South Australia Premier Mike Rann tours General Motors Co.’s Warren Tech Center in suburban Detroit to observe work on the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle, while also kicking off a campaign that would see the car built Down Under.

Rann’s visit Thursday included a meeting with GM President and CEO Fritz Henderson.

Escorted by Volt Chief Engineer Andrew Farah, the South Australian premier toured the Volt’s preproduction operations and a battery plant at the auto maker’s research-and-development campus.

GM spokesman Rob Peterson says Rann also rode passenger on a short drive in a newly completed Volt, due first in the U.S. in late-2010 as an ’11 model.

The Volt is designed to travel up to 40 miles (64 km) under electric power before an on-board internal-combustion engine kicks in to power a generator giving the car hundreds of additional miles of range.

Rann’s hope is to see Volt imports in Australia in 2012. But he also would like to see GM Holden Ltd. use Volt technology in a version of the Holden Cruze, which begins production at the auto maker’s Elizabeth plant in Adelaide next year.

Rann tells The Adelaide Advertiser it is technologically possible to have an electric version of the Cruze, which is based on the Volt platform, manufactured on a new production line in Elizabeth.

The line currently is under construction and will be ready to begin producing the new Cruze with its 4-cyl engine in the third quarter of next year, he says.

“While the Cruze will be a fuel-efficient car, I would like to see the Elizabeth plant manufacturing the same model but with an even greater fuel efficiency in the future, as the technology develops,” Rann says.

“Developing and adapting (the 4-cyl. Holden Cruze) to even lower carbon-emissions standards will further entrench our car manufacturing industry.”

But Peterson says it is unlikely Volt technology would go into a Holden Cruze. Although the Cruze and Volt do share similar architectures – GM’s Delta global compact car platform – the reengineering expense would be too great.

Testing of the Volt’s powertrain, known as Voltec, has been conducted in the U.S. in Cruze bodies. But the cars were gutted to accommodate the Voltec parts, such as the battery pack and electric motors.

“The Cruze will not get Voltec,” Peterson says. However, GM does not rule out a version of the Volt for Australia.

Adding a Holden Volt to its production line would be a big win for GM Holden, which traditionally has focused on large rear-wheel-drive cars and now is struggling through that segment’s downturn.

“Having the same platform certainly gives us a first step in terms of future development opportunities, but anything involving electric vehicles would be an enormous leap," GM Holden spokesman Scott Whiffin tells The Advertiser.

“We’ve only just launched the imported Cruze and are working towards a range of locally built fuel-efficient (gasoline and diesel) models. We’ll get this piece right then look at potential alternatives including E85, liquefied petroleum gas, stop-start hybrids and other powertrains.

A Holden Volt potentially would represent the fourth application of the Voltec technology beyond the Chevy Volt. Current plans call for an Opel Ampera in 2011 and perhaps the Cadillac Converj shown at last year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

GM declines to confirm reports of Voltec going into the Chevy Orlando multipurpose vehicle bowing in the U.S. in 2011 with a pair of gasoline engines.

Australia’s Federal Industry Minister Kim Carr, who has been working with Rann on the matter, reportedly will visit Detroit in October for further talks with Henderson about Voltec.

jamend@wardsauto.com