Automotive industry icon Robert A. Lutz wants to retire from General Motors Corp. after the company brings a plug-in electric car to market, possibly sometime in 2010, he said Tuesday.
The 75-year-old Lutz, now GM's vice chairman for global product development, is shepherding development of the Chevrolet Volt, which the company sees as a mainstream electric sedan that can be recharged by plugging it into a household outlet.
"I'd like to see the Volt launched because I think that is an absolutely critical product," Lutz said in an interview with The Associated Press. The company has set sometime in 2010 as a loose date to roll out the Volt.
Lutz, whose automotive career spans more than four decades, said no retirement date has been set, but he wants to stick around as long as his health holds up and Chief Executive and Chairman Rick Wagoner and the GM board will have him.
"You never know about your health. You never know about the needs of the corporation," he said in his office at the company's design center. "You never know what the board wants to do, or Rick wants to transition to a younger team. All of those things are possible."
GM has high hopes for the Volt, which would be powered by an electric motor fed by lithium-ion batteries. Fully charged, the car could go around 40 miles without using any gasoline. A small conventional engine would recharge the Volt, extending its range and allowing it to get the equivalent of 150 miles per gallon. GM also is developing a hydrogen fuel cell version of the car.
The Volt, he said, likely is the only way the company will be able to meet proposed federal fuel economy requirements that average 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
Lutz, who was hired in September of 2001 to reinvigorate GM's lackluster product designs, is widely credited with a resurgence in GM vehicles after two disastrous years in which it lost market share and more than $12 billion.
He came to GM after a stint as CEO of battery maker Exide Technologies Inc., but previously had served in executive positions at Chrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co. and BMW AG.
GM vehicles totally developed on his watch include the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook, all crossovers that have been selling well, and the Chevrolet Malibu sedan, which generally has received good reviews and the company says is in high demand after its first month in the showrooms.
Still, GM sales are down 6.1 percent for the first 11 months of the year, with car sales dropping 8 percent and truck sales off 4.8 percent from the same period a year ago.
GM is now testing the first of two competing versions of batteries for the Volt made by outside companies. In the past, the company has said the only thing holding back the Volt from production is a battery that is small, powerful and safe.
The company hopes to have drivable versions of the Volt for testing in the second quarter of next year.
The car would decrease dependence on oil without compromising personal independence, Lutz said while unveiling the Volt prototype at the 2007 Detroit auto show.