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Lutz on the future (Updated)

by Bill Cawthon on

Bob Lutz spent years at Chrysler Corporation, leaving just before the 1998 merger with Daimler-Benz.

During his tenure at Chrysler, Lutz was a driving force behind the Chrysler LH series, the Plymouth Prowler, and the Dodge Viper. Mr. Lutz’s passion for speaking his mind led to a clash with Lee Iacocca, who brought in Bob Eaton from GM instead, a decision Mr. Iacocca later said he regretted.

Lutz-Viper-Pace-Car

Mr. Lutz, now 83, is still passionate and still outspoken after more than a half-century in the car business. He has also been a proponent of electric vehicles since 2008.

In a recent Automotive News discussion at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Michigan, Lutz shared his vision of the future of the car.

“The end state is going to be the fully autonomous, fully electric module with no capability for the driver to steer or exercise any sort of command. He’ll call it up, it’ll arrive at the domicile, he’ll get in, input the destination.

On its own battery power it’ll go to the freeway. On the freeway, it’ll merge seamlessly into a stream of other standardized modules that are traveling 120, 150 miles an hour… , doesn’t matter, so you sort of have a blending of rail-type transportation with individual transportation.

“Then as you approach your exit, your module will split off, go into deceleration lanes, take the exit, go to your final destination, you key in your credit card number or your thumbprint, or whatever it’ll be then, because I think this is about the fully autonomous, fully electric – and by the way, on the freeway they’ll be on inductive rails so that it’s not using its own battery and of course the batteries will be more capable – and you’ll be billed for the transportation, the module takes off and goes to its collection point, ready for the next person to call it up.

“And what we’re seeing now is various transitional elements: shared cars, Uber, all of these things where it’s on-demand transportation to fulfill the need for transportation without the need for actually owning a car.

“You could look at Uber as an intermediate stage, a stepping-stone on the way to fully autonomous, because they basically serve the same purpose except there’s a driver and in most cases, there’s an internal combustion engine.

“And then there’ll be autonomous driving on the freeway, which is pretty much feasible now, but people confuse this: you say autonomous is like on cruise control on the freeway, that’s here now and going to be pretty much ubiquitous in three or four years.

“But that doesn’t solve the problem of getting off the freeway and going to the final destination, which is still going to be hands on the wheel.

“Well, if we look at that end point, of these standardized modules, which have to be the same length, the same shape, same width and so forth, and you think ‘How is the automobile industry going to supply that non-differentiated demand?’

“That is a scary proposition. And that’s where you have to worry about people like Apple and Google because 90% of the content of the vehicle is going to be in the electronic systems and the connectivity and, of course the battery, and the module itself is going to be relatively trivial.”

Tomorrow, Allpar will look at the the implications of Lutz’s vision and see how well it meets the reality test.

(Note: This update restores comments made by Mr. Lutz that were erroneously omitted in the original post.)

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for just-auto.com, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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