Episode 229 – EV’s Need $70 A Barrel, GM Execs Upgrade Seats, 2009 Malibu vs. 1959 Bel Air

September 16th, 2009 at 12:10pm

Runtime 7:43

Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of both Nissan and Renault, says EVs will only be viable as long as oil is over $70 a barrel. GM’s high-level executives and members of the board can now fly business class anytime they travel. What happens when a 2009 Malibu smashes into a 1959 Chevy Bel Air? All that and more, plus John answers viewer questions in the “You Said It!” segment.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. EVs need $70 a barrel to be viable. GM execs can fly business class. And what happens when a 2009 Malibu smashes into a 1959 Chevy Bel Air.

Up next, we’ll be back with the news behind the headlines.

This is Autoline Daily for Wednesday, September 16, 2009. And now, the news.

Yesterday we reported on how electric cars dominated the displays at the Frankfurt show, and how Nissan and Renault have made the biggest commitment to EVs of any automaker. But Bloomberg reports today that Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of both companies, said EVs will only be viable as long as oil is over $70 a barrel, which is where the price is right now. At $200 a barrel he says EVs will sell real well. Ghosn predicts EVs will hit 20 percent market share by 2020, others, like Volkswagen, say it will be 2 percent.

A bit more news from the Frankfurt show, Rolls-Royce says its going to double its sales with the new Ghost, which will cost a mere $338,000. The company describes the Ghost as an informal car which will appeal to people who have never had a Rolls before. Bloomberg says Rolls expects to sell a total of about 2,500 cars next year, up from 1,200 this year.

And as long as we’re talking about doubling sales, Chevrolet wants to do the same thing, in Europe. Chevy hopes to hit 1 million units by 2013, and of course it will be battling Opel as it tries to gain market share.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill today to allow the Energy Department to spend up to $550 million a year on research for advanced vehicle technology. According to the AP, the bill would provide $2.9 billion for research and development over five years and in addition to passenger cars the bill would also include programs for medium- to heavy-duty trucks and transit vehicles.

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says that the alliance between the two automakers can produce up to 6 million vehicles a year once the economy recovers. According to the AP, Marchionne believes that number is necessary for any automaker to ultimately survive. And we will find more about how Chrysler will help achieve that number later this year. According to Reuters, Marchionne plans to release a five-year plan for Chrysler in November. It will include milestones and numbers they aim to reach, in order to turn the company around.

GM execs don’t have their corporate jets anymore, but at least they can sit in the front of the plane. According to the Detroit News, high-level executives and members of the board can now fly business class anytime they travel. Lower-ranking employees can only do this on transcontinental flights longer than eight hours. When traveling, employees are urged to rent GM vehicles “whenever feasible.” This news follows last week’s announcement that the company was repealing pay cuts for white-collar workers.

I have to warn you, the video accompanying our next story is graphic, viewer discretion is advised. We can’t find a whole lot about this piece, but apparently the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “celebrated” its 50th anniversary by crashing two Chevys together – a 1959 Bel Air and a 2009 Malibu. The stunt was to show how far auto safety has come in the last half-century. The off-set head-on collision is horrific, no matter how you look at it. The ’59 crumples like a napkin but the Malibu’s passenger compartment stays largely intact. Carnage to be sure, but what a graphic waste of a perfectly good vintage Chevy! They aren’t building anymore of these things, guys!

Coming up next, it’s time for You Said It!

And now it’s time for some of your feedback.

This is “You Said It!” Every day we get dozens of comments and questions from you, our viewers. “You Said It!” gives me a chance to respond.

John saw our report on all the EVs at the Frankfurt show and wrote in to say, “Do you think anyone has given any thought to the laws of physics with regard to the EVs size? The pictures in the first-half of the show brought four words to mind. “Golf Carts Gone Wild.”

John, you’re right some of those little EVs will not be allowed on public roads with posted speeds of over 25 miles an hour.

And Jim Sawyer saw the picture we ran of Volkswagen’s original 1-liter concept car and asked, “Remember Willy Messerschmitt’s car from the late ’50s or early ’60s? This looks remarkably similar. Any idea of the mileage of that long-ago car?”

Jim, good memory. When you go for tandem seating in a light-weight, aerodynamic car it shouldn’t be too surprising that you end up with a similar design. According to Wikipedia, the Messerschmitt would get about 64 miles to the gallon with a 250 cc engine.

Several of our viewers in Canada wrote in to say we didn’t get the full story on Michael Bryant, the former solicitor general in Ontario who was against street racing, but when a bicyclist grabbed his car, he tried to shake him off, and ended up killing him.

