GM may miss target for plug-in hybrid
CEO Wagoner says automaker pouring massive resources into battery-powered Volt, but can't promise it'll be ready by 2010 target date.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- General Motors might not be able to hit its target to have its breakthrough electric-powered car the Chevrolet Volt in production by 2010, according to comments made by CEO Rick Wagoner during an online chat.
Wagoner, who participated in an online forum Thursday to mark the 100th anniversary of the automaker, said the company continues "to put massive resources into production as soon as possible." But he cautioned, "2010 would be great, but (we) can't guarantee that at this time."
The Volt, unveiled at the Detroit auto show a year ago, is a so-called "plug-in" hybrid that would have a lithium-ion battery that can be recharged on common household electric current.
GM says it should be able to travel up to 40 miles powered by just the battery. On longer trips the Volt would use a motor powered by gasoline or ethanol to charge the batteries, a system it calls "E-Flex."
GM (GM, Fortune 500) has already started to build advertising campaigns around the Volt, even though in the best-case scenario it is years away from production. It is seen as a way of trying to change public perceptions about the fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility of the U.S. automaker, which is more closely associated with large SUVs or pickup trucks.
"The Chevy Volt, and the E-Flex system, are really important for GM's, and I think the whole industry's, future," Wagoner said. "With the growing demand for oil, we need to diversify the sources of power for autos."
But GM and its suppliers still have work to do on developing a battery that can meet the demands for the car. Wagoner said GM is are currently bench testing batteries, but didn't give any more details about how those tests were going.
GM reported a drop in December sales Thursday that left its 2007 sales down 6 percent. Its market share fell to 23.7 percent from 24.6 percent a year earlier. While rival Toyota Motor (TM) also reported a drop in December sales, it ended the year with a 3.1 percent gain in sales, taking its U.S. market share up to 16.2 percent from 15.4 percent a year earlier.
The sales gains at Toyota were helped by a nearly 70 percent jump in sales of its Prius hybrid sedan, as well as its other hybrid offerings. The Toyota hybrids run on a combination of power from a traditional gasoline engine and an electric motor, but they are not plugged in to recharge the battery.
Those sales helped Toyota move past Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) into the No. 2 spot in U.S. sales. It also helped its Toyota brand move past both Ford and Chevrolet to become the nation's best-selling brand.