DETROIT – General Motors Co. has given the green light to production of its Cadillac Converj concept car unveiled a year ago, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz reveals at the annual Society of Automotive Analysts Outlook Conference here.

However, the extended-range electric vehicle, based on the same architecture as the upcoming Chevrolet Volt due later this year, won’t hit the streets before 2012, he later tells reporters.

“You’ll see it when you see it,” he says. “We have to slot it into the product program, but it’s sure not going to be next year or the year after. It will just be entering its development phase now.

“It will be the second vehicle with the Volt-type system,” he adds. “It won’t be identical to the Volt, but it will be the same basic technology.”

Meanwhile, GM is looking for ways to further increase production of its hot-selling Chevrolet Equinox cross/utility vehicle, which shares 3-shift capacity at the auto maker’s Ingersoll, ON, Canada plant with the GMC Terrain, Lutz says. He doesn’t indicate whether a second plant would be needed to boost output.

The 77-year-old executive tells attendees he has no plans to leave GM, and he paints a rosy picture of the auto maker’s future.

Asked what GM will look like in 2020, he says the company is “poised to be one of the, if not the, world’s strongest players,” singling out what he says is GM’s engineering leadership in such advanced technologies as fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries.

“Assuming intelligent management and normal economic developments, GM will be in fantastic shape in 2020,” he says.

In his speech, Lutz says it became “perilously close to being over for GM,” but he says the near-term future is “much, much brighter.”

He points to signs the overall economy is recovering: job losses are slowing, unemployment is dropping slightly and at least some sectors of the housing market are rebounding.

“At some point, you know people are going to have to buy cars and trucks and crossovers and SUVs again,” he says. “They won’t have any choice.”

GM is forecasting 2010 U.S. new-vehicle sales at 11 million-12 million units per year.

In addition, the auto maker’s balance sheet “is in the best shape it’s been in for quite some time,” Lutz says.

“Think about it. For health-care and benefits costs, alone, GM has spent more than $103 billion over the past 15 years,” he says. “But now we have an essentially debt-free balance sheet, a new and more competitive labor situation…and a reasonably low dollar vs. the yen.

“The new GM, in my view, is a powerhouse,” Lutz adds. “At anything remotely resembling normal industry volumes, GM will be quite profitable.”

Lutz points to the auto maker’s recent product successes, such as the Chevrolet Camaro, for which “people are paying top dollar and the margins are greatly exceeding (targets).”

The Cruze small car, sold in overseas markets such as China, South Korea and Australian and bowing for the U.S. market at this week’s auto show here, eventually should see volumes of 1 million units annually worldwide, he predicts.

Lutz says Cruze sales in the U.S. should top 200,000 units annually.

“That means a fully utilized Lordstown, (OH), plant,” he says of the car’s production site. “But if we do the marketing job properly and price it properly, that might not be enough.”

The GMC Terrain is another success story, Lutz contends, pointing to transaction prices that are averaging $7,800 more than the Pontiac Torrent it replaced. Some 32% of Terrain buyers are new to GM and the GMC brand, he says.

As for his own plans, Lutz says his “story could have a number of endings,” but he is planning to stay with GM for “a long time.”

“If the (GM) board will have me, I will hang around for quite awhile,” he adds.

dzoia@wardsauto.com