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country, that its claim that they are intelligent above par from other countries, why is it that
such a high class company would allow itself to get into the situation it did with regards
economically. How is it that they could foresee in the 1970’s when there was a similar gas crisis,
an even worse gas crisis, how is it that a company like this could let itself get so far behind in
technology such as hybrid technology?
Participant #7: I have an answer for that if you want an answer. I know the whole history of
General Motors, why they ended up the way they did. It’s very clear. Well it started out with
General Motors. The first world solar challenge, a race of solar cars across the outback of
Australia from Down Attalaid, took place in 1987. And General Motors put two vehicles in place
to take part in that race of solar powered racing cars. They invited me to come along with them
to the race in Australia and they won the race 2000 miles handedly. They had really
tremendous technology. Much of it came from a skunk works, a small company called
Aerovironment in California. They were closely linked. When they had that success with solar
powered racing car in Australia they basically tuned to this skunk works and said, ‘Hey lets
create a vehicle for the public, an automobile, electric automobile, and they took everything
they learned in terms of efficiency from that solar powered racing car and put it into this crazy
car named, the Impact. Why would you give name to an automobile, the Impact? But that was
the name of it, Impact. It was the finest pure electric, not hybrid. It still may have been, today, if
I can see other electrics coming along, that GM Impact electric car was the finest electric car I
have ever been aware of. It may still exceed, even now 20 years later. So it turns out they had
to take care of the name so they changed the name to EV1. And that had a lead acid battery,
and then they went to EV2 with a nickel metal hydride battery. They were in absolutely great
shape. The chief executive officer, the CEO and chairman of the board was a WPI alumnus, Bob
Stemple, was a good friend of mine, although I don’t see much of him. General Motors was
absolutely tops, way ahead of Japan, way ahead of everyone. They were bleeding money. There
was a serious problem with the company losing money in spite of the old things they were
doing. So they actually brought in a new chairman of the board. They didn’t replace Bob
Stemple, our WPI alumnus. They didn’t replace him as CEO but did as chairman of the board.
And they replaced him with the CEO of Proctor and Gamble, which puzzled the daylights out of
me. But it didn’t puzzle me for very long. That new chairman, full time CEO of Proctor and
Gamble now brought in, and he’s still doing Proctor and Gamble stuff but he’s part time
chairman of the board at General Motors. He tuned to my friend, Bob Stemple, and said, ‘Bob
I’m going to have you do two things. First all I’m going to have you fire 40,000 people. And the
second thing you’re going to do is get rid of this nonsense of electric cars. And General Motors
was the tops in the world at that moment. They had a fantastically capable group of 300 people
doing their electric car work. Bob Stemple faced the new Chairman of the board and said, ‘I will
not.’ So they fired Bob Stemple and then they proceeded to fire their 40,000 people and
immediately got rid of this amazing group of 300 pioneers in electric vehicles. That was not the
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choice of General Motors. That was the choice of an idiot that they had brought in from Proctor
and Gamble, a man who knows all about Ivory soap, pampers, Pringles and a few other things.
But apparently he knew nothing about automobiles.
Gove: Right, so his lack of understanding, all he saw was loss of money.
However, with any innovative you have to put a lot of money into research and
development in order to be an innovative company.
At any rate, the man from Proctor and Gamble had no vision of the future of any
kind, so when we talk about General Motors I like to distinguish General Motors from Proctor
and Gamble. Now, there was a mistake made by the board of directors of General Motors to
bring this guy in as chairman of the board. That was a serious mistake. It cost, the board of
directors are largely outsiders. So, if I were to blame anybody, I would blame a bunch of
outsiders who came in and took command of General Motors and messed it up.
can I actually connect Proctor and Gamble to General Motors, just in terms of
my own choices as a consumer because hearing this story, to me, is extremely interesting. It
speaks to the notion that once you have a commodity you must continue to monetize it in
order to maximize profit, whether it’s a diaper or a car. Now as the parents of a 15 month old,
we made a decision upfront to purchase cloth diapers. We wash those and that was extremely
expensive upfront but it is also a commodity that doesn’t continue to be monetized in the same
way that disposable pampers would be. And in the same way you pay a certain price upfront for
the hybrid car, and then it’s not as much as an expense later in the game.
I was the first person who did not work for General Motors who test drove,
when it was called the Impact. Eventually, they changed the name to EV1. I was the first guy
outside of General Motors to test drive one. It still had potentiometers; it wasn’t firmly
imbedded with its control panels. You could still jiggle things, and it was the most beautiful car I
have ever driven. When they finally came out into the market place, they were very cautious.
Now this is before what I just described happened, while they were still trying to make it
happen. They decided to have two limited markets; one in Phoenix, the Phoenix area in
Arizona, and one in southern California. They were not going to sell them right away. They were
going to lease them. So I happened to be visiting one of my sons, my wife and I have a very
large family‐4 kids, 12 grandkids, 10 great grand kids, and this sort of thing. We were visiting
part of our family in Phoenix and he brought me to the particular outlet for the General Motors
Impact. They said, ‘Hey, get in and drive a real one now that it’s all fixed up. You don’t have
diddling of potentiometers; you just go in and drive it.’ And it was marvelous; absolutely
beautiful car. Great acceleration, great everything. I had to calm down a little bit because as
soon as I got in that car in Phoenix, there was a Phoenix policeman behind me. I wanted to
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really try this car and see the acceleration and speed, but I was limited by the guy tracking me
the whole distance. So I was somewhat limited. But that’s sort of the story. With respect to the
hybrid car, one of the first questions that people ask me when I bought the first one in the year
2000, first question I’d get was, ‘Ya what about the power battery? Isn’t there a problem with
that?’ Now the end result of that is, we still use that 10 year old car. It’s our second car. It still
has the same power battery. It just goes on. It keeps going and going and going. I had asked
that question to the Toyota people in those early days and they said, ‘We think it will last the
life of the car.’ Now, I think a traditional definition of the life of a car is about 12 years. I
thought, well, they were being quite honest with me. I was a knowledgeable person and a
knowledgeable customer. They said, ‘We don’t know. We haven’t tested it. We think it will last
the life of the car.’ Well, we have a 10 year old Prius and it still cranks along quite well with its
old power battery. During that time, I happened to be a downhill skier, mostly at Mount
Wachusett and I’d have the only Prius, of course, parking at the parking lot of the ski area,
Participant #11: You have to look at the tax structures. They had taxed luxury cars so that the
people who wanted luxury cars switched to SUVs. So it’s not that gas was cheap, it was that to
buy the old symbolic cars became prohibitively expensive. And now there is this new class that
gets out of the tax structure that can give you the symbol, right? I think now the tax structure is
switching to the hybrids, when really it should be switching to the electric car or the air cars or
a billion of the other energy efficient‐ the biodiesel or whatever because they are better.
However, our symbolic imagination is about the hybrids right now because that is very sexy
right now. And it is affordable. It’s more affordable than a lot of the other options‐ like I was
pricing the Tesla air cars. I was leaping because I really want one those, right? So to divorce it
from the cultural aspect I think is dangerous. Also the monetary aspect‐ the tax structure, it’s
not just now much does it cost to buy the Prius, but what in the tax structure allows that to
succeed and other things to fail, an Because there are massive shifts that are happening all the
Participant #10: In terms of the power, um, I did think about going from four wheel drive to
front wheel drive, but it wasn’t that big of a part of my decision. But the Prius, the ford fusion‐
they have as much power as small, midsize or compact cars. It didn’t play that much into my
decision at all. Oh I forgot‐ my first long ride in a Prius was in the Rocky Mountains. And um,
that was with somebody who was looking at the Honda back when it was the civic hybrid or the
Prius. And it was a little noisy going up the steep hills, but we got up them and it wasn’t a
problem. I was quite impressed with every aspect of that vehicle. That probably kind of laid
the ground work. So I was thinking, “yeah I’m gunna, I could drive a hybrid for sure.”
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Participant #12: I like to go downhill with the Prius. The Prius itself taught me how to drive.
My driving habits are actually geared to the Prius. Going downhill I put it into engine braking
which happens to optimize the amount of energy going back into the battery and I often will go
as far as I can with just the electric motor. With the original 2001, which we bought in 2000,
Prius‐ it could go with the electric motor alone only 30mph. Beyond that the gasoline engine
would turn on. With the 2004 model I could go, for short distance, at 40mph with only the
electric motor alone. So it taught me‐ I don’t think I could drive a regular‐ I’ve been driving
these too long. I’m tuned into these things. Ford, Ford Motor got started with hybrids by being
licensed to Toyota. Toyota sold them something like 70 patents, but not on their newest design.
They would only sell Ford the original design so all of Ford’s early hybrids were Toyota designs.
