GM confirms plans to build Volt-based Cadillac

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co will build a Cadillac version of its highly anticipated battery-powered Chevy Volt sometime in 2013 or later.

The Cadillac Converj will be the second GM vehicle built on the automaker’s system combining a lithium-ion battery pack with a traditional engine as backup, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said late on Sunday.

The rechargeable or plug-in Cadillac is “heading for production” and will be designed, like the Volt, to be driven for 40 miles on battery power alone, Lutz said.

The Volt is expected to be priced near $40,000. The Cadillac variant will use technology developed for the Volt and will be aimed at consumers “who don’t mind paying a large price for a luxury vehicle,” Lutz said.

He said production plans for the Converj had yet to be determined but that it would not go on sale before 2013.

The comments from Lutz, who was speaking at an event organized by the Society of Automotive Analysts in Detroit, marked the first indication of the next step in GM’s plug-in hybrid development efforts since the shake-up in the top leadership of the automaker late last year.

GM showed off a version of the Converj at last year’s Detroit auto show but it had been uncertain when or whether the vehicle would move forward under the new management team headed by Chairman and acting Chief Executive Ed Whitacre.

The Volt is scheduled to go on sale in November this year but will be limited to 50,000 or 60,000 units of production on an annual basis at a maximum, Lutz said.

GM executives have said that they expect to lose money on the Volt because of its high development costs and the cost of its battery, estimated near $15,000 each.

For that reason, GM has said it intends to build a range of vehicles that will be based on the “Voltec” plug-in hybrid system to offset its costs over time.

The Volt, which GM has branded as an extended range electric vehicle, will be rechargeable at a standard outlet overnight. On longer trips, a small gas engine will kick in to send power to the battery to keep it from being depleted.

“First-generation vehicles are hard to make profitable,” Lutz told reporters.

Lutz said that despite the relatively high price expected for the Volt “near $40,000,” tax credits and other incentives from employers would make the cost closer to $30,000 for many consumers.

“We will have no trouble disposing of 40,000 to 50,000 units per year at those prices,” Lutz said.

The Volt has been the centerpiece of GM’s effort to reinvent its public image and show that it can compete with rivals led by Toyota Motor Corp on the next generation of hybrid technology.

GM went through a fast-track bankruptcy last year with financial backing from the Obama administration and over $50 billion in government aid.

Additional reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman