GM Head of Research Sees Wide Use of Electric Drive

GM's Larry Burns is in the hot seat to develop vehicles that run on renewable energy

Published: 07-Aug-2008

Larry Burns, a finalist for Design News' 2008 Engineer of the Year, is vice president of R&D and Strategic Planning at General Motors (GM). Perhaps no one is more in the hot seat than Burns given GM's push to develop - and more challenging, profit from - vehicles that run on renewable energy. His mission is nothing short of the "reinvention" of the automobile.

DN Editor-in-Chief John Dodge sent Burns a series of questions via email for his profile, which will appear in the Sept. 22 print issue of Design News and a couple weeks before at His responses are remarkably candid, offering a forthright appraisal of where GM wants to go. He strongly suggests GM will warrant the Volt's battery to 150,000 miles or 10 years and offers timelines for many newer technologies to take root. He also sees electric propulsion across GM's entire product line.

DN: The Chevy Volt is on schedule to be "complete" by 2010. What does that mean? With 650 engineers and designers on the project, would it be fair to characterize the Volt as GM's Manhattan Project? Compare the development time of the Volt versus traditional timelines for new models. Isn't the Volt the biggest project in GM history?


Ray Lane, managing partner of venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins, Caufield and Byers, which has invested in Think, believes Think could eventually sell as many as 30,000 to 50,000 City cars a year.

The production electric vehicle to be introduced in 2010 will have a unique bodystyle and is not based on any existing Nissan model, unlike the technology 'mule' pictured above.

The 100-mile range electric car has been operating with Japanese power companies for the last two years.


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