2011 Chevrolet Volt (GM / Chevrolet)
General Motors Corp. executives said Wednesday that the Chevrolet Volt is on schedule for a November 2010 debut and that the program is expanding despite companywide cost cuts and a plea for up to $16.6 billion in additional federal aid.
GM reaffirmed its commitment to developing vehicles that rely on advanced technology and are more fuel efficient, a key requirement of the $13.4 billion federal loan package that has kept GM afloat. GM has less than two weeks to show progress toward becoming a viable company and obtaining money-saving concessions from labor and bondholders, or the U.S. Treasury Department could recall the loans and force a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.
And though GM may run out of cash next month unless it receives $2.6 billion in additional federal aid, the team of engineers and others working on batteries, hybrid and electric vehicles has grown and GM is hiring a small number of people at a time when the automaker plans to eliminate 47,000 jobs globally.
"We will need to make a small number of critical hires when needed," GM spokesman Brian Corbett said. "Technology like this is critical to the long-term viability of General Motors."
The extended-range electric Volt is expected to be priced around $40,000 but federal tax breaks could lower the cost for consumers. GM says engineers are working on second- and third-generation electric versions that will cost less.
The Detroit automaker is working with companies that produce battery cells and electronic and thermal systems to find innovations that will drop the cost of subsequent generations of electric vehicles, said Denise Gray, GM's director of hybrid energy storage systems.
"Our primary focus on generations two and three is one of cost," said Bob Kruse, GM executive director of global vehicle engineering. "We understand the business proposition and we understand what it takes. But we also know to allow this to take off and be more regularized that cost is absolutely key."
The Volt likely won't be a mass market vehicle initially because of the price tag, said Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal.
"That said, plenty of people will want to step up at that price point," Cogan said.
"The Volt is an environmental statement and it is also a technology statement. When it comes out it will be one of the most advanced vehicles on the market."
GM has about 30 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles on the road now that use the Volt's lithium-ion battery packs and the automaker will start testing about 80 prototype vehicles this summer that functionally represent the electric car, Kruse said.
The Volt will rely on a lithium-ion battery pack that will let commuters travel up to 40 miles on electric power alone. The Volt's 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.
The electrification of vehicles is seen as a growth area in the auto industry, and rival automakers have launched electric vehicle plans to cut the dependence on foreign oil.
At the North American International Auto Show in January, GM said it is boosting its Volt investment to more than $1 billion by establishing a plant in Michigan, possibly in southeastern Michigan, that will produce lithium-ion battery packs.
The automaker also said it will open a 31,000-square-foot automotive battery lab and partner with the University of Michigan to educate future battery engineers.