GM EV concept at RenCen

Is Detroit Dead or Dormant?

When Tesla dropped the gauntlet, did they wake the Detroit Dead?

It isn’t often that we say that there is innovation coming from Detroit. During a recent visit to the GM Renaissance center we got a peak behind the wizards curtain. The big question is easy. Is the wizard just sending out smoke signals and using mirror tricks or do they have some real magic left?

The 1970’s oil embargo pretty much killed Detroit and introduced us to the world of efficient foreign cars. Drivers in the US have enjoyed some of the lowest gas prices in the world. Both before Mr. Carters problems with the middle east and after. We drive the biggest gas guzzling cars in the world. Even those “efficient” foreign brands have bigger models and motors that use more gas here in the US.

The Alarmists of Global Warming

Those gas guzzlers were making big holes in the ozone in the late 70’s and now they are causing global warming. At least that is what the alarmists say. The reality is a little different. Yes burning fossil fuels pollutes and kills our forests. Some say that using alarmist methods are needed to get people to change. My problem with that idea is that we learned that CFC’s where depleting the ozone. So much for the cars doing it Mr. Chicken Little. Now we are learning the nationally recognized scientists that Al Gore and Mr. Clinton terminated for not playing along might have been right.

The earth isn’t in a perfect round orbit. Ice Ages happen and then we warm up as we move closer to the sun and we cool down as we move away. Simple physics. Sadly since most people have never been able to enjoy the real outdoors they don’t appreciate the damage done by fossil fuels and plastics. Short term selfishness drives our use of cheap gas to drive big trucks and buy chips in plastic bags that never get recycled.

Waking the Detroit Dead

Elon Musk took a different approach to the problem. Knowing that the actions of the truly rich trickle down to everyday people like me, he appealed to the economics of electric cars. Toss in the idea of never having to pickup a dirty gas nozzle again and suddenly Teslas’ are everywhere. At least in the upper class neighborhoods that is. While I have never owned or leased a Tesla, they are impressive.

The real benefit from Tesla was that we found Detroit wasn’t completely dead, it was just a bit fat and lazy. In other words it became a rich American. Like rich Americans that gobbled up Tesla’s as fast as Mr. Musk could take their deposit and launch it into space, Detroit got off the couch and got excited again.

The Detroit Crash and Burn Club.

Detroit must have known about the 70’s oil embargo in advance. How else could you explain the Chevrolet Electrovair and Electrovair II? Electric versions of a car that Ralph Nader had already killed by the time the public got it’s first peek. I am not saying there is a conspiracy, but the big wheels are in on the big plan for sure. Of course the Electrovair never went on sale.

The Electrovair II on display at GM's RenCen in Detroit.
The Electric Corvair from the 1960’s

GM’s next attempt while Ford and Chrysler sat and watched with glee was the EV-1. Golf carts were faster and had better electric range, but GM still put a few on the street. I saw one… once. Smartly they only leased them so they could take them all back. But like Edison, GM kept failing while the others sat and laughed. Eventually they created the Volt.

It took almost 50 years from the first attempt at an electric for GM to build one that people wanted. I don’t think the Volt would have ever existed without Elon Musk. Having happily owned two Volts, thank you Mr. Musk. Failure can lead to success.

The Electric Skateboard

Getting a private behind the scenes tour of the GM Renaissance Center while shooting for COOLTOYS® TV in Detroit was a little exciting. As a right wing tree hugger that still believes in the American Dream, seeing life in Detroit was indeed happiness. There weren’t any EV1’s on display but there were some other odd concepts that thankfully never made the street. There was an Eletrovair though. As a Corvair fan, it was cool to see.

GM's Ultium Electric Platform in the Skateboard Chassis
The GM Skateboard EV chassis

On display was a sneak peek of GM’s leapfrog technology. Using a new battery setup, and a new “Ultium” drive system, they created a platform that looks like a tesla at first. When you peel back the layers you find that Tesla might need to pay attention. More power, longer range, lighter weight and core commonality. These are things that we have not seen from Detroit since the model T. In 2022 you will be able to buy the new tech badged as a Cadillac. While the rebrand of Buick didn’t appeal to me, this looks like my kind of Cadillac.

Beware of Angry Giants

As a consumer who wants to see a better cleaner future, I am glad that Tesla woke Detroit from the dead. Mr. Musk and his investors may not be so happy. The only big advantage to Tesla (and the super cool classics made from Teslas) left is the private recharging infrastructure. Having driven both models of the Volt for nearly 70,000 miles and 6 years, I burned less that 55 gallons of fuel. Charging is everywhere now.

The downside of any other brand of electric charging is the simple economic fact that it is expensive. I have seen rates that equal $8.00 a gallon. Given the inconvenience of longer charge times when compared to fueling at the pump electric needs to be more of an economic advantage for wide acceptance. Driving by my local gas station and seeing a 5 as the first digit all the way down the sign I wondered if Mr. Biden is fixing the economics of electric with his oil policy. What does Detroit really know? Even Ford announced an Electric F-150.

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