James Bell Interview at Detroit Auto Show

This is a great 10 minute interview that Nicolas Zart, my CarNewsCafee colleague, did with James Bell from General Motors (GM) at the Detroit Auto Show.  For those that are not aware James Bell is the Head of Consumer Affairs at GM.

Nicolas did the interview over the internet while Bell was in Detroit but it still came out really well and he did a great job.  They discussed a bit about Mary Barra being appointed the new CEO of GM, why small cars are the big story, and touches about other automakers cars.  (Not something you see many PR people do.)  Bell also touches on GM's vehicles at Detroit and their general vehicle line-up which includes the 2015 GMC Canyon, Corvette Z06, and the Corvette C7.R.  The Cadillac ELR is another thing he talks about a lot.

You can read more about the interview with James Bell on CarNewsCafe.

Google forms Open Automotive Alliance with major Tech & Auto players to bring Android to Cars

open automotive alliance

Google announced today the formation of the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) coalition which General Motors, Audi, Hyundai, and Honda are part of.  In addition Nvidia, a graphics card manufacturer for computers, is also joining forces with Google and the OAA.  What is the goal?  To bring Google's mobile Android operating system to vehicles.

To date there have been over 1 billion mobile devices activated on Android.  While those numbers are impressive Google is hoping to extend the Android devices even further and into cars, a mobile platform too, by forming the OAA and building up this industry alliance.  Audi, GM, Google, Honda, Hyundai and Nvidia are committed to bring the Android platform to cars starting this year, 2014.

The idea it to have a common and open source platform which makes it easy and intuitive for all automakers, parts suppliers, and 3rd parties to build technology and software for cars of the future.  This open source model of Android, which utilizes the Linux kernel, should especially allow software developers to deliver powerful experiences for drivers and passengers in a safe, scalable, and secure way.

“Working toward a common ecosystems benefits driver safety above all.” said Ricky Hudi, Head of Electrics/Electronics Development at Audi.

“Millions of people are already familiar with Android and use it everyday… The expansion of the Android platform into automotive will allow our industry partners to more easily integrate mobile technology into cars and offer drivers a familiar, seamless experience so they can focus on the road.” commented Sundar Pichai, SVP of Android, Chrome & Apps at Google. “

“The Honda team is looking forward to collaborating with Google and all OAA members to help advance the safety, value and ease of use of connected-car technologies.”  said Yoshiharu Yamamoto, president, CEO and director of Honda R&D Co., Ltd.

“By introducing the latest IT technologies safely and securely throughout our full range of vehicles, we continually strive to provide the highest levels of convenience and enhance the in-vehicle experience.” said Dr. Woong-Chul Yang, Vice Chairman of R&D, Hyundai Motor Group.

“The car is the ultimate mobile computer. With onboard supercomputing chips, futuristic cars of our dreams will no longer be science fiction,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, president and chief executive officer, Nvidia.

It's pretty clear the companies behind Open Automotive Alliance share a vision for the connected car which has been talked about for years in the tech and automotive press.  Up until now it really seemed more of a pipe dream than something that was doable since most automakers have their own infotainment systems and software which is proprietary and only for that automaker.  

In addition to connected cars it seem the OAA has the goal to make safer cars too.  The OAA has been in contact with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) but it is not clear what their collaboration could bring or how it will improve vehicle safety at this point.

We can expect to see Android integrated cars by the end of the year and Open Automotive Alliance is actively looking for other automakers and technology companies to join the coalition.  I assume a lot of other automakers will.

My Take on the Open Automotive Alliance

Highly ambitious but highly doable with Google's resources and their weight in the market. Since the company has already been working on self-driving cars for years this seems a logical step in their goal for connected and safer cars.  Probably much to the dismay of some gearheads but it seems like Google could pull off putting self-driving cars on the road quicker than anyone thought.  That depends on how many automakers join the Open Automotive Alliance.  

In addition this should make it easier for Audi, General Motors, Honda, and Hyundai to build and scale their infotainment systems. Each automaker can learn from each other about what works and doesn't with implementing Android into their vehicles. That is if they want to share and are willing to share what they know.  

This allows software developers who already build for Android to consider getting into the vehicle market too, which could be quite profitable for some Android developers.

The only people who are fretting about this news is likely are Apple and Microsoft.  They already have partnerships with automakers to integrate their software into vehicles.  Some auto manufacturers might be able to resist the siren call of Google depending on how powerful the Open Automotive Alliance becomes.  We will have to wait and see how the software wars for cars plays out.

Mary Barra will be GM’s Next CEO, becoming first Women to head a major automaker

mary barraGeneral Motors has announcement that the next CEO to head the automaker will be Mary Barra, GM”s current director of Global Product Development.  She was elected by GM's Board of Directors and will retain a seat on the board as GM's new CEO.  Barra will take over the position on January 15th, 2014 only about 1 month away.

This announcement by GM has sent shockwaves throughout the automotive and technology industry as Barra will be the first women to head a major automotive company.  It is seen as a big step forward for women in the corporate executive space.

