:


'ALTe just secured a $240 million purchase order to convert several thousand airport shuttle buses,... and plans to convert up to 500,000 commercial vehicles p.a.... If ALTe takes off like I think it will, perhaps American automakers will start competing with their own massive vehicle conversion operations. Then we'll finally get this plug-in show on the road.'
Taken from http://news.discovery.com/tech/startup-takes-on-aging-vehicle-fleets.html

21 April 2010

I have been saying for the past three years that the future is all electric. In the not to distant future even gas boilers will go - we'll all heat by electric. What I think is a real shame is that there are youngsters around right now who will never hear the sound of a V8 warbling in front of them. They'll have to go on youtube in the future to hear what one used to sound like. Terrible shame.

And let us not forget, that this is primarily about CO2. But it's a scam! CO2 is not warming the world! There are certain factors that WILL see the global temperature drop in the coming years. The El Nino we've been experiencing in the past few months is waning now and Arctic ice is at it's HIGHEST extent since we started recording in 2002 http://ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/plots/icecover/icecover_2010.png A new study has found that indeed the world WAS warmer 800 years ago http://www.co2science.org/data/mwp/studies/l1_makassarstrait.php This means that the current warming is nothing unusual. This carp about CO2 has got to stop.

I'm all for cleaning our air of particulates, and would love diesel to be banned, but cleaner-burning internal combustion engines should be encouraged, not talked down. People please listen; CO2 is not warming the world.

21 April 2010

Autocar 31-Mar-2010:

"...Mitsubishi's all-electric i-MiEV City car has gone on sale, priced from £38,699..."

Let's get real, people

21 April 2010

[quote noluddite]Quote: 'With battery technology as it currently stands, extended-range vehicles that are larger than the Volt — luxury saloons, trucks and SUVs — aren’t really possible; they would simply be too heavy to be efficient.'

Perhaps he hasn't seen what another US company is doing:


'ALTe just secured a $240 million purchase order to convert several thousand airport shuttle buses,... and plans to convert up to 500,000 commercial vehicles p.a.... If ALTe takes off like I think it will, perhaps American automakers will start competing with their own massive vehicle conversion operations. Then we'll finally get this plug-in show on the road.'
Taken from http://news.discovery.com/tech/startup-takes-on-aging-vehicle-fleets.html

[/quote]

A public large car needs more range than a mile or so at 10mph to get to and from a terminal to parked planes. It's completely different.

21 April 2010

[quote golfman]I'm all for cleaning our air of particulates, and would love diesel to be banned, but cleaner-burning internal combustion engines should be encouraged, not talked down. People please listen; CO2 is not warming the world.[/quote] I’m not convinced about the global warming argument either but I think politically and personally it helps us socially move on. Even without global warming the cost and eventual demise of oil would have change the source of our energy supply and how we use this for transport. CO2 is a convenient politically vehicle to unite international response and wean society off fossil fuels before we can’t afford them. A means to an end! My only gripe is that so called climate professionals are making billions out of it.

21 April 2010

[quote Walking][quote golfman]I'm all for cleaning our air of particulates, and would love diesel to be banned, but cleaner-burning internal combustion engines should be encouraged, not talked down. People please listen; CO2 is not warming the world.[/quote] I’m not convinced about the global warming argument either but I think politically and personally it helps us socially move on. Even without global warming the cost and eventual demise of oil would have change the source of our energy supply and how we use this for transport. CO2 is a convenient politically vehicle to unite international response and wean society off fossil fuels before we can’t afford them. A means to an end! My only gripe is that so called climate professionals are making billions out of it.[/quote]

This doesnt address the fact that if it was approached on a health and social basis, diesel would be banned and the remaining stocks of oil used for petrol only. The high tax can still remain.

21 April 2010

The Point GM are making is there is not set answer to our future transport needs and Manufacturers will use a combination of sources to meet what essentially is a global demand for energy. Appliances for the city will be all-electric, Extended range will be Electric vehicles coupled with a generator, which will burn bio-fuel or even a fuel cell. Larger vehicles will be of the conventional hybrid form but the emphasis will be based in advanced HCCI internal combustion engines. and enthusiast/sports/performance vehicles will still use IC engines but be able to use a combination or Fossil and Bio-fuel in the same tank. (i.e Bio-Ethanol).

in a nutshell global demand for energy is exponentially increasing meaning manufacturers cannot put all their eggs all in one basket to meet demand because there won't be enough of one fuel source. Going all electric will create a bottleneck on power-stations meaning more power-plants thus more land-mass consumed. Celluloustic Bio-enthanol is made from Bio-waste (our own refuse) and not valuable crops. It can also be made from Algae.

The real bottom line is that the problem doesn't lie with the transport Industry but our current exceptional demand for energy in our daily lives. The key to the solution is for each individual to look at how they can reduce their demand on energy; from letting the tap run whilst brushing their teeth to walking 500m instead of driving the car because it's cold or raining.

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