Aluminum giant Alcoa Inc. says its automotive wheels division has been selected by General Motors Corp. to supply a specially designed wheel for the ‘11 Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle.

The Volt, which GM expects to begin selling in late-2010 as an ‘11 model, also might make news at next month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

“There may be an announcement of some kind,” says GM spokeswoman Carolyn Normandin, who declines to elaborate.

The Volt arguably has become the most talked-about vehicle not currently in production since its concept version was unveiled two years ago, spawning an enthusiast website, where even the most modest development makes headlines.

Close to 35,000 people have signed the electric car’s unofficial waiting list.

GM unveiled the Volt production model during its centennial celebration in Detroit this summer.

Alcoa says in a press release announcing the contract that it worked closely with GM to design, engineer and manufacture a lightweight wheel to help the Volt achieve its goal of 40 miles (64 km) of electric-only operation.

Beyond that distance, a small internal-combustion engine generates electricity, extending the car’s range to hundreds of miles.

Alcoa says it focused on “design, engineering and production techniques to increase strength and durability, while lowering the overall weight of the wheel.” The company says its forged aluminum wheels are twice as strong, more durable and typically 20% lighter than a cast aluminum wheel.

Lightweight wheels reduce emissions and improve fuel economy, but also enhance driving performance and efficiency through lower rotary inertia, Alcoa says.

“As the energy used to accelerate and decelerate the wheel is reduced, less mass is required in adjacent, un-sprung components such as brakes, steering and suspension,” Alcoa says. “Lowering overall un-sprung weight compounds the benefits of fuel economy and reduces emissions.”

Terms of the contract were not disclosed and GM neither confirms nor denies the deal, which would make Alcoa one of the few named suppliers to the Volt.

In fact, GM has yet to officially announce a supplier for the Volt’s battery.

Lithium-ion batteries from Compact Power Inc., a U.S. division of Korea’s LG Chem Ltd., and Watertown, MA-based A123 Systems Inc. along with Germany’s Continental AG remain under consideration, Frank Weber, global vehicle line executive and chief engineer of the E-Flex system that underpins the Volt, told Ward’s last month.

However, in early June, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told reporters a battery supplier had been chosen but not named. Recent media reports have named LG Chemical, and the auto maker has hinted both Compact Power and A123 Systems eventually may supply the batteries.

GM halted major construction spending at a plant in Flint, MI, that will supply the Volt and ‘11 Chevy Cruze compact car with a 1.4L engine, due to the auto maker’s tenuous financial position. GM says the suspension will not affect the production timetable for either vehicle.

jamend@wardsauto.com