Alternative Energy And Ideas For The Auto Industry

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The long-term recovery of the U.S. auto industry will depend largely on American automotive creativity and innovation. Many industry watchers expect a new fleet of electric and hybrid cars to help buoy the U.S. car industry's comeback. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks with Ray Wert, editor-in-chief of, about the restructured U.S. auto industry and the importance of design innovation and creativity.


The long-term recovery of the U.S. auto industry will depend largely on American automotive creativity and innovation. Many industry watchers expect a new fleet of electric and hybrid cars to help buoy the U.S. car industry's comeback. For more, we're joined by Ray Wert. He's the editor-in-chief of the automotive website And he joins us now from our New York bureau.

Welcome, Ray.

Mr. RAY WERT (Editor-in-chief, Thanks. Great to be here.

LYDEN: So we just heard that President Obama visited yesterday in Michigan a GM plant which is producing the forthcoming Chevy Volt. So how important is this type of car - the electric car - to the industry's long-term viability? I should think terribly important.

Mr. WERT: It is. It's absolutely a priority for GM to get the Chevy Volt right. And it's a priority for every automaker to be looking at alternative fuel solutions for what I would consider to be appliance vehicles. Things that are -vehicle that are meant to take you from A to B, and the Chevy Volt's a perfect example of that.

LYDEN: Now, it'll cost about $41,000. If I buy that, am I getting more of that car than, say, the very popular Toyota Prius?

Mr. WERT: Well, from everything that we've heard to this point - and we don't yet know the fuel economy numbers on the gasoline-only side of the vehicle. But from what we've seen, the fuel economy's probably going to be a little bit higher than the Toyota Prius. And by a little bit I mean probably about five or ten miles per gallon higher. So that's significant.

Is it worth an extra $15,000 to $20,000? Well, I think that's going to be up to people who are early adopters wanting to spend that money.

LYDEN: Do you think that the American auto industry is responding to all its problems from recessions (unintelligible) efficiently? Do you see a big push to be innovative?

Mr. WERT: I absolutely see a big push for automakers, especially U.S. automakers, to be innovative. And I think everyone wants to kind of leapfrog the technology generation that we're currently in, which is a non-plug-in version of a hybrid electric vehicle.

And I think that the vehicles like the Volt do a very good job of kind of taking the dual power train architecture from the past generation and kind of moving it to the future, which is one where people have an opportunity to actually be driving in an all-electric vehicle.

LYDEN: Mm-hmm. Powertrain architecture. You make me think about design and how important that traditionally has been to cars. I mean, what about that? Are American designers getting better at making sexy cars?

Mr. WERT: Well, I think that American designers have a rich heritage to draw off of that their competitors don't necessarily have. It's really hard to get excited about the next generation Camry or the next generation Accord. But it's really easy to get excited about the next generation Camaro or the next generation Mustang, because there is a wealth of history there.

There's a wealth of positive feelings that are associated with those designs and that heritage. And I think the U.S. automakers are already seeking to push those kind of design histories to make sure that they're really going after an audience that is going to get excited about their new vehicles.

LYDEN: How dominant is the American car industry in the global market now?

Mr. WERT: Oh, it's extraordinarily dominant. If you take a look at General Motors, the number one selling vehicles that they have are actually Buicks. And they're selling them like hotcakes really. I mean, I guess I'm not sure what the Chinese equivalent of hotcakes would be, but that's...

LYDEN: Dim sum.

Mr. WERT: Yes. I guess they are selling it like dim sum there.

It has to do with the fact that they weren't selling vehicles in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s in China. And so consequently there was an enormous amount of prestige associated with having a U.S. vehicle. So now they're trading off of that history by now selling them to the mass market there. And it's working. It's working tremendously for them.

LYDEN: Ray Wert, I understand that you have roots in Michigan. You're in New York now, but you go back to Detroit a lot. What's your sense of the auto industry revival there based on what you've seen?

Mr. WERT: Well, I think that the auto industry has changed tremendously over the past decade. And it's never going back to the way it was five or 10 years ago. But it still is the dominant industry in the metro Detroit area and in Michigan in general. And so consequently I think that there is an enormous amount of love associated with cars that exists in Michigan, that exists in metropolitan Detroit. And I think that although it has changed and shifted and jobs have moved on, I think that there always will be that heritage there and it always will be the Motor City.

LYDEN: All right. Well, it's all the city that Henry Ford designed.

Mr. WERT: Absolutely.

LYDEN: Ray Wert is the editor-in-chief of the automotive website, Jalopnik, and he joined us from our bureau in New York.

Ray thanks very much.

Mr. WERT: Thank you very much.

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