GM says all-electric Volt approved for 2010 launch

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - General Motors Corp said on Tuesday its all-electric Chevrolet Volt was on track for a launch in 2010 after the company’s board approved funding for production of the high-profile plug-in vehicle.

“The Chevy Volt is a go,” GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner told reporters ahead of the company’s annual meeting with shareholders in Wilmington, Delaware.

“What we’re saying with this approval is that the GM management and board believe the technical goals of the Volt are not only achievable, but achievable generally within the time frame we previously outlined,” Wagoner said.

The announcement on Tuesday represents the most detailed road map toward bringing the highly anticipated car to the market by the end of 2010, an ambitious timetable challenged by some of GM’s rivals.

A successful launch of the Volt is critical to GM as the top U.S. automaker struggles with a heavy lineup of gas-thirsty trucks and works to claim an edge in fuel-saving technology against Toyota Motor Corp and its market-leading Prius hybrid.

Wagoner said GM’s plan is to manufacture the Volt in its Hamtramck, Michigan plant. That depends on negotiations with state and local governments for tax incentives, he said.

GM remains committed to its target of getting the vehicles into showrooms by the end of 2010, said Wagoner.

Unlike gas-electric hybrids such as the Prius, which run on a system that twins battery power and a combustion engine, the Volt will be powered entirely by an electric motor and have a battery that can be charged through an ordinary power socket. The Volt’s on-board engine will be used only to power the battery on longer trips, GM has said.

Executives, including Wagoner, have previously said the 2010 timeline would be a “stretch” to meet since GM was rushing to do basic battery-development work at the same time that it engineered a new vehicle from the ground up.

GM is designing the Volt to run for 40 miles powered by a 400-pound lithium-ion battery pack that can be recharged at a standard electric outlet when the vehicle is parked.

The Volt marks one of the first attempts to adapt lithium-ion batteries, widely used in consumer electronics, to power a car. Toyota is also racing to market its own plug-in hybrid by 2010 using the same technology.

Getting the pioneering plug-in hybrid to the market first has become more urgent for GM as it copes with high gasoline prices the automaker now sees as a permanent threat to its business. GM is also under increasing pressure from the government and environmentalists to improve fuel economy.

“We intend to show the production version of the Chevy Volt publicly in the near future,” Wagoner said.

GM has been testing two sets of battery packs supplied by a subsidiary of Korea’s LG Chem Ltd, and German auto parts supplier Continental AG using technology developed by privately held A123 Systems.

GM product chief Bob Lutz said he expected to name a Volt battery supplier “soon” without elaborating.

The Volt has attracted an active fan base of bloggers and potential buyers unlike any other vehicle in the industry’s usually secretive development process. Capitalizing on the enthusiasm for the vehicle, GM has also featured the Volt in its advertising.

Editing by Richard Chang