Whatever its track record with alternative-fuel vehicles, General Motors is not giving short shrift to the 2010 Chevrolet Volt — at least not when it comes to making a case for financial viability. In the plan submitted to feds today, the struggling automaker pledged to develop a fleet dominated by alternative fuel vehicles, right here in the US of A. As we’ve seen before, GM foists much of the weight of this promise onto the Volt, the company’s sexiest example of innovation.
To be sure, the plan is not all about the Volt. GM has made a splash at recent auto shows with hybrid pick-up trucks, although production numbers are expected to be low, batteries large and expensive, and profit margins slim, at best, as the Washington Post reports. It also has massive cuts in the works. But while the company says it wants to bring dozens of hybrid and plug-in vehicles to market over the next five years — many of them trucks — GM time and again uses the Volt to bolster its credentials.
What are the company’s leading examples of strengthening its roots in U.S. soil? The Michigan assembly plant planned for the Volt battery pack, and a nearby lithium-ion battery development program. What’s the one vehicle it names in the stated plan to introduce 14 new hybrid models by 2012, and 26 by 2014? Oh yes, the Volt (two other extended-range electric vehicles based on the Volt are also said to be in the works).
The plan also shows a GM that’s very different from the one that gave outgoing vice chairman Bob Lutz a soapbox for his often less-than-scientific thoughts on climate change:
It [the plan] also results in a business that will contribute materially to the national interest by developing and commercializing advanced technologies and vehicles that will reduce petroleum dependency and greenhouse gas emissions, and drive national technological and manufacturing competitiveness.
But some things haven’t changed. As we noted in November, when GM was begging for a bailout, financial salvation is a tall order for a car expected to cost over $1 billion to develop but not turn a profit until well after the second-generation model rolls off the assembly line. At the time, we wondered whether the Volt would remain a tiny niche product in the company’s lineup, or if GM would remake a meaningful portion of its cars in the green car image of the Volt.
The company says it’s now aiming to have alternative-fuel models account for 66 percent of total sales by 2012, up from the 55 percent goal outlined in the draft submitted to Congress in December. Despite its high hopes for the Volt and the next generation of vehicles GM says it can build with related technology, the little car is no match for GM’s debt load and financial woes. For those, the company says it needs another $16.6 billion in government aid. Otherwise, GM claims it could run out of gas as early as next month — long before the Volt ever makes it to market.