Visiting GM exec: Crash-proof cars should be reality

Speaking in Herzliya, Taub says new technology should be on the road by 2020; says costs need to be brought down.

By NADAV SHEMER
June 2, 2011 23:11
3 minute read.
GM executive Alan Taub

Alan Taub 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Crash-proof vehicles should be on the road within the next decade, the visiting vice president of global R&D for General Motors said Thursday at a press conference in Herzliya, at which he outlined the company’s vision and discussed its operations in Israel.

“The technology road maps that we have, and that others in the industry have, start to make vehicles that don’t crash a reality,” Alan Taub said, adding that he supports the time line set by rival company Volvo that such vehicles will be on the road by the year 2020.

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However, Taub said GM would have to bring down the costs of producing such cars. Also, while crash-proof vehicles “might become a commercial reality by the end of this decade,” the continued use of non-crash-proof cars would mean we would be “living in this mixed environment world for probably another 15 to 20 years,” he said. “Remember, a vehicle that doesn’t crash can still be crashed into.”

Taub, who arrived at the press conference straight from an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, said he was “very impressed with the talent he saw at GM’s Israeli R&D center.

“This represents one of our eight research labs around the world, but it has already established itself as our center of excellence in vision systems, in speech recognition and in the growing effort in robotics; in fact, so much so that we’ve run out of room in this building,” he said, referring to the fact that GM Israel will move to new headquarters in Herzliya in the coming month.

One of the major projects currently being undertaken in Israel has to do with the company’s new hybrid electric vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt. Two Volts are about to be brought to the country, where they will be used to test sensor technology and active safety systems, among other things.

The Volt is expected to be available to the Israeli public by 2012, although the question of whether they will be cheaper or more expensive than Renault’s Fluence EV – which electric-vehicle service provider Better Place will begin selling later this year for NIS 122,900 – remains unanswered.

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Taub stressed that carmakers must literally reinvent the wheel to move ahead. The DNA set for vehicles in the 1920s had served the world well, he said, but a revolution was needed in the automobile’s second century.

The “enabler for the reinvention of our vehicles is electronic control software,” he said.

“We know the present vehicle cannot be a sustainable solution for the future,” Taub said. “We’ve spent 100 years basically totally dependent on petroleum to fuel our vehicles. Even today they are still over 96 percent petroleum- fueled. That is not a sustainable solution.”

Only about 7% of energy in the tank of a petroleum-fueled vehicle is actually used on moving the car, he said.

“We have plans to get us on diverse renewable energy – everything from natural gas to electricity and hybrid – and we need to develop the infrastructure and vehicle technology in concert with each other,” Taub said.

GM’s blueprint for that future is its “electric network vehicle” concept, or ENV, which was unveiled at the China Expo in Shanghai last year. They are two-seat electric vehicles designed for built-up urban areas, and the power for their motors is provided by lithium-ion batteries that produce zero emissions.

By combining GPS with vehicle-to-vehicle communications and distance-sensing technologies, GM says the ENV vehicle will be driven both manually and autonomously, bringing it to the crash-proof level that Taub talked about.

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