After emerging from bankruptcy last year, Detroit automaker General Motors promised to be a more efficient company, selling more vehicles customers want to buy. One vehicle the company is pegging its future success on is the gas and electric powered Chevrolet Volt. The Volt is the first in a series of such vehicles automobile manufacturers promise will provide some independence from gasoline. While manufacturers tout the vehicles as the future of driving, the new technology and price tag may steer some drivers away.
Engineers say it can travel for 64 kilometers [40 miles] before using a single drop of petroleum. It uses a state-of-the-art battery that can be charged by plugging into a standard electrical outlet. General Motors hopes the allure of an electric-powered vehicle will make the Chevrolet Volt a best-selling car.
"The Volt really is the next generation electric vehicle," Don Hillebrand, Director of the Center for Transportation Research at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago said.
He says GM has a lot invested in the Volt.
"It's a big risk that General Motors is taking. Not only to do the work and put the money that they've put into it, but the claims that they've made. They've staked their reputation on it," he said.
In the wake of General Motors, bankruptcy, which saw the end of the Saturn, Hummer, Saab, and Pontiac brands, GM has shifted focus to its remaining brands like Cadillac, Buick, GMC, and Chevrolet. At various Auto Shows throughout the world this year, GM is showcasing more stylish, fuel-efficient vehicles it plans to sell in the coming years in an effort to win customers and compete with foreign automakers.
The Volt is at the center of GM's strategy.
Because of the costs involved in developing the battery technology that will power the Volt, the first models will be more expensive than many GM vehicles. Chevrolet Volt Vehicle Line Director Tony Posawatz says GM hopes to market the Volt to a wide customer base.
"The Volt is a Chevrolet, so we want to eventually have it priced so that the car will sell tens of thousands of units a year in the United Sates and some sales obviously overseas," he said.
General Motors has been tight-lipped about the actual price tag, but estimates by industry analysts place the retail price somewhere around $35,000.
Posawatz points out the Volt qualifies for a U.S. government tax credit of $7,500, awarded to owners of electric powered vehicles. He also adds the annual cost of gasoline for the Volt owner should drop dramatically.
"It certainly will not be the most expensive Chevrolet, and it is conceivable, with the benefits in question, that it might net out to something under $30,000 ultimately," he stated.
Dealers in California and Michigan will be the first to sell the Chevrolet Volt by the end of the year. Other states will get the new car several months later.
"The roll out will take some time," Posawatz explained. "The initial launch to make certain that we really have a robust product, and it does what it is supposed to do, will probably take in the order or magnitude of six months or so before there is a full rollout nationwide."
Posawatz says General Motors plans to export the Volt to China and Europe by mid 2011.
But the Volt will have some immediate competition in the United States. Japanese automaker Nissan says it plans to have an all-electric vehicle, called the Leaf, available by the end of the year. Nissan claims the car can travel up to 160 kilometers [100 miles] on a single charge, and points out it does not use gasoline.