Some might be wondering what Mary Barra's qualifications are to run GM?  She has 33 years of experience at the American automaker and is an engineer.  Barra has rose through the ranks through various of positions in manufacturing, engineering, and senior staff positions including the job she currently has.  She directs GM's overall product line and is responsible for saying what should be built, and what should not.  Oh yeah, her father worked at GM for several decades too as a diemaker.

“With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today’s GM,” said Barra. “I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”

With Mary Barra coming in as the new CEO that means someone has got to go.  Dan Akerson, the companies current CEO, will be stepping down in January.  He is leaving several months early due to the the fact his wife was recently diagnosed with cancer.  Akerson joined GM in 2009 as a member of its Board of Directors and was named GM Chairman and CEO on September 1, 2010.

“My goals as CEO were to put the customer at the center of every decision we make, to position GM for long term success and to make GM a company that America can be proud of again,”  commented Akerson  “I will leave with great satisfaction in what we have accomplished, great optimism over what is ahead and great pride that we are restoring General Motors as America’s standard bearer in the global auto industry.”

Mark Reuss will taking over Mary Barra's position.  Reuss's old job was overseeing the North American product development.  This includes the launches of the Cadillac ATS, Chevrolet Corvette, Chevrolet Impala and Silverado pickup.

Everyone seems to believe the glass ceiling has been broken in the auto industry.  Some believe this is a significant step forward for GM and they will star to make ever better cars.  What are your thoughts about Mary Barra being named the new CEO of General Motors?  It this a positive or negative thing for GM as company?

Spark EV Photo Gallery

When I went up to GM's Baltimore operations in White Marsh, MD I took a lot of pictures of the Spark EV.  It took me awhile to go through my pictures and figure out which ones were good, and which ones could be moved to the trash.

Luckily I was the first group of journalists to get a chance to drive the Spark EV, but the sun wasn't out when I took pictures in the morning.  I later came back to take better pictures of the later in the day when the sun was out so the Spark EV could shine in all it's glory.  While it's not a style icon I don't think it doesn't seem to be a bad looking car.

If you would like to use any of these photos on your auto blog or auto news site, you are more than welcome.  However you must give credit and provide a link to the source (this blog) if you do so.  Please contact me first as well just so I know were the images are being used.

Revenge is So Sweet; My Review of the documentary “Revenge Of The Electric Car”

EV1 at the Petersen Automotive Museum "Revenge of the Electric Car"

Whoever said, “Revenge isn't sweet?” has not seen, ‘Revenge Of The Electric Car‘ the new documentary directed by Chris Paine, which is the sequel to the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” While Revenge Of The Electric Car is not flawless, the film provides a compelling tale of the resurgence of the electric car.

Revenge Of The Electric Car revolves around four men who have played roles in bringing electric cars onto our roads. Bob Lutz Vice Chairman of General Motors (GM) is referred to as Mr. Detroit; Rocket Man, Elon Musk Co-Founder and CEO of Tesla Motors ; The Outsider, Greg “Gadget” Abbott who builds his own electric cars; and The Warrior, Carlos Ghosn President and CEO of Nissan and Renault who is the driving force behind the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

I assumed the movie would be biased toward electric cars, and in the first 10 minutes of the movie, there is little doubt of this.

The opening scene with Dan Neil, the Wall Street Journal automotive journalist, clearly establishes the movie's premise. He proclaims, “Electric cars are the only way forward.” Mr. Neil is a well respected writer, having won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about cars. Throughout the movie he serves as the main voice pushing the story along, adding his insight and wit.

Bob Lutz, a GM executive who has been at numerous car companies, encouraged the development of the Chevy Volt. He was not always a believer in the technologies, and is often blamed for killing off GM's EV1 program. One of the important events chronicled by the movie, is the PR disaster GM experienced when it shut down and destroyed all EV1 cars.  In the film ,when he discusses why GM's board was not excited to build the Volt, Lutz says, “The company had lost so much money on EV1.” Mmm…. let's not forget that it was Lutz who had the cars crushed.

Lutz though, is unapologetic about both his actions and his prior comments. He is a charismatic, smart, and competitive man, which Paine shows well.  Lutz's push to build the Volt not only helped GM's image, but insured his place in automotive history. Lutz, as Neil points out, is a bit of an egomaniac.

Elon Musk, CEO and Co-Founder of Tesla, is the man who forced GM and the big players in the auto industry to rethink how they view electric cars. He showed that it is possible to build electric cars and not the slow, unimaginative, and boring cars people associated with electric propulsion. Tesla choose to make the Tesla Roadster, a cool and fast electric car.

Of course what you learn as an audience, and what Musk and his Silicon Valley buddies realize quickly, is that it is not easy building and selling cars. Lutz makes a point in the movie that it is a lot harder than you think.