Wayne wrote in to say, “While I don’t condone the driver’s actions . . . it should be mentioned that the deceased had an earlier encounter with Toronto’s finest during a domestic dispute and he had been drinking heavily. The former politician was driving a convertible with the top down at the time of the incident and there have been reports that the deceased was trying to climb into the vehicle and this led to him being thrown. Hopefully the police investigation gets to the facts and the driver’s actions can either be explained as criminal or justifiable under the circumstances.” We appreciate that update Wayne.

Before we go, I wanted to mention that NEXT WEEK MONDAY – that’s September 21st – we’re having Tom Stephens, GM’s Vice Chairman of Product Development in the studio. Starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, you’ll be able to watch LIVE as we tape an episode of Autoline Detroit. Then the discussion will continue in an exclusive web-only broadcast in which we’ll be taking some of your questions and comments.

You can submit questions in two ways. One, you can send an e-mail to viewermail@autolinedetroit.tv, just make sure you put “Tom Stephens Question” in the Subject Line so we can find it easily. Two, you can leave us a voice message by dialing 1-620-288-6546.

Anyway, that’s it for today’s top auto news. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

30 Comments to “Episode 229 – EV’s Need $70 A Barrel, GM Execs Upgrade Seats, 2009 Malibu vs. 1959 Bel Air”

  1. Todd J. Says:

    John, I saw that video of the 59 Chevy Bel Air. The claims by the insurance institute are ridiculous. No one claims that they haven’t helped increase vehicle safety, but this test was silly, and pointless. At no time am I able to see an engine in the 59 Chevy. When the cars collide, the dash inside the 59 Chevy is left intact and shows no indication that an engine is penetrating it.

    The claim that the 59 driver would have died instantly is simply because there are no seat belts in that car. Put seat belts and an engine into the 59 Chevy, and it’s a different story.

  2. Nick Nicholas Says:


    The 59 should have a “X” frame, I can only wonder had they used another older that had the frame rails at the door sills, would the crash results be the same?


  3. Nick Stevens Says:

    “Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of both Nissan and Renault, says EVs will only be viable as long as oil is over $70 a barrel.”

    If by “viable” he means “profitable” or even “break even”, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell it to Mr. Ghosn. And if he pays cash, I’ll offer a 20% discount too!

    No EV will be profitable even at last summer’s $150/barrel, let alone at less than half that!

    I doubt any EV will be profitable even at $200/barrel, which is not far higher than the $150, and in fact, $200 in 2010 dollars will not be any more than the old $150 in 2008 dollars!

  4. John Says:

    “The ’59 crumples like a napkin but the Malibu’s passenger compartment stays largely intact.”

    John McElroy,

    the only thing I can think of the intentional destruction of a “perfectly good vintage Chevy!”, is they were trying to compare “apples to apples”. In this case a “old apple” against a “new apple” with fifty years of safety R&D technology on its side.

    Before they waste any more Vintage Autos, maybe you could suggest a better way for them to demonstrate their point.

    Any Ideas ?

    Thanks for another great show.

  5. Nick Stevens Says:

    Todd J. Says: September 16th, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    So is your point that, 50 full years, 5 decades, after 1959, there was little, if any, progress made in Auto Safety?

    If true, and given the billions and billions poor car consumers are paying for all these safety systems (besides the effective but very inexpensive seat belts), this would be very disapointing.

    But fortunately, it is not true at all.

    I’d love to drive a classic, and many were far better looking and more imposing (esp. the 30s ones) than today’s boring boxes, but I would never drive any such car with the original mechanics under the nice shell.

    I’d be far more interested in a replica, if I use it as a daily driver under demanding conditions and dangers, and not just to show it at Pebble Beach Concours.

  6. Nick Stevens Says:

    PS Fortunately Chevy sold MILLIONS of these very popular 56-57 Chevys, so don’t worry, there are many excellent specimens left, it is not like it is an endangered species.

    (In fact, the Chevy Impala in the 60s sold, by itself, more than one million copies EVERY YEAR!)

    WOrry about far lower volume and very expensive Caddilac Biarritz’s.

  7. John V Says:

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety could have made their point just as easily by comparing 2008 fatalities/injuries per million miles traveled to the same statistic from 1959. The difference should be almost as dramatic as the video of a vintage car being ruined. The video reminded me of a time that someone entered a model T Ford into a Demolition Derby event I watched in the late 1960s. Stupid

  8. Jim Sachetti Says:

    “John V Says:
    September 16th, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety could have made their point just as easily by comparing 2008 fatalities/injuries per million miles traveled to the same statistic from 1959″

    While it is true that the IIHS could have made their point by showing the above stats to Auto Industry Enthusiasts and Stats Junkies such as MYSELF,

    it sure is 100 TIMES moire powerful to the average math illiterate Joe sixpack who would care less about the stats, to see how he would do if he was behind the wheel of a car with poor safety.