Participant #8: Anyway the power is OK. I went from a 6 cylinder which has a lot of power. The
Prius is not very good in the snow, at all. I dislike that. Coming from, I lived in upper Wisconsin,
and I bought an SUV and I bought it because I needed to be able to get around. It made sense
there to have four wheel drive. You know now that I live in the Worcester area I don’t really
need that, but I have to say when I get into an old stick shift, you know, my friend’s mini
cooper, I feel like I’m in a sports car. I miss the sort of stick shift and the ability to control a car
and really zip around. Its different and I think I drive much more reasonably than I did before. I
have changed my driving habits, probably for the safer side, but I still love getting in a friend’s
car and zipping around in a stick shift every once and a while and it’s so much fun.
Participant #7: We drive regularly into New Hampshire, so we are a little accustomed to snow
and hills and things. It still works ok.
Participant #8: It works but it’s not great.
Gove: Do you find your car‐ how is that in the snow?
Participant #10: I will admit with pure gasoline cars in the past, I would always prefer to drive
after the street has been plowed.
Gove: Right, right.
Participant #10: I never enjoyed driving in snow. So that hasn’t changed. But with the front
wheel drive on the Prius, it is pretty decent.
Participant #11: I learned to drive in upstate New York and so I have probably less fear in
driving in snow than I should. I find that you do lose a little bit in the Prius in certain weather
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Gove: In terms of handling?
Participant #12: In terms of handling‐ yeah, you can, especially up hills. You can lose a little bit
of handling. But as long as you are aware of that and account for that circumstance, I don’t‐ it
very rarely affects where I chose to go. And on the rare occasion I chose to take my wife’s car
for some specific purpose in some specific climate situation that’s a luxury we have in being a
two car family. But in terms of the question of power, that goes right back to what Jennifer was
saying about the symbolic issue.
Gove: Its cosmetic.
Participant #12: I’m not going to pass a sports car going uphill at 80mph in the Rocky
Mountains, nor do I wish to.
Participant #10: Does the turbo diesel, do you feel the lack of power in that?
Participant #9: In the snow? Or just‐ I mean it has an incredible amount of power on the dry
Participant #10: It’s very torquey, its very torquey.
Participant #9: It’s crazy, but it’s not fantastic in the snow either. Again, it’s a small‐er car than
I’m used to driving. It’s a lighter car than I’m used to driving. And I did specifically not choose a
Prius for that reason because I knew I had to drive through snow and I had heard from friends
who live in western Mass who had Prius cars. They said, you know, they take out the Subaru in
the winter, you know, because where we live its unpaved roads and deep snow and you can’t
drive a, they say, that you can’t drive a Prius.
Participant #11: I can’t get out of my driveway sometimes. If I have 6 inches I have to shovel a
path. I mean I have a plow that comes, but he comes at the end of the storm. I have a hundred
foot driveway and I can’t get out.
Participant #9: I had to be able to get to work.
Participant #8: I used to be able to get out with my SUV, now I gotta get the shovel out.
Gove: Well I guess the point of that is just that having that hybrid, even though you have to
deal with the snow, it’s worth having the hybrid.
Participant #8: It is, I’m not going to go back to getting, I mean I might consider getting a diesel
when biodiesel becomes more available where, you know, where I get my gas and live. Right
now that’s not as readily available as, you know, Greenfield wherever you are.
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Participant #9: Yeah, there is a whole plant out there.
Participant #8: It’s possible that because‐ you are saying you get better gas mileage. I mean
really when it comes down to it, that’s what makes most sense to me is getting the best gas
mileage. Electric cars‐ I drive too much, I drive too far. I’m going to get into my car on Friday
and I’m going to drive to Maryland. An electric plug in is probably not going to work for that
unless there is high speed plug in stations that they are talking about building. They are not
there yet. Maybe someday when they are there, I would consider that, but then I’m relying on
the coal infrastructure of our electric system in the United States, so I don’t know. There are a
lot of decisions to be made.
Participant #9: The problem with diesel is that, you know, they say that this is a better‐ these
models, these 2009 models, are a better clean burn. And they also say that if you use a
biodiesel mix it encapsulates a lot of the particulate matter in a way that you don’t get with a
regular diesel mix, but I haven’t seen the data on it either, so I don’t know if it’s really just
spewing particulates, and um, yes getting good mileage but what’s the, you know, emission
from the vehicle. I’m not sold or sure about that yet, so…
Participant #8: But if there is a hybrid convertible that comes out Id tell you. That’s when the
sort of culture, what is Jennifer talking about, you know, status. I want a convertible, but there
is no hybrid convertible yet.
