Bob Lutz isn't the only automotive oldtimer back in the saddle.

Paice Corp., which has developed a new hybrid vehicle technology that's creating a buzz worldwide, has several well-known senior citizens involved.

Two are former General Motors Corp. chief engineers: Ted Louckes, 71, Paice's chief operating officer, who gained a reputation as an engine engineer at Oldsmobile and capped a 40-year GM career in 1988; and Bob Templin, a Paice director, who developed the original Seville at Cadillac and headed GM's Research Laboratories during his 42-year GM career.

Paice founder and CEO Alex J. Severinsky, at 56 a relative youngster, also has attracted a pair of former Ford Motor Co. engineers: David F. Polletta, 52, as vice president of engineering, and Nat Adamson, 64, as executive vice president.

The latest high-profile former executive to sign as a Paice director is Robert Oswald, 60, who recently retired as CEO of Robert Bosch North America. He joined the board a month ago.

“I've gone from being a severe skeptic to a cautious believer” in the Paice hybrid system, he says during an interview at last month's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, MI. Although retired, “I want to stay involved where things are happening, and this seems to be the place. It's a real uphill fight, but where I've had questions, they've had answers.”

Mr. Oswald says he's still “emotionally involved” with Bosch, and if the system proves successful “Bosch likely would become involved.”

That day may be long in coming, although Mr. Oswald and other Paice sources say that given the green light the hybrid could be developed in about the same time and cost it takes for a new model.

Mr. Severinsky, who invented the system and has patents on it, says he and his backers have spent “tens of millions of dollars” on engineering and development to date. Financing to totally prove out the system likely will run into the hundreds of millions.

Paice currently is shopping the technology to automakers and component suppliers worldwide. Mr. Louckes says interest is highest in Europe and Japan, less so among the U.S. Big Three and North American suppliers.

The automotive industry is littered with far-out ideas that never make the light of day. So what makes Mr. Severinsky's hybrid different? Called “Hyperdrive,” the system uses “high-voltage power semiconductors, high-voltage power and high-horsepower induction motors, in combination with an internal combustion engine,” to deliver power to each wheel without requiring a transmission, he says. No belts are needed, either, he adds.

Using its proprietary software, Paice controls the entire system to achieve maximum efficiency in all driving conditions.

Extensively tested on a dynamometer in a 2-ton Cadillac DeVille, the hybrid drivetrain — using a tiny 1.3L Suzuki 4-cyl. gasoline engine — achieved 38 mpg (6.2L/100 km) city and 54 mpg (4.4L/100 km) on the highway, double the city rating of the 4.6L Northstar V-8. And there was no loss in performance, says Mr. Louckes. “We got 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds,” he boasts.

The list of Hyperdrive's claimed advantages is almost too good to be true. And if even some of them reach fruition, they could drastically alter the way cars and trucks are powered, engineered and designed. That, of course, also is a threat to entrenched technologies representing huge investments, which may make for tough sledding.

Here are the chief advantages cited by Paice:

  • A wide range of applications from small cars to big SUVs, where it would eliminate the need for heavy 4WD systems (SUVs, though, would need a transmission).

  • Extremely low pollutants when the gasoline engine is operating.

  • Fuel economy 50% to 200% better than conventional drivetrains depending on vehicle size, using gasoline, diesel or other fuels.

  • No loss of performance no matter what the driving or climatic conditions.

  • Ample power for all accessories such as air conditioning systems, power windows and radios.

  • Perhaps most importantly, costs similar to current vehicles because no startlingly new technologies or materials are necessary. Existing assembly plant equipment and processes also can be used, says Mr. Louckes.

Like other hybrids, Hyperdrive operates with the gasoline engine alone (above 30 mph) and by electric motor only (at lower speeds), or a combination of both. Paice's computerized controller decides which mode is best for maximum efficiency.

Hyperdrive stores energy from a bank of specially designed 2-volt lead-acid cells and 48-volt battery modules. Mr. Severinsky says lead-acid batteries work best with Hyperdrive and can be designed to last for the life of the vehicle.

Born and educated in the former Soviet Union, where he earned a PhD in 1975, Mr. Severinsky emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1970s. In the mid-'80s he developed an uninterruptible power source (UPS) to keep computers operating during power failures. It's that technology that lies at the core of Hyperdrive, says Mr. Oswald.

Clearly, Mr. Severinsky has captured the admiration of some savvy, if aging, American engineers, such as Mr. Templin. Introducing Mr. Severinsky to a reporter, the veteran Caddie engineer gushes: “It's like meeting Thomas Edison. This will change everything over the next century.”

We'll see.