Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – General Motors Co. expects to produce up to 5,000 Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicles in the first few months when it launches next fall, and 2011 full-year output should exceed 8,000 units, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says at the auto show here.

Once ramped up, Volt production at GM’s Hamtramck assembly plant is expected to exceed 50,000 units, but Lutz declines to specify how soon that could happen.

“I’m absolutely convinced demand will not be the limiting factor. We confidently expect demand to vastly outstrip supply,” Lutz says of the Volt. “We will ramp it up slowly, because this is uncharted terrain for all of us.”

He emphasizes the global nature of the Volt, which will help sales through regional economic downturns.

“The Volt has been designed from the outset to comply with all regulations worldwide,” Lutz says. “It can be shipped anywhere in the world without significant modification.”

Several Volts are being driven here during the auto show, and Lutz says they generally are achieving a range of about 40 miles (64 km) on a full charge.

Lutz also announces new partnerships to test the Volt with three California utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District – as well as the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent non-profit research organization based in Palo Alto.

GM will deliver more than 100 Volts to program participants to use in their fleets for two years, starting in early 2011. The U.S. Department of Energy is providing a $30 million grant as part of the research project.

“This extended, real-world study will help us make electric vehicles as good as they can be for our EV customers,” Lutz says. “We’ll collect vehicle performance data through our OnStar system, gather driver feedback and report our findings to the DOE.”

The project will also explore the infrastructure for automotive electrification, including the installation of more than 500 charging stations.

Fleet deliveries will coincide with the launch of retail sales for the Volt.

In response to a question about the expected lifespan of the Volt’s lithium-ion battery, Lutz says GM expects the pack to last 10 years or 100,000 miles (161,000 km).

“Beyond that life if the battery fails, then the customer will have to bring it into a dealer and get the battery replaced, which I estimate would probably cost about as much as an engine overhaul on a traditional gasoline-powered car,” he says.

Lutz also expects a secondary market to emerge for spent automotive lithium-ion batteries.

“These batteries will still hold a 16 kW/h charge. In terms of emergency power systems at home or in telecommunication centers or hospitals, these batteries will still be there, will still store all that energy,” he says.

“Since they are only expected to be drawn down occasionally when there is an emergency, they will still serve that purpose very, very well.”

tmurphy@wardsauto.com