A top General Motors Corp. executive said Monday that the nation should make an accelerated push toward renewable energy to fuel automobiles, and said the conversion toward ethanol as a leading contributor is "entirely realistic" in a few years.
Speaking at an automotive conference, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said that instead of being satisfied with incremental change, the country should make it a leading priority to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy in "huge chunks."
"We think there is far more to be had, far quicker, for a greater benefit to the country if we adopt a national policy of a wholesale switch," Lutz said.
The auto industry should respond by transforming its cars and trucks to run on such alternative fuels as E85, an ethanol blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
Lutz said that ethanol could become a major energy component within a few years if energy policy becomes the top national priority -- similar to the "Manhattan Project" in which scientists designed and assembled the first atomic weapons.
"I think a time frame like five years looks entirely realistic," Lutz told reporters after his speech at a downtown hotel in Louisville.
Lutz also said that GM, the world's largest automaker, is well-positioned to compete globally, noting that 2007 has so far been "a pretty good year."
"General Motors has more global resources, more global talent than any other company out there," he said.
Last month, Detroit-based GM reported a 2006 fourth-quarter net profit of $950 million, but the company still lost $2 billion for the year. It also lost $10.4 billion in 2005, and is shedding thousands of jobs and closing plants to shrink its factory capacity so that it can compete with Asian automakers, mainly Toyota Motor Corp.
Lutz was upbeat about GM's latest vehicle introductions, but said the rollouts come amid "intense market pressure."
"This industry is more than 100 years old and it has definitely seen some dog-eat-dog days, but I'd venture to say that it's never seen a period of more intense, more pressure-packed competition than right now."