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GM announced today that the plug-in Chevy Volt will have a base price of $41,000, before federal and state incentives, and an aggressive lease offer that’s competitive with Nissan’s upcoming electric LEAF. Here’s the scoop on what the ordering process will entail.

General Motors has finally named its price and detailed the ordering process for the Chevy Volt, an extended-range electric sedan that the automaker hopes will inject new life into its image as a technology innovator. The automaker announced Tuesday morning that the car will have a suggested base price of $41,000, before federal and state incentives (actual pricing will be subject to dealers’ discretion).

Starting today, GM says interested buyers will be able to begin the ordering process at GetMyVolt.com.

The sticker price of the Volt is significantly higher than the amount consumers typically pay for a gas or hybrid car today, and more than $8,000 higher than the base price for Nissan’s upcoming all-electric LEAF sedan (which offers fewer luxury features, a bigger battery, more electric range and less total range). But the Volt MSRP has come in right about as expected.

However, the $350-per-month, 36-month lease that GM plans to offer with a $2,500 down payment (and an option to buy at the end) is an eye-catching deal that could give the Volt an edge in the green car market. For comparison, Nissan said in March that it will lease the LEAF for $349 per month over a 36-month lease period with a $1,999 down payment.

Tony DiSalle, Director of Product Marketing & Communications for the Volt, told us on Monday that GM’s aggressive lease deal stems from the automaker’s high confidence in the resale value of the car. He said financing details have yet to be worked out with GM’s recently-acquired captive credit financing arm, AmeriCredit, but at the end of the day GM will carry the burden of risk to guarantee an as-yet-undisclosed residual value (the car’s projected worth at the end of the lease) in the event that a lessee decides not to buy the car.

The company is still exploring options for secondary applications for the Volt battery pack (typically the most expensive piece of a plug-in car) when it reaches the end of its useful life in the car. But DiSalle said the goal is to keep the battery functioning and on the road for as long as possible, in part by collecting and refurbishing used batteries. Earlier this month GM unveiled an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty on the battery pack, and on Monday DiSalle said the pack should retain about 70 percent of its original charge capacity after a decade.

Both DiSalle and Roland Matthe, who headed up technical engineering on the battery, said the first-gen Volt will not carry a 10-year, 150,000-mile warranty (one of the requirements to receive what’s called enhanced AT-PZEV designation from California emissions regulators) because it would have taken more development time than GM could spare with its ambitious timeline to launch in late 2010. Matthe emphasized that just three years have passed since GM really accelerated development work on the Volt, compared to the 5-7 years that has been typical historically for bringing a new model to market.

If you choose to go all out for the handful of premium options available for the Volt (heated leather seat, three of the eight colors, chrome wheels, rear park assist) the suggested price would max out at $44,600. The base model, however, will come equipped with a slew of luxury features — notably, five years of the automaker’s OnStar Directions & Connections service, which would normally cost about $1,500, as well as a 7-inch touch screen display and a Bose audio system. A destination freight charge of $720 is also included in the $41,000 MSRP.

According to DiSalle, there’s potential for a more basic, stripped-down and lower-cost version down the road. But for now, GM says it sees pent up demand from would-be early adopters with the means to pay these prices. Joel Ewanik, VP of U.S. Marketing for GM (and the former marketing chief for Nissan North America) told reporters on Monday that the automaker is “going to have issues for a year or so meeting demand.” In other words, GM expects a backlog, so don’t bet on walking onto a dealership lot and driving off with a Volt the same day.

Around 600 dealers in GM’s seven lead retail markets for the Volt (parts of California, Washington, D.C., Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas) will carry the 2011 model, with allocations ranging from a couple to about 30 Volt units per dealer, according to DiSalle. While pioneering electric car maker Tesla Motors has made a point of dropping the old dealership model in favor of showrooms operated by the company (and inspired by Apple , Ewanik commented that going around the dealer “never works.”

At GetMyVolt.com, you’ll be able to get on the waiting list at one or multiple dealerships (depending on individual dealer’s policies), or find a local dealer if you want to go in person. Whether or not a deposit is required will, again, be at the dealer’s discretion, said Ewanik. Once a dealer starts the order process, GM says a “dedicated Volt advisor” would contact the consumer. Ewanik said GM hopes to “manage expectations” by letting buyers track the production and status of their order online.

Since the company is expecting a backlog, DiSalle said buyers will be advised not to invest in home charging equipment until their order has been authorized for production, although he acknowledged that some may opt to jump the gun to take advantage of incentives for charging installations before they expire (he also told us that GM’s Tier 1 supplier for charging stations will be announced “very soon”).

At this point, GM is working to sell, baby sell. “The technical guys have done their job — the car is really good,” he said. “This is now a marketing challenge.” A big piece of that will be preventing surprises — whether in terms of how the car performs, when it will be delivered or what infrastructure will be required. As Ewanik put it, “We don’t want people out there saying it didn’t work for them.”

Image courtesy of General Motors

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