Although General Motors is sticking by its goal of launching the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid in the US in 2010, one of the company’s top executives has admitted to just-auto that it will be a severely limited launch at first.
“We’re not going to sell it in every city and we’re not going to sell it though every Chevrolet dealership,” revealed Larry Burns, Vice President of R&D and Planning.

“It just doesn’t make sense to do that yet. You’d have to set up the service parts in all of those dealerships and train all of those dealers to service the vehicles. We might concentrate it in five or ten cities and say that is where we want to start.”

Burns declined to say when the European version of the Volt – the GM Flextreme - would make its way across the Atlantic although he says that GM has prioritised which markets it wants to target and that “Europe is a very important market for this technology.” Analysts believe that it could be several years  - 2013 at the earliest – before the Flextreme is sold in Europe.

Burns compared the development of the Volt with GM’s groundbreaking OnStar telematics technology. “OnStar is now 12 years old and we’re already in the 8th generation of hardware for it. Today’s generation of OnStar costs radically less than the 1st generation and is dramatically more capable,” he said. “That’s what we’ve have to do with this plug-in electric technology. Get generation 1 out, learn from it and then get to generation 2 as quickly as possible and then generation 3 beyond that.”

Likewise, the retail cost of the first Volts sold in 2010 will be “significantly higher” than the cost of the 3rd or 4th generation cars, he admitted. Of course, as Burns went on to point out, because of the low running costs of the car -  it will be far cheaper to run it off mains electricity than to fuel an equivalent car with petrol, especially with the current cost of oil – buyers will be able to make some of their money back that way.

“We also think there’s a value proposition to the customer,” he said.

When asked by just-auto if GM’s timelines for any kind of launch in 2010, even a restricted one, are still realistic given that the company has only recently taken delivery of the first batteries for testing, Burns admitted: “It’s a challenge.”

“I’m not going to mislead anybody about that but I’m proud that we’ve signed up to that challenge,” he said. 

“We could have taken a different approach, we could have said, OK let's work on the batteries, let's be 100% comfortable that the batteries are going to do what we need them to do, and then start designing the car. And probably we'd be there three or four years later. What's happening in the world today is requiring leading auto companies to take the risk of doing the product development and technology development simultaneously. Are there are other things that we are going to discover about the battery that we don’t know today? Absolutely, I have no question about that.”

Rebecca Wright

See also:

US: GM may have to subsidise early plug-ins - report

GOLDING’S CHAT: The GM man with all the engines

US: GM sees green future for Saturn

REUTERS AUTO SUMMITS: GM plans Volt for end 2010

EXCLUSIVE: GM could lease batteries on plug-ins due 2010

FRANKFURT SHOW: GM shows 'Flextreme' green MPV concept

FRANKFURT PREVIEW: GM eyes "affordable" electric by 2010

THE EDITOR’S Q&A: Jim Queen, head of global vehicle engineering at GM