Gm to Speed Up Volt Production

By: Iver Penn

General Motors Corp (GM) chairman Richard Wagoner has reportedly told shareholders at the company's annual meeting recently that GM is serious about speeding up development of the new technology needed for the electrified Chevrolet Volt. GM has previously announced building the Chevrolet Volt in 2010. The concept version of the car features a maximum range with a full tank of gas and charged batteries of 640 miles. The Volt's gas motor never drives the wheels directly, but instead provides power to the electric motors.

However, later during that day after the shareholders' meeting Wagoner was in Washington along with top executives Alan Mulally and Tom LaSorda from the Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Corp respectively, arguing against tougher new fuel economy standards pending in Congress.

"Frankly, it's time to move beyond exclusive reliance on historical regulatory approaches that clearly haven't solved these critical problems ... and move forward to embrace solutions that will yield the results that Americans expect and deserve," Wagoner said.

"For example, it has become increasingly clear that, of anything we can do over the next decade, biofuels have by far the greatest potential to actually reduce US oil consumption, reduce oil imports and reduce carbon gas emissions," he said.

The appearance of the three executives drew sharp reactions from environmental and consumer groups.

"As Detroit's Big Three and Toyota launch an astonishingly short-sighted advertising and lobbying campaign to block even modest improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency, it is time for Washington and Detroit to address the fact that our nation is needlessly losing the race to develop the best fuel-efficient vehicle technology," said Pam Solo of the Washington-based Civil Institute.

"Increasing fuel efficiency can simultaneously reduce our reliance on Middle Eastern oil, cut greenhouse emissions, save quality auto industry jobs and help build the US economy," Solo said citing surveys of potential voters that show 75 percent favor tougher emissions standards.

Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, said the fuel-efficiency target proposed by the domestic carmakers and Japanese rival Toyota was 30 percent too low.

Detroit's automakers, however, remain dependent on sales of gas-guzzling pickup trucks and large sport utility vehicles (SUV) - sales of which are slipping as consumers react to rising gasoline prices. Sales of small cars on the other hand, continue to increase.

GM's Wagoner appeared to be gearing up for the trend, announcing at the annual shareholders meeting on Tuesday the award of two contracts for advanced development of lithium-ion batteries for its new Chevy Volt - which was introduced as a concept car at the Detroit automobile show in January.

The Volt is being developed as part of GM's strategy to diversify away from petroleum, Wagoner said. GM, maker of , has also acknowledged that the company is now facing "a serious image problem," particularly with increasing fuel-conscious Americans.

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