Interview with GM Chairman Rick Wagoner

As previously mentioned, as a guest of GM we had excellent access to top level GM executives – and you don’t get any more top level than GM Chairman Rick Wagoner.

A group of online journalists had nearly an hour where we asked questions on several topics from the such as the Coskata announcement, Hummer’s future, gas prices and Tata Motors’ Nano. If you just want to watch the video (courtesy of Matt Kelly’s excellent Next Gear Show Green), then it’s embedded below and is nearly an hour long. I’ve paraphrased and grouped some of the discussion below.

GM Chairman Rick Wagoner
Photo via OhGizmo

Q: Why get into the fuel business with the Coskata ethanol announcement?
A: We’re big believers in ethanol. It’s a broad based partnership that is not about profit making, it’s about bringing forward a fundamental change in refueling infrastructure which GM believes is necessary. Demand for oil is growing by 2.5m barrels a year. Low fuel prices and increased miles driven has massively increased oil use despite cars being 2 times more efficient than 40 years ago. The government pass legislation to reduce oil use but give massive subsidies to the oil industry. Need to get subsidies and incentives to the ethanol industry so consumers can use it more. China has less polluting vehicles, not because of better technology but of stronger vehicle emissions regulations.

Q: With current car payments at the limit of people’s affordability, what is the impact of the new environmental measures?
A: The two-mode hybrid is currently very expensive, but not sure how low we can get the “cost penalty” compared to the combustion engine. Fuel cells have the long-term potential to be low cost. GM are working hard on keeping resale value of vehicles high (less fleet sales) and not over-financing customers.

Q: The Chevy Volt is not even being produced but is being advertised. Toyota want to release a competitor – so what are your thoughts on that?

A: Chevy Volt is on the fastest pace possible. It will be a public risk, but it’s the right risk for this time, and the Toyota announcement makes me think GM are on the right track. All battery power is not the primary focus as our experience with the EV-1 showed that range was very important.

Alternative fuel options are an “inevitable and critical opportunity for the auto industry”. GM want to have the global standard of most sophisticated hybrid which they think they have with the two-mode, although it is expensive at the moment. Watch the full interview below.