GM hopes new Volt plug-in helps EVs get out of low gear

Mon Jan 12, 2015 12:41am EST
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By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co on Monday will unveil its next-generation Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and is expected to restate a commitment to build an affordable long-range electric car, doubling down in a segment with scant sales and even skimpier profits.

Electric cars and plug-ins like the Volt account for less than 1 percent of the global vehicle market, and falling oil prices are widening the cost gap between electrified cars and petroleum-fueled internal combustion engine vehicles.

GM's current Volt has sold well