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Jalopnik: No Chevys For Old Men: Lutz Vs. Letterman [Electric Cars]

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Lutz-on-Letterman.jpgAfter Tesla fan-boy Dave Letterman brought Tesla's Elon Musk on the Late Show and both of them ripped into GM, CBS called Letterman, saying, "Hey, jackass, don't you know GM advertises with us?" The result: outgoing product czar Bob Lutz brought the Chevy Volt to last night's show. Blow-by-blow below.

For starters, Letterman gave a mea culpa and introduction to Lutz, calling him one of the "true greats in automotive design, marketing, sales and management...he's the man responsible for the Viper...a wonderful car. He's here with the Chevy Volt...and with any luck I'll get one of these babies for free."

Next, after the break, Letterman talked a little about the EV1 and how it's not from the planet Saturn. Then he wondered if building electric cars would have kept some dealers open. If it had, then damn, that's just one more reason to keep the internal combustion engine in our minds.

Then, after a Stephen Colbert interview, Dave made a bad pun about an electric car from Saturn running rings around...yeah...it was a bad joke. But, then "Maximum" Bob Lutz came out — looking quite dapper in his standard "old man business casual" threads.

Lutz started by walking Letterman through his C.V., then moved on to talking about marine aviation and owning two jets — probably not the best way to be seen as a company making cars for average A.I.G.-hatin' Americans.

Now we get into the meat n' potatoes of the interview. Letterman starts by asking whether there's light at the end of the tunnel for the American automakers. Lutz responds by saying that yes, they'll be restructuring and come out the end of the tunnel "leaner and lighter."

LutzOnLetterman1_gawker.flv.jpgLetterman doesn't powder-puff it per se, but he's not exactly hard-hitting. First asking what people losing auto jobs should be expecting, allowing Lutz to throw down with "jobs returning in time." Still, he's able to pivot into asking Lutz about whether this was Detroit mis-management that got us here. Lutz responds by claiming there's more at play and lots of blame to go around — gas prices being a big part of it, but also that U.S. automakers built some bad cars from the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. He finishes his answer by saying the best way to combat that perception is by building better automobiles. We couldn't agree more.

Lutz addresses the issue of CAFE first by talking about building the type of vehicles Americans want to buy and how that's a shifting target thanks to fuel prices and American desire for buying the biggest vehicle they can for the cheapest price. Next, he responds with a hell of a good analogy that we've clipped and have over on the left. Something about how fat people won't get skinny just because you mandate clothing makers only making skinny clothes. Cue the commercial break.

And we're back with Letterman asking whether the EV1 would have kept the company in business. Lutz responds by saying "Sadly, no." He details the cost per vehicle was probably well over $100,000 per vehicle — and that it was a money-losing proposition.

LutzOnLetterman2_gawker.flv.jpgNow let's get to the crux of the debate — Musk's Tesla versus the Chevy Volt. Lutz talks about batteries, price and practicality are the reasons for why it's a better fit for the American public. He even gives pricing details saying it'll cost $40,000, minus a $7,300 tax credit. Let's watch that now — plus the Chevy commercial at the break to see why Letterman's throwing softballs in his old age.

Back from the break and Lutz showing off the Volt and stating it meets regulations for all countries of any kind. And then my DVR crapped out on me. Let's rate the performance on a five star scale with five being the best.

Bob Lutz staying on message: ****
He's got to lose one star for the whole "I own two jets" thing in the beginning, but overall, a helluva job for a 77 1/2 years-old white German-born man who works for GM. No "global warming is a crock" quotes for us to have fun with.

Dave Letterman's balls: *
Where did they go? Did he lose them in surgery a while back? Seriously — even if he was woefully ill-informed in his questions, we'd expect him to at least ask them, right?


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Lutz did a great job...and Letterman did as well. I hate these people who review anything PLANNING to put down one side or the other. Letterman came out and said that he was misinformed on the Volt not realizing that the "40-mile" range was electric only and that with the gas engine, the car had a range on par with a pure-ICE vehicle, unlike the Tesla. Letterman discussed how Tesla was extremely expensive, had a 200-mile range, and was "extremely impractical," while the Volt was a normal, practical, and relatively reasonably priced car.

I've said it before: Letterman is not the a-hole that we all loved back in the 1980s and 1990s anymore. While he can put someone's feet to the fire when they deserve it (Bill O'Reilly), he won't just go to town on someone for the heck of it.

It was a good (not great) interview and a great bit of PR for GM.

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