Artist sketch of the production Chevrolet Volt  (Source: General Motors)

Chevrolet Volt Chassis  (Source: General Motors)
GM now says that the 2010 deadline is plausible, but not set in stone for the Volt

The battery-powered Chevrolet Volt is an important vehicle for General Motors. The significance of the Volt lies not with a large volume of production units (not likely to happen within the first few years) or bargain-basement pricing like the current Toyota Prius (the Volt will likely cost considerably more), but the Volt is instead a crucial building block in solidifying GM as a leader in advanced automotive powertrains.

Toyota is currently the 800-pound gorilla sucking all of the air out of the room when it comes to hybrid vehicles and advanced battery technology. GM positioned the Volt as its own revolutionary vehicle aimed at lowering dependence on fossil fuels.

"We have since realized that letting Toyota gain that mantle of green respectability and technology leadership has really cost us dearly in the marketplace," said GM Vice Chairman "Maximum" Bob Lutz in Late November. "We have to reestablish GM's leadership and the Volt is, frankly, an effort to leapfrog anything that is done by any other competitor."

Lutz added that the Chevrolet Volt would be delivered to customers before the end of 2010. Lutz also tried to silence the critics that were skeptical of the 2010 timeline. "There is a lot of skepticism within the company about the timeline," Lutz continued. "People are biting their nails, but those of us in a leadership position have said it has to be done."

Despite Lutz's confidence, there is a slightly different tone coming down from GM CEO Rick Wagoner. The company is still adamant on meeting the 2010 deadline, but is throwing in a bit of a crutch to allow for a slightly later launch.

"We continue to put massive resources into production as soon as possible," said Wagoner who fielded questions in an online chat with automotive journalists. "2010 would be great, but [we] can't guarantee that at this time. We'll keep you posted regularly on our progress."

The uncertainty comes from the fact that GM is still working with outside parties to develop lithium-ion batteries suitable for operation in the Volt. GM's E-Flex architecture, which underlies the Volt, is dependent on the massive lithium-ion battery pack to provide the energy basis for forward propulsion on the vehicle.

The use of such large lithium-ion battery packs in production automobiles has proven to be problematic for both GM and Toyota. Toyota announced during mid-2007 that it will not offer lithium-ion batteries on its next generation Prius due to safety concerns. Those concerns haven't stopped Lithium Technology from providing retrofit lithium-ion batteries for the Prius and UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies' Plug-In Hybrid Center from providing Californians 100 Priuses equipped with lithium-ion batteries.

The Chevrolet Volt is capable of traveling up to 40 miles on battery power via its lithium-ion battery pack. When the battery power level drops below a predetermined threshold, a 1.0 liter turbocharged internal combustion engine (ICE) steps in to recharge the battery pack -- the ICE does not provide forward propulsion.

GM will be in Las Vegas next week for the Consumer Electronics Show and DailyTech will be meeting with the Volt's chief vehicle engineer. We'll also be providing DailyTech readers with more insight into GM's fuel cell vehicles at the show.

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