There is a bit of a surreal moment when Musk is checking over a warehouse of Tesla Roadsters that had issues and problems. Car #23 had a bad powertrain.  Musk said , “Replace it, take it out, put a new one in, and table the old one for analysis.” He expresses to the Tesla employee that customers might start losing confidence. Chris Paine, the director, chimes in that #23 is his car. Musk is caught a bit off guard, then compliments the color of the car. I guess Paine knew the gamble he made when he put down his deposit for his Tesla Roadster.   Tesla delivers his Roadster a year later.

Greg ‘Gadget' Abbott is an independent entrepreneur who chooses to build his own electric cars. Gadget also does electric car conversions for those willing to spend a hefty sum. Both Gadget and his wife are dedicating their lives to building electric cars. Gadget I think, is one of the most compelling characters in the movie, if not the most compelling. His challenge includes rebuilding his life and business after his main workshop is burned down due to arson. Gadget lost $250,000 in uninsured tools and several of his electric cars. The only thing that survived the fire was a controller, “I can built a car with that” he says. You can tell he is down but he always seems to be unfailingly optimistic.

Carlos Ghosn, who is President and CEO of Nissan and Renault, seems to have shown up the entire auto industry by building the Nissan Leaf, a fully electric car that is affordable to the masses and available worldwide. Neil says that Ghosn, “Is not a visionary” but I disagree. The Brazilian-Frenchmen has a vision to make money with the Leaf. That is a vision that could truly change the world and what our transportation infrastructure looks like.

It is important to note that Nissan sold around 10,000 Nissan Leafs in 2011, while GM sold 6,000 Volts. It seems Ghosn made the right decision as the Leaf's technology might position of the leader in electric cars.  When Paine asks, “Do you feel you are ahead of the game?” Ghosn replies, “I don't feel, I am!” showing his confidence and business acumen.

There is no denying Chris Paine's bias toward Elon Musk and Tesla, as demonstrated by the flashy montage of Musk's and Tesla's rise with celebrity commentators, compared to Bob Lutz's and Carlos Ghosn somewhat laid back static sequence. This reflects the different personalities to a degree, but it is still hard to miss the bias.

For instance, a short segment involving Martin Eberhard, one of the co-founders of Tesla, is a bit odd. It does not fully explain the story and makes it seem like Musk and Tesla are the good guys for kicking Eberhard out. There is no way to know what happened, but judging from Musk's mass firings, it might be safe to assume he was probably the bad guy in the story.

The movie focuses too much on Musk, while ignoring other interesting characters. Gadget's story of how and why he started building electric cars would have been interesting to hear. (Maybe this will be on the DVD bonus features.)

What the movie does show is Tesla's difficult road to making cars.  Musk is at one point forced to wire all his money to Tesla to make payroll.  He might be brash and arrogant, but he had a lot of faith to stick with Tesla.  I respect Musk for that, and look where Tesla is now.

The movie has its share of celebrity appearances, featuring Danny DeVito, Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Arnold Schwarzenegger and others. The movie is narrated by Tim Robbins, the actor and well-known liberal activist. He describes himself as a EV enthusiast.

The other two interesting characters, along with Mr Neil, that provide comments and insight are Ray Wert, editor of Jalopink, and Owen Thomas, the editor of Valleywag. They casually talk about the auto industry on a park bench, giving additional insight to the story.

With a growing need to meet energy needs and oil becoming more expensive, harder to find, and from hostile places, electric cars may be as Dan Neil puts it, “The only way forward!” The movie claims that it costs $1 equivalent per gallon to “fill-up” an electric car. Of course what it does not emphasize… we still get most of our electricity from fossil fuels!

Paine tells a compelling and fascinating account of the resurgence in electric cars and the people behind them in the film, which is what he wanted to accomplish. He details the trials and tribulations of Tesla, GM, Nissan, and Mr. Abbott, each story ending with optimism and hope for the auto industry.

Revenge Of the Electric Car is a must-see for any car enthusiast, auto journalist, environmentalist, or person who wants to be informed of what the auto industry will look like in the future.

 Revenge Of The Electric Car will be available on DVD on January 24th, 2012.

 

 

Revenge of the Electric Car a Fascinating Documentary

Revenge of the Electric Car

Today I got something pretty cool in the mail, “Revenge Of The Electric Car.”  It is the sequel to the 2006 documentary, “Who Killed The Electric Car?”  Revenge Of The Electric Car follows the 4 men who have essentially led the resurgence of the electric car.  Famed car executive, Bob Lutz; Co-Founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk; A man who builds his own electric cars, Greg ‘Gadget' Abbott; and CEO and President of Nissan and Renault, Carlos Ghosn.  Each has made a different contribution to developing, designing, and building electric cars.  I watched some of the movie today and found it interesting, but won't give too many details.  You will have to wait for my review!

Chevy Cruze on display at Inner Harbor

Not only was there a Chevy Volt on display at the Inner Harbor there was also a Chevy Cruze.  Not quite as exciting as a Volt, but I took pictures anyway.  By the way GM, if you read this, putting a Chevy Cruze in Baltimore's Inner Harbor is not going to convince me to buy one.  If you did not take bailout money and built good cars… then I might consider it.

Chevy Cruze FrontChevy Cruze Back