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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Holden Volt still on target for 2012

HOLDEN is still on target to launch General Motors’ petrol-electric plug-in hybrid Volt in 2012, even though early adopters in the United States, China and elsewhere are expected to snap up every available vehicle from a restricted supply that year.

GM has announced it plans to build 10,000 Volts in 2011 and 30,000 in 2012 at its Detroit Hamtramck plant as it staggers the roll out of the so-called range-extender model, starting late this year in some regions of the US.

This 30,000 figure equates to less than a quarter of Toyota Prius hybrid sales volume in the US alone.

Despite the expected sell-out demand for Volt in the US, GM Holden senior product communications manager Jonathan Rose confirmed that Holden was still on schedule for a 2012 launch.

The Volt’s arrival in Australia is likely to coincide with Toyota’s plug-in hybrid Prius and Nissan’s all-electric Leaf. The latter is likely to be available only as a niche model, restricted by international availability, lack of charging infrastructure and high price due to lack of local EV subsidies.

Like GM, Nissan is staggering its Leaf roll-out in the US, favouring states and cities with a commitment to environmentally friendly vehicles.

GM announced that first production Chevrolet Volts will go to US customers late this year in California and three US cities – New York City, Washington DC and Austin, Texas.

Early next year, the roll-out will be extended to the rest of New York State and Texas, as well as Connecticut and New Jersey, as annual production is eased up to 10,000 vehicles in 2011.

GM says Volt will be available in all 50 US states 12 to 18 months after launch, with production reaching 30,000 in 2012.

The 18-month time frame for the US launch means some states are likely not to get the Volt until 2012, when Australia’s GM Holden is scheduled to start selling the car that has a range of about 64km on battery power before its 1.4-litre 53kW four-cylinder petrol engine kicks in to generate more electricity, extending the range to about 480km.

Although pricing is yet to be announced – US journalists are speculating a $40,000 ($A47,532) sticker price before US tax credits pull it down to by $US7500 ($A8900) to about $US33,000 – early adopters are expected to snap up every Volt available in the US for several years, meaning international export markets will be on rations.

Last year, Toyota sold 140,000 Prius hybrids in the United States alone, along with many more Camry and Lexus hybrids.

Toyota has announced plans to sell a plug-in version of the Prius by late 2011 in the US. Prototypes have a 23km range on lithium-ion batteries before the petrol engine licks in. The same model is expected to be rolled out in Australia in 2012.

While Toyota has been steadily increasing Prius production capacity in line with world demand, GM is starting from cold with its Volt and the related Opel/Vauxhall variant, the Ampera.

While GM is talking 30,000 units from the Detroit plant in 2012, this figure is expected to double to 60,000 vehicles within a couple of years.

But with Chinese sales of Volt starting late 2011, demand seems likely to exceed even that figure.

Ultimately, the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera version is likely to be built in Europe, possibly at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant in the UK.

The Volt uses lithium-ion battery cells made by LG Chem in South Korea and assembled into packs of 220 at a special GM factory in Detroit. The packs are good for 16kWh, helping the Volt to achieve an alleged 1.2L/100km – well under the standard Prius hybrid’s 3.9L/100km.

In the US, Chevrolet dealers who want to sell Volt will need to satisfy certain GM requirements, including installing a high-voltage quick-charge point in their dealership, sending staff to specialised training courses and having a Volt demonstrator on the fleet.

GM says the Volt can be charged at home from a standard US 120-volt plug in about nine to 10 hours, or a specially-installed 240-volt outlet in three to four hours.

It says 4400 early buyers of Volt will get free, government-funded 240-volt changing points installed in their garage by ECOtality or Coulomb Technologies.

A 2012 launch date for the Holden Volt in Australia was confirmed by then-chairman and managing director Mark Reuss at the 2009 Melbourne International Motor Show.

He said at the time that Holden had been “overwhelmed by public interest” for the Volt, which had the potential to “change the game in Australian motoring”.

The Volt is built on the same Delta II small-car platform as the Cruze that will go into production at Holden’s Elizabeth plant in South Australia from early next year.

A plug-in hybrid version of the Cruze, using Volt running gear, was shown to journalists in Detroit in June last year.

When it announced local Cruze production in December 2008, Holden said it was considering “stop-start hybrid” among a range of alternative or fuel-saving technologies for the small car.

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