One of us spent the past two days on the 'merican West Coast, in a little hamlet by the Pacific Ocean the locals call Los Angeles. There, we snuck into an exclusive "lifestyle" blogger sit-down held by the General of Motors. While normally not our cup of tea, the affair was a must-attend; we'd get to break bread and kibitz with none other than GM's man with the product plan -- the vice chairman of vocalization -- "Maximum" Bob Lutz. Seriously. We asked the man Swiss-born from jets a whole bunchload of questions on product, fuel economy, why GM must sacrifice some old Malibus and why he's excited not for a new Chevy El Camino, but rather a GMC Caballero. It was a dream come true. Now you know why they call the place La-La-Land.
Since we were out on America's left coast, the subject du jour was alternative energy. And Lutz was all for talking up GM's Volt concept car and new modular hybrid-drive platform, dubbed E-Flex. He went so far as to tell us we'll be seeing test mules of the Volt, disguised as a particular workaday sedan.
"The beginning of the next year, we'll take some cut up old Malibus, slap the battery packs in...we'll invite you people [auto journalists / bloggers / random people on the street] out there, so you'll know when we're testing them [the Volt], because we want the entire development process to be transparent."
Who knew the 'bu would be the body of choice for E-Flex?
Such "transparency" likely reflects a lesson learned from GM's putative enemies, Toyota, whose Prius has cast an environmentally conscious halo over the entire brand.
"Unfortunately when it comes to fuel economy, the Prius has shed its image on the entire product line of Toyota. So when someone buys a Sequoia, they're feeling good about the purchase because they feel like they're doing it for the environment."
The question of fuel economy is a toughie even for GM, especially given the role rear-wheel drive vehicles will play in the General's nascent lineup. So we asked Bob, What about all those rear-drive plans? He wouldn't tell us which if any vehicles have been scrapped, but he did hint at a depth of self-examination taking place at GM in the face of higher fleet-mileage standards.
"The Senate proposition of 35 mpg is impossible based on what the market's looking for. It's causing us to reassess all of the rear-wheel-drive programs and vehicles...we're even asking the question of whether they'd be able to stand the cost of a GM two-mode hybrid system."
A hybrid Camaro? What would Mark Donohue say?
Nonetheless, Maximum Bob did hold out hope one particular arrow-headed brand will be getting a wee bit more focus.
"Yes, of course there's some overlap with the Chevy SS performance group, but Pontiac...Pontiac's going to be very tightly focused, all rear-wheel drive vehicles."
What? No more "We Build Excrement!" jokes? What ever will we do? Alas, Bob was coy about other replacements to the very front-wheel drive product lineup. That got us to wondering about a product that's near and dear to every Jalopnik reader -- our beloved pickup-car utes!
So we asked Bob, What about a ute? When's it coming, when's it coming, when's it coming!?! Bob didn't oblige. He did volunteer where in the product lineup he thinks a pickup-car could fit -- and it's not where you'd think.
"A ute is a distinct possibility, if we do the ute...it could be the most enthusiast-positive decision to bring back the El Camino. But you look at their lineup and Chevy has too many vehicles. Now GMC, we could see that. You look at Pontiac, in the form of a power open bed wagon, sure...as a performance centered, sports-ute. And Ray, with GMC, you'd get...the Caballero!"
I want to make it very clear that Bob had a certain twinkle in his eye and sparkle in the voice at the mere mention of the erstwhile GMC. He mentioned the name two more times that evening, sounding more and more like a bona fide Zapatista as the night wore on.