Gove: From the recent research we have done, you know what Jennifer is talking about, you
know, is very real, um, pretty interesting stuff. Any closing arguments, anything…
Participant #7: I think, something that is sort of critical maybe. Everything, you know, I’ve
heard about ethanol vs. fossil fuels, alcohol fuels vs. gasoline. I was negative on those things
because I kept hearing that if you turn corn into ethanol and use that somebody is going to lose
food or the price of food goes up. And, uh, there were arguments of that, and also that it took
more energy, uh, to create ethanol from corn than the energy you finally get from ethanol as a
fuel. It didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Id listened to a lecture, I’ve forgotten the guy’s
name, I’d listened to a lecture about three weeks ago and I’m beginning to change my mind.
He was pointing out that much of the data we have been bombarded with concerning ethanol
is incorrect. That these claims are not correct, that in fact ethanol can be made‐ and he showed
data which indicated that, you know, you can increase the amount of food from corn even
though you may be using the corn for ethanol. All kinds of things that I thought were true may
not be true. And he was putting on a very strong pitch for us to get off the bandwagon‐ better
than a hybrid could do. Get away from imported oil. He was concerned very much for the fact
that China and Saudi Arabia and all these other people are getting our money, and with our
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money they are slowly buying into us and buying our country through companies and things.
They are beginning to gain major components of our own US companies. So he was, he was
talking from the point of view of a long range problem. What is, you know, what is it going to
do to the freedom of this nation if suddenly we find Saudi Arabia owns 30% of our companies
or China owns another 30%. But his argument was that ethanol really is quite good and all he is
asking for is that the American companies build all gasoline engines flex engines, so they can
use either ethanol, 85% ethanol/ 15% gasoline. We all use 10% ethanol now , 90% gasoline. He
was arguing, “Look for the price of creating flex engines, and put 1 pump 1 tank 1 pump at each
gas station with 85% ethanol/15% gasoline.” And he feels that that will build it. The speaker
had very high praise for hybrids, but he pointed out what we know. It costs $3‐4‐5000 more to
buy a hybrid compared to a comparable gasoline car and he’s pointing out that to build flex
engines will cost only another $2‐300. And so he has a strong argument and I am wedded to
electric cars of hybrid cars and I was opposed to alcohol fuels thinking that what I was reading
was fully correct and apparently it wasn’t. So I’m about to do some really deep study to what
he was saying and he may be right, and therefore keep in mind that perhaps the future of the
company might very well depend on our willingness to pay a couple hundred for a flex engine,
try out the 85% ethanol/ 15% gas and see how we like it. And he is pretty certain that if we
took that 1 brief step we could break the back of Saudi Arabia and break the back of China with
respect to the great, powerful impact they are beginning to have on this country. And, uh, I’m
one of the guys who helped win World War II and I’m one of the guys who helped win the Cold
War. I provide, I helped to build the minuteman into continental ballistic missile when I was in
industry and I’m a patriot and, uh, if you tell me if there is some way to break the back of Saudi
Arabia and OPEC and break the back of China‐ I’m in favor of that. So I’m about to launch into a
study into alcohol fuels and flex engines‐ see if I can understand what they are doing and
maybe I have another 15 years, I’m not sure. My father lived to be 100‐ maybe I’ve got 15
years, maybe, in which to, uh, still has some impact. But I’m about to move in that direction.
So it’s just a comment that I think should be said. Look at the idea of flex engines and alcohol
as the fuel‐ 85% ethanol being the fuel. And a couple hundred bucks compared to a few
thousand. I love hybrids and I love electric vehicles, but there are some real problems. Every
pure electric vehicle is very expensive because of the batteries. Every plug in is very expensive
because of the batteries. So if there’s a way to think in terms of pulling away from OPEC and
pulling away from China and if it happens to use a different technology, I don’t care. I’m for it
because my concern is for this country.
Gove: Right my head is exact‐ this weekend I was talking to my grandfather, he’s 86‐ the exact
same, you know, conversation. Was that he fought in World War II and he has resentment
towards companies, towards other countries who are gaining, uh you know, power. Things he,
you know, fought for is relapsing, is what he was saying. So that is a very interesting point. Did
you want to say something?
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested