General Motors is moving quickly to get the Chevrolet Volt out of the laboratory and into the showroom.
Since the Volt's successful January debut as a concept car at the Detroit auto show, GM has taken major steps to develop a production version of the plug-in hybrid car.
"We are doing the production engineering on the Chevrolet Volt," says Larry Burns, GM's vice president for r&d. "It is a formal product program within our company, just like the Chevrolet Malibu is a product program."
Last week, Burns listed the steps in the program:
GM has allocated funds for development.
Engineering work is under way.
The development team has selected the next-generation Delta platform for the vehicle.
GM has decided to develop two versions, one with a gasoline engine and the other with a fuel cell.
Burns declined to estimate the project's cost. But GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz predicted this year that the design, engineering and tooling would cost at least $500 million.
GM wants to build the Volt in the United States, says a source close to the project. The assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, which currently builds the Chevrolet Cobalt, is said to be the leading contender.
GM has said its next-generation Delta architecture would be the platform for the next Cobalt or Astra small car.
GM has not confirmed a production date for the Volt. The company generally needs about 36 months to bring a vehicle to production once the design is frozen, but it's not clear how soon that point could be reached.
That means the Volt could appear as soon as 2010.
One factor in the Volt's favor: Lutz supports it. He introduced the Volt at the Detroit show and has said the Volt could be ready in 2010 if suppliers produce a reliable lithium ion battery.
Lutz says the Volt would start off as a low-volume vehicle. To some degree, GM can use off-the-shelf hardware developed in other programs. But those parts have yet to be assembled and tested in a Volt. Nick Zielinsky, the Volt's chief engineer, says that will happen this year.
A niche vehicle like the Volt isn't likely to generate big profits. But GM executives think it could help establish GM's green credentials and would be an effective answer to the Toyota Prius.
GM is determined to build it, says Jim Queen, group vice president of global engineering. The company is prepared to forgo an initial profit on the Volt in the hope it could re-establish GM as a technology leader.