[Video] GM's Larry Burns explains why the future of the car looks like a skateboard

December 06 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: 2018   Rating: 1

Skateboard kills combustion engine
General Motors VP of R&D and Strategic Planning Larry Burns understands that the future of the global auto industry will be shaped by how we 'build' cars, not just how we 'fuel' them.

For the past decade, GM's Burns has been testing a very disruptive idea - the car of the future looks like a skateboard.  When he talks about the 'skateboard' chassis, he is not outlining GM's plan for 2010-15.  Burns is too smart to know that there is no quick fix.  He is talking about how to radically transform the vehicle and driving experience!

What does GM really need to do? 
Reduce the number of factories by shifting to modular platforms, focus on design and driving experience, shift profit streams from selling new cars to aftermarket sales and mobility services, connect cars around software and energy.  How? First, kill the combustion engine.

GM's skateboard vision centers around it's 'Autonomy' concept car and three major components:
1) Wheel based electric motors (which Michelin has built) - modular manufacturing systems
2) Drive by wire systems (well under development) - digital, replaces mechanical systems
3) Energy storage- primary fuel cell systems with support from batteries and capacitors

[Filmed at TED Conference in 2005 - **note below**]

What are the big takeaways from Larry Burns' talk?

- A billion cars are coming. So don't try to build a 'better buggy whip' and improve the combustion engine.  Make it obsolete.  Quickly.  Don't try to extend the era of the internal combustion engine or squeeze more miles out of a gallon of gas.  It's going to take a long time to re-tool, so begin now.

- Electric motors are the future.  But don't confuse the 'electric motor' for the storage device.  Cars are not iPods.  Batteries alone, cannot drive the auto industry forward.   Energy storage will come from integrating all major systems - fuel cells, batteries, and capacitors. 

- The future is often 'event driven'.  Create the future, and know that events (e.g. technology breakthroughs, prices spikes, leadership changes) are difficult to forecast.  Don't rely on pure extrapolation when you talk about tomorrow. 

- Car should be connected via telecommunications (OnStar, 'smart car' autonomous operation) and also via Energy.  Electric cars should be seen as 'an appliance' integrated into the world's energy grid. That means we can tap cars as major sources of power and use them (via solid energy storage 'swap out') to transport energy from place to place.  Electric cars help the planet by extending the grid.

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** Why use an old video from 2005?**

This is an older video from the TED Conference - 2005.  But it is still good stuff for people know to the future of automobiles around 'skateboard' platform.

So some ideas have changed and obviously GM is pushing its range-extended Volt vehicle not the Sequel. 

But the ideas remain solid. And a lot can change in five years.  Solid state hydrogen storage is advancing quickly, producing hydrogen via nanostructured catalysts are dropping costs - quickly.  And the costs of fuel cell membranes are coming down as performance increases.   We cannot see 'when', but expect sooner rather than later given the sense of urgency around ending the era of the combustion engine.

Technology shifts usually go undetected - even by leaders of major corporations.

Remember that in 2005 Nissan's CEO was quoted on front page of NYTimes that lithium battery cars were 'not coming', then in 2008 he said that it was full steam ahead, and that battery powered cars 'would be profitable' soon.

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