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GM’s top electric car exec quits

September 30, 2009

GM’s top electric car exec quits

Key in work on Volt, battery technology, Kruse leaves to start own consulting firm

The Detroit News

Bob Kruse, who recently led a critical Chevrolet Volt team and devised the automaker’s long-term electric vehicle strategy, has resigned months before the vehicle’s debut, The Detroit News has learned.

Kruse’s resignation, effective today, comes at a crucial time for General Motors Co., which is banking on the Volt to change public perceptions of the company and also help meet stringent new fuel rules.

Kruse, 50, executive director of global vehicle engineering for hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries since early 2008, left to start his own consulting company, E V Consulting LLC. He will provide automotive and vehicle electrification expertise for companies looking to seize a piece of more than $1.3 billion in federal grants available to Detroit’s Big Three automakers and the state.

"My departure from General Motors has nothing to do with my view of the future success for the Volt," Kruse said on Tuesday. "I’ve left on very good terms. I have a lot of respect for the leadership of General Motors."

But, he added: "I’m not going to lie. Are they happy about my departure? Probably not."

GM said the extended range electric Volt remains on target for production in November 2010 and stressed that Volt battery testing was under way when Kruse was promoted. The team is largely responsible for designing and testing the Volt’s lithium-ion battery. Kruse’s team also focused on integrating the battery into the vehicle, and he developed GM’s battery and electric vehicle strategy beyond the Volt.

The company will soon have 80 pre-production Volt vehicles on the roads.

"There’s no good time to lose good people," GM spokesman Rob Peterson said. "But that said, the Volt team goes way beyond one person."

Kruse’s move is understandable given the amount of federal money available, cuts imposed on white-collar workers and retirees by GM and government restrictions on executive pay, said analyst Joe Phillippi of Auto Trends Consulting Inc. in Short Hills, N.J.

"You can’t blame the guy," Phillippi said. "What is the prospect of ever making serious money…working for a ward of the government, where your pay is capped?"

The defection likely will have a minimal impact on the Volt launch, said Kevin Riddell, manager of powertrain forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates.

"While GM could suffer in the near term, I think the turnaround will be very quick," he said. "The main reason is there are a bunch of talented people there. I don’t think it’s really a factor. People come and go all the time."

Kruse’s successor is Micky Bly, who was involved early on with the Volt program and has experience with hybrid/electric vehicles.

The Volt will let commuters travel up to 40 miles on electric power.

The engine kicks in after its battery is drained by about 70 percent to sustain the battery’s remaining charge to keep the car running for several hundred miles.

GM is receiving about $241 million in federal grants, including $106 million for its planned battery pack assembly factory in Brownstown Township.

The resignation ends a 31-year career at GM during which the Rochester Hills resident rose from a co-op student in the Buick Motor division to leading engineers working on implementing hybrid, extended range electric vehicles and advanced battery technology.

Kruse said he decided to leave after Vice President Joe Biden’s announcement Aug. 5 that Michigan and Detroit’s Big Three automaker’s would receive more than $1.3 billion of $2.4 billion in federal grants to support the next generation of batteries and electric vehicles.

A week later, on Aug. 13, Kruse formed E V Consulting to advise clients with projects that would qualify for the federal aid.

He already has a client, which he would not identify, and said he would not rule out consulting with GM.

"I’m very bullish and upbeat on the Volt and its prospects," he said.

But right now, "my dance card is full," he said.

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