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20 April 2024

Committed to a green drive for the future

By Rick Wagoner, CEO of General Motors

In November last year, General Motors and the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) announced a landmark agreement that will bring GM hybrid vehicles to the Middle East, the first hybrids in the region.


This development is groundbreaking on a number of levels, not the least of which being that it clearly shows the vision and commitment to the environment of the Government of Dubai and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. 


The GM-RTA agreement calls for a small fleet of Chevrolet Tahoe and Malibu hybrids to be used as limousines and taxis by the RTA on the roads in Dubai. The programme will last one year, beginning in January 2008. GM will provide technical training for 15 RTA technicians, along with training for 40 drivers of Dubai Taxi.  During the programme, GM and the RTA will work together to validate the vehicles for use and serviceability.

Eventually, the programme could grow to one of the largest fleets of hybrid vehicles in the world, and enhance Dubai’s reputation for forward-thinking policy.  Dubai’s commitment to exploring energy diversity is exemplary for all nations, especially those in an area as oil-rich as the Middle East.


Let me explain what I mean by energy diversity. Simply put, it illustrates GM’s approach to powering the cars and trucks of the future. We believe several different energy solutions are necessary to reduce the automobile’s impact on the environment. And that’s largely because the automotive industry is in the middle of tremendous growth. For 2007, we expect global sales volume to reach about 70 million vehicles. By 2016, we’re forecasting sales of 94 million units a year.


Today, there are about 820 million vehicles in the global car park, in a world with a population of 6.6 billion people. This means only 12 per cent enjoy the benefits of automobile ownership. From what we know about the universal aspiration for automobiles, especially the way the industry is exploding in places like China, India and here in the Middle East, we expect at least 15 per cent of the world’s population will own a vehicle by 2020. That means we’ll have over a billion vehicles in the world a little over a decade from now. And, frankly, that’s probably a conservative estimate.


To put that in perspective, if you parked all those vehicles end-to-end around the earth, you would circle the globe 125 times. Obviously, something is going to have to power all those vehicles.


Today, 35 per cent of the world’s energy needs are met with petroleum products.  In fact, we’re burning through roughly 1,000 barrels of oil every second.  Worldwide energy demand is currently growing at an average rate of two per cent per year. At this rate, we’ll need about 70 per cent more energy in 2030 than we did in 2004. Clearly, the time has come to develop alternatives to help meet these energy needs, and that’s exactly what we at GM are doing.


The alternatives we’re exploring include further refinement of the internal combustion engine and transmissions, improved diesel technology, expanded use of biofuels such as ethanol, hybrid electric vehicles including plug-in electric vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles powered by hydrogen.


Our hybrid strategy is represented by the Tahoe and Malibu soon to take to Dubai roads. This strategy is focused on the highest fuel-consuming vehicles first, like buses, full-size SUVs and trucks... since that is where we can have the biggest impact.


In 2003, our patented two-mode hybrid propulsion system made its debut in transit buses. We’ll have about 1,200 hybrid buses on the road in 56 cities across the United States and Canada by the end of this year. In total, these buses will save about 1.75 million gallons of fuel annually.


The Tahoe and the GMC Yukon full-size utilities use this two-mode system, which will almost double fuel efficiency in city driving. In fact, the urban drive cycle fuel economy is equal to that of many conventional midsize sedans – without sacrificing any of the performance and utility of full-size SUVs. And all of this improvement is on top of the already class-leading fuel economy of the non-hybrid Tahoe and Yukon. Next year, this system expands to the Cadillac Escalade and to our full-size pickups.


As for more advanced electrification, we’ve already announced our plan to produce a plug-in version of our Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid utility, already on sale in North America, with the potential to double the fuel efficiency of any SUV on the road today. And we have introduced the Chevrolet Volt concept, a new electrically driven vehicle, using what we call the E-Flex system. 


The E-Flex system involves an electric motor powered by a battery pack.  This system allows a driver to travel 65km on electric power alone. The Volt also has a small traditional petrol engine, whose only task is to power a generator that keeps the batteries charged during longer trips. Even with the gas engine in use, the Volt’s composite highway petrol mileage is still over 100 mpg. The E-flex system also allows for E-85, bio-diesel or a hydrogen fuel cell to power the battery generator.


When the battery technology required for this system is ready – and we have agreements in place with battery partners to speed development – we are committed to bring this vehicle to market. We already have the first battery packs, we’re testing them now, and we’ll have our first prototypes running this spring.


We have hundreds of engineers working on the Volt, and on E-Flex. In fact, the vehicle side of the Volt programme is being engineered in parallel with the development of the battery. While not without risk, the Volt and the E-Flex System represent an important step in leading the global auto industry forward.


We have a long tradition of such leadership at GM. We invented the electric starter. We invented the automatic transmission. We invented the catalytic converter. And, we are committed to continue this leadership. We are committed to developing the solutions for the challenges facing transportation and the automotive industry. 


And we are pleased and proud to have such outstanding partners to help us achieve those goals as the Government of Dubai. General Motors has been operating in this region for over 80 years. We have a long history of relationships and partnerships throughout the Middle East – with governments, customers, and our dealers, who do such a wonderful job representing GM here.


Our agreement with the Dubai RTA is further evidence our environmental strategy is truly a global effort to reduce emissions and develop sustainable transportation. We look forward to the deployment and validation of the Tahoe and Malibu hybrids here in the unique environment of the Middle East.


We also hope the transport authority will recognise the outstanding capability of these new hybrids and partner with General Motors to assemble one of the largest hybrid fleets in the world – right here in Dubai. Together, we can bring the future one step closer.