Beijing - General Motors is running "down to the wire" as it readies its plug-in hybrid
Chevrolet Volt for a planned launch in 2010 and moving closer to picking a supplier for the next-generation battery packs that will power the electric car, GM Chief Executive Rick
Wagoner said on Sunday.
"At this point the focus for us 100 percent is getting the
Volt produced in the US," Wagoner told reporters on the
sidelines of the Beijing Auto Show. "So far, so good, but it's
going to be right down to the wire to meet the production
deadline we've set."
GM, which is counting on the Volt to show that it can
compete with the likes of Toyota on fuel-saving
technology, has said it intends to build the new rechargeable
vehicle by the end of 2010.
That aggressive target has forced GM to compress the
industry's established timeline for developing a new car by
conducting experimental testing on the battery systems crucial
to the Volt even as developers push ahead with work on the
vehicle's other components.
GM is designing the Volt to run for 40 miles powered by a
400-pound lithium-ion battery pack that can be recharged at a
standard electric outlet when the vehicle is parked. The car
will also capture energy from braking like a traditional hybrid
and feature an on-board engine that will be used only to send
power to the battery.
The Volt marks one of the first attempts to adapt
lithium-ion batteries, widely used in electronics gear such as
laptop computers, to power a car, although Toyota is racing
ahead with its own work on the same technology.
GM has been testing battery packs supplied by a subsidiary
of Korea's LG Chem Ltd against the performance of a rival pack
built by German auto parts supplier Continental AG using
technology developed by privately held A123 Systems.
GM, which is already featuring the Volt in advertising, has
said it wants to ensure that the hybrid car has a battery pack
that can run at least 150 000 miles, last 10 years and allow
drivers to accelerate to 60 miles per hour in less than 9
Wagoner said GM was moving closer to picking a winner in
the race between the rival battery suppliers, who are vying for
both the contract and bragging rights in a new market expected
to grow sharply in the coming years.
But he said the No. 1 US automaker would hedge its bets
because it was still not clear how battery technology could
develop. For example, Wagoner said, GM could opt to give one of
the Volt bidders the battery contract for the vehicle while
keeping the other in the game with a separate development
"You have to make a choice, but you don't have to make a
lifetime choice," Wagoner said. "My sense is that you can make
lithium ion bets today, but the outlook is far from certain."
GM used the Beijing auto show to showcase a hybrid version
of its Buick LaCrosse sedan, which is being launched in China
this summer, just ahead of the Olympics. The car is one of 16
hybrids that GM is rolling out over the next several years.
The hybrid Buick LaCrosse will also be the second hybrid in
the fast-growing Chinese market after Toyota's Prius, but the
first assembled locally.
With a relatively high price near 300,000 yuan ($43,000),
GM has said it does not expect to sell a large number of the
new hybrids in a market where the fastest growth is in smaller
and cheaper cars for buyers entering the auto market for the
But GM executives said this week that it was important to
demonstrate a commitment to hybrid and other technology aimed
at boosting fuel economy and reducing emissions in China at a
time when government policy makers face pressure to reduce oil
consumption and improve air quality.
Representatives of the No. 1 US automaker have also said
China will be in line as its second market after the United
States to get the Volt.
GM, like other major automakers, is lobbying China's
government to provide subsidies for the development and sale of
alternatives to vehicles powered by traditional gas-burning
Wagoner said China should consider a range of policy moves
including tax credits and a commitment to developing a hydrogen
refueling infrastructure that could power fuel-cell vehicles
and be supplied by the dozens of nuclear power stations the
nation intends to build to reduce its reliance on imported
The chief executive also said GM could get a major boost in
its effort to make a range of more environmentally friendly
vehicles such as the Volt at a profit if the technology finds
early acceptance and government support in China, which is
expected to become the world's dominant auto market surpassing
the United States by 2020.
"It could be huge," Wagoner said. "China could play a