UPDATE 2-GM to invest $1.5 bln in N. American plants this year

Wed Jan 16, 2013 10:27pm EST

* Plan is part of $8 billion investment worldwide

* Next Volt hybrid to cost thousands of dlrs less to build

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT, Jan 16 (Reuters) - General Motors Co will invest $1.5 billion in its North American plants this year, a senior executive said on Wednesday, adding the automaker's next-generation Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid could cost thousands of dollars less per car to build.

The investment is part of the $8 billion the Detroit automaker has said it will annually put into in its worldwide operations.

North American chief Mark Reuss, speaking at the Automotive News World Congress in downtown Detroit, did not provide further details of the investment plan or year-on-year comparisons.

GM, which has invested $10.2 billion in the North American market since its 2009 bankruptcy and $50 billion U.S. taxpayer-funded bailout, has said it will refresh 70 percent of its U.S. vehicle lineup in 2012 and 2013.

"Our recent track record proves that this kind of continuous investment in the product pays off," Reuss said.

Despite a lukewarm uptake from consumers, Reuss also said the electric car is not dead. GM introduced the Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid, the upscale sibling of the Chevrolet Volt, at the Detroit auto show on Tuesday.

"We're talking about a massive transformation that we're undergoing as an industry, as a nation," he said. "It takes a long time to change an industry, to change habits and to change a way of life."

Thousands of dollars in costs per car would be saved in the next generation of the Volt by adopting a more efficient design that would allow GM to use smaller vehicle components and save weight, said Reuss. He declined to say when the next version of the plug-in hybrid car would be introduced.

He said if GM used a platform built specifically to carry the EV technology, the car could be smaller and less expensive.

"We will get there," Reuss said. "We will see the day when we have an affordable electric car that offers 300 miles of range with all the comfort and utility of a conventional vehicle."

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