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Jim Taylor Takes CEO Spot At AMP

From gas-guzzlers to green machines.

by on Dec.14, 2010

California "Guvernator" Arnold Schwarzenegger with Jim Taylor, former Hummer chief and now CEO of Amp Electric Vehicles.

Long-time General Motors executive Jim Taylor apparently has a thing for extreme machines.

In his last job for GM, Taylor headed the Hummer division, leaving the Detroit maker only when it decided to close the big SUV brand after an effort to sell it to the Chinese collapsed.  Now, after a brief bit of R&R, Taylor has resurfaced – and some might say he’s making up for past sins by taking on the CEO spot with battery car maker Amp Electric Vehicles.

The Ohio-based company was a finalist in the recent Automotive X-Prize and is just ramping up production of a battery conversion of the Chevrolet Equinox.  It is reportedly also negotiating a deal to work directly with another major automaker on an electric vehicle project.

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“Amp is well-positioned to take advantage of the rapidly expanding electric vehicle industry,” said Taylor, who will serve alongside of Joe Paresi, Amp’s new chairman.

Meanwhile, Amp founder Steve Burns, who has been serving as the Ohio-based start-ups CEO, will take on the position of president, and focus his efforts on ramping up Amp’s production base.

(For a first drive of the Amp Electric Equinox, Click Here.)

Amp is one of a number of new electric vehicle start-ups and wannabes – a list that also includes Silicon Valley-based Tesla Motors and Indiana’s Think! – hoping to challenge the industry’s Goliaths.

“It’s the first time where that’s been possible in more than a half century,” said Taylor, a former General Motors engineer who served not only as general manager of Hummer but also the Cadillac brand, where he helped spearhead critical product development programs such as the CTS.

Not everyone agrees, Ford CEO Alan Mulally insisting that “it’s all about scale,” which comes from selling millions of cars a year, not 10s or 100s.

There’s little question Amp’s aspiration are, for the moment, modest.  The start-up began by converting the Saturn Sky roadster to battery power, replacing the 2-seater’s conventional gasoline powertrain with a battery-based driveline of its own design.  When GM closed the Saturn brand, following its 2009 bankruptcy, Amp switched to the bigger Chevrolet Equinox.

The strategy was meant to provide a unique green product while other makers, such as Nissan, with its new Leaf battery car, focused on small models that require relatively compact battery packs.

The challenges for Amp are numerous, however.  Among other things, its low volumes mean higher costs – compounded by the need to buy the Equinox at retail, strip out the powertrain and install a replacement using lithium-ion power.  Amp insiders say the company is negotiating a deal with another automaker – which they decline to reveal – that would provide them with so-called “gliders,” or vehicles that are complete but for their powertrain.  That approach would shave thousands of dollars off production costs.

Taylor has spent some months on the Amp board, but his decision to join the company full-time not only underscores the growing interest in battery technology but the fact that a number of seasoned industry executives are exploring the potential offered by the new electric vehicle start-ups.

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