    And, again, BIG DEAL, as Nick Stevens already mentioned, they made millions of these Chevys, and many thousands survive in showroom shape as you can see for yourself if you watch any Auto Auction such as Barret Johnson etc.

    Maybe they could have crushed a Ford Edsel? But there is no vehicle today that is a descendant of that fugly POS.

  9. Paul Says:

    Seatbelts? yeah, the difference would be that the driver of the 59 Chevy would be dead, but held fast in the drivers seat.

    btw, I have a 51 Studebaker that I drive regularly but I have no illusions that I would fair well in a collision of any magnitude. Today’s Cars are MUCH safer than they were in the 50′s or 60′s; they’re just not nearly as cool ‘so we pays or monies and takes our chances’.

  10. Jim Sachetti Says:


    you are quite right. TOday’s cars can be very safe, because of

    1. crumple zones front and back, absorb energy, while a Strong steel cabin frame protects the passengers and driver.

    2. Seat belts are the most cost-efficient safety device, and it is ridiculous how the onetime big and now bankrupt GM and Chrysler, as well as Ford, opposed this $5 device that would save billions and thousands of lives, if only all people USED them!

    3. Airbags, including side and curtain airbags, now are available in even cheapo new cars, at low cots, although they are expensive to replace once used. Together with seatbelts (not alone!) Airbags provide a lot of passive safety.

    But note, “passive” safety. There is a list of items under “active” safety as well, such as good stability control systems, ABS, good handling (no old Buick barges qualify!) so one can AVOID accident scenes! And ample HP and TOrque so one can evade disadters in time.

  11. Todd Says:

    Nick, you said: “So is your point that, 50 full years, 5 decades, after 1959, there was little, if any, progress made in Auto Safety?”

    Certainly not, I never said that. The safety innovations are extraordinary. But that 59 Bel Air is a tank… I would be shocked if I was proven wrong, but I’m convinced there was no engine in there.

    I’m certainly not advocating by any stretch of the word that auto safety is pointless. I won’t even get into a car if I know the seat belts aren’t working perfectly. I’m simply saying that this test was ridiculous, and stupid. That 59 Caddy should have utterly destroyed that newer Chevy Malibu.

    There’s a lot to be said about side impact beams, air bags, stability control, anti-lock brakes… it’s all amazing technology. But there’s no consideration for saving weight in that 59 Bel Air… that thing is built like a tank. This test was obviously designed to make a point, so every step they could take to help emphesize this aspect of the outcome was performed.

    I liken this to the detonators in the fuel tankes of Ford Pintos, and flipping CJ7s on TV all for drama and fear mongering.

  12. Todd Says:

    Nick, “WOrry about far lower volume and very expensive Caddilac Biarritz’s.”

    It’s funny that you shoudl say that…

    My friend bought a property a few years ago, and sitting on it was a 1978 Eldorado Biarritz. Certainly not a masterpiece of automotive technology, but apparently it was one of only 200 ever made with an electric sunroof for that year.

    I didn’t realize this until after I cut the roof off to make a really ghetto convertible. We drove it around for a while just for fun and kept it at a warehouse because we both have home owners associations… haha (and respect for our neighbors). But would you believe someone actually stole it???

  13. diffrunt Says:

    EV viability is not limited to fuel costs.
    Pollution, convenience, low mtce & practicality
    are equally important. I,m waiting for THE battery to emerge,tho.

  14. Jonathan Says:

    They used a 4 door 59 chevy in the crash which are the least desirable to most collectors.

  15. Nick Stevens Says:

    “# diffrunt Says:
    September 16th, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    EV viability is not limited to fuel costs.
    Pollution, convenience, low mtce & practicality
    are equally important. I,m waiting for THE battery to emerge,tho.”

    We are well aware of the benefits above, but these are spread to the society as a whole. Yoiu CANNOT ask the Consumer to pay 100% of the huge price premium, and make all the compromises (power, room, luxury, handling etc), so that he only receives a tiny fraction of the overall societal benefits.

    Obviously, YOU, the society, will have to Subsidize me, the EV buyer, to the tune of $10,000s, before put my life’s savings on one.

  16. Jim Sachetti Says:

    That’s quite true, very few 4-doors ever become desirable collectibles. Even used luxury cars, a BMW 7 series is far less expensive than a much more cramped, older tech, 850iL coupe. Even the next gen 7 (the 95-01) is less expensive than the old coupe.

  17. Alex Kovnat Says:

    I’d like to add my two cents to the ’59 versus 2009 collision debate.

    That today’s vehicles are more protective of drivers and front seat passengers is good, if you’re a responsible driver whose car skids into a telephone pole on an extremely icy day.

    But there’s a negative aspect to this as well. For years it has been a big intellectual frustration, that I hear of one case after another where someone with 20 hundredths of a percent alcohol in his bloodstream, will kill a woman and both her children without suffering a scratch himself.

    Could this be because the effect of energy-absorbing steering columns and better energy management engineering, is protecting drunk drivers from what would otherwise be the natural consequences of their behavior?

    It would be interesting to compare not only ’59 and ’09 cars, but also the matter of whether, in 1959 versus 2009, a higher percentage of traffic fatalities were among those whose behavior caused the accident in which they lost their lives.

    In other words even if the rate of deaths and severe injuries per million miles is less now than it was 50 years ago, has there been an increase, percentage-wise, in deaths of drivers (and passengers of same) whose behavior was not the cause of the accident which resulted in their deaths?

    Or, putting it another way: Is the effect of air bags, better front end crash management, etc, to transfer the consequences of drunk driving from the drunk driver himself to others, i.e. drivers of other vehicles with whom they collide?

  18. Nick Stevens Says:


    I do not fully understand and I certainly do not agree with your point, that allegedly the improvements protect the drunk driver and not his or her victims.

    Most accidents in the USA involve the collision of car against car or truck, or car against wall, and NOT car against pedestrians.

    and in the vast majority of the above cases, it is easy to see how the improvements EQUALLY protect both the drunken driver that sure does not deserve the protection, AND the innocent driver who is hit by the irresponsible, drunken clown.

  19. Alex Kovnat Says:

    I never mentioned pedestrians in my post above.

  20. Nick Stevens Says:

    “# Alex Kovnat Says:
    September 16th, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I never mentioned pedestrians in my post above.”

    Then you hopefully can see that this is more reason that your point is not correct, and that the innocent drivers are JUST AS WELL protected as the Drunk guilty ones!

  21. AlfaElan Says:

    Don’t forget to mention collapsing steering columns, engine hoods designed to fold rather than slice the head off the occupants, seats that stay attached to the car and all the other safety devices developed by the automakers, not the IIHS.

    While the IIHS has increased the consumers priority for safety, they haven’t really done that much to actually develope safety. As consumer priority for safety has grown it has become profitable to have the safety features. Remember how GM had airbags but they couldn’t get the quantity up to get the price down enough to be profitable so they dropped them until everyone had to have airbags so the price dropped to a point where they were profitable.

  22. John Says:

    The ’59 Bel Air is still way cool.




    Let’s hope everybody has proved their point and has got this “demo derby” technique out of their system.



  23. G.A.Branigan Says:

    The real problem now a days as I see it is driver distraction IE:nav and communications devices,bluetooth cell phones,sat radio with a zillion channels etc.They are cramming in too much technology into the cockpit,info overload.That in its self is,or could be dangerous.

  24. Bill T Says:

    The poor ’59 Chevy. Isn’t it the same car parodied in that Honda commercial? I would like to see how that same Chevy would fare against a vehicle such as the ’89 Toyota Camry. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be driving the Chevy. The Institute for Highway Safety has had the greatest impact on the import manufacturers. Small, light, economical vehicles on U.S. highways didn’t have much of a chance to protect their passengers until safety factors were legislated into passenter vehicles, law enforcement, and the highway roads themselves. I would think that the most dangerous vehicle on the road now would be the one with an ignorant driver behind the wheel.

  25. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Years ago, while I was working for GM, they conducted a barrier crash of a 1920-something Chevy to show how poorly it did compared to then-current cars. I thought that was an incredible waste of a bit of history. I feel the same way about the “crash test” with the ’59 Chevy, even if there are a few thousand of them left. In actuality, there are probably a very few thousand, or a few hundred ’59 Chevys still around and it decent condition.

  26. Dave Says:

    That was was a 59 four door that most would not want, but man there is a ton of parts that would work on the 2 doors that people WOULD want ,now just scrap..

  27. Jonathan Says:

    Speaking about the destruction of classic cars: The destruction of 1 MINIMALLY desirable car in this case, does not compare to the destruction of many VERY desirable cars in movie production. (cap are emphasis not anger)

  28. Nick Stevens Says:

    “# Dave Says:
    September 17th, 2009 at 7:34 am

    That was was a 59 four door that most would not want, but man there is a ton of parts that would work on the 2 doors that people WOULD want ,now just scrap..”

    Good point.

    And one more reason to hate the very wasteful cash for clunkers program, which destroyed not just one, but 700,000 vehicles!!!!

  29. Robin Sharrock Says:

    Am I alone in finding it abhorrent that GM executives will now be flying in business class? We must remember that the poor taxpayers cramped behind them are the ones that are paying for this extravagance.

  30. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The cars traded in on the cash for clunkers program were not restored or surviving original 50 year old cars. They were worn out, less than 25 year old vehicles that would have essentially no chance of surviving another 25 years.