General Motors sees limited sales of electric cars over the next five years and will increase output of upcoming Volt plug-in cautiously, vice-chairman Bob Lutz has said.

"This is uncharted territory for all of us," he told reporters at the Los Angeles motor show.

GM unveiled the production version of the Chevy Volt at the show, saying it would be launched first during 2010 in California [where low-emission hybrids and EVs can freely use car pool lanes regardless of occupancy in many cities - ed].

Lutz said GM would build 8,000 to 10,000 Volt models during the first full year of production with an rise to 50,000 to 60,000.

"I'm absolutely sure that demand will not be a limiting factor," Lutz said.

However, he added electric-powered vehicles such as the Volt still faced hurdles in making it to mass-market sales volumes, including their higher prices, according to Reuters.

"The cost of the technology has to come down," Lutz said.

Most American consumers would be unwilling to spend the premium of thousands of dollars for a battery-powered vehicle unless petrol prices were pushed higher with taxes, he said.

"We're not advocating that but if it doesn't happen it's going to be very difficult for these technologies," he said.

GM has said it expects to price the Volt near US$40,000 before a $7,500 tax credit for US consumers but does not expect to make money on early sales.

Opel Vauxhall versions badged Ampera are also in the works. As just-auto reported today, production of left hand drive models starts first late in 2011 with RHD in 2012.

GM has an EV history in California it would probably rather consumers were not reminded about.

It infamously ended an earlier experiment with the EV1 electric car leased to selected and highly enthusiastic California drivers, an unpopular decision that made it the target of criticism and the 2006 documentary 'Who Killed the Electric Car?'

After deciding to end the programme, GM insisted all but a few cars earmarked for museums be scrapped (the museum cars were disabled so they could never be driven again), prompting outrage from EV1 drivers and loud protests outside facilities used to store the hundreds of cars prior to scrapping.

Lutz told reporters he believed that the motor industry was near a historic shift away from traditional combustion engines and toward battery-powered vehicles that would be "as momentous as the shift from horses to horsepower".

But when asked, Lutz also said the total market for rechargeable vehicles by 2015 might only be 250,000 to 300,000 units of annual sales - about 3% of US auto sales in 2010 and about the same as the current market share for traditional petrol-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius - launched in plug-in form in Los Angeles yesterday - and Honda Insight.