November 5, 2009 / 9:50 PM / 10 years ago

GM won't expand Volt brand

DETROIT (Reuters) - As General Motors Co GM.UL expands its offering of rechargeable vehicles beyond the Volt it will not look to brand them in a way that identifies them with the highly anticipated plug-in launching next year, a senior executive said on Thursday.

A General Motors Co Chevrolet Volt is seen during a news conference at GM's Warren Technical Center in Warren, Michigan August 11, 2009. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

That approach sets GM off from its larger rival, Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T), which is considering plans to launch a range of hybrids identified with its ground-breaking Prius and showcased together in its dealer showrooms.

“Our thought is to take the Volt technology to other products,” Brent Dewar, chief of global operations for Chevrolet, told the Reuters Autos Summit in Detroit.

“The Volt was the original vehicle that we started, but I wouldn’t see that as a brand marketing direction for us,” he said.

The Prius commands about three-quarters of the hybrid market, a showing so successful since its introduction in the late 1990s that Toyota may create a “family” of Prius hybrids of varying sizes.

Dewar said the Volt would pave the way for more vehicles based on the same technology combining a rechargeable battery pack for all-electric driving with a gas-powered generator for longer trips.

But Dewar said the Volt name would not be identified with GM’s future electric vehicles.

By contrast, Toyota’s brand chief said this week that the automaker was considering a plan to make Prius the name behind a broad family of high-mileage hybrid vehicles.

Bob Carter, group vice president of Toyota’s U.S. sales arm, told the Reuters Autos Summit on Monday he believed the Prius had become synonymous with hybrid cars for many consumers just as Kleenex has for paper tissue.

The Volt is on track to become the first mass-market, plug-in hybrid in the United States. It is designed to run for 40 miles on a single battery charge, and can be recharged at a standard electric outlet.

When the battery is partly depleted, a small engine will kick in to recharge it and power the vehicle, allowing it to make longer trips without what Dewar called “range anxiety.”

GM has said the Volt could cost as much as $40,000 before a $7,500 consumer tax credit is applied. GM expects to sell about 10,000 Volts in the first year of production and 60,000 in its second full year.

The Volt will be sold in North America and in Europe before it goes on sale in Asia, Dewar said. The roll-out in Europe is to be in 2011.

Opel, which GM said this week it would keep, will sell its extended-range Volt-derived Ampera in Europe alongside the Chevy Volt, he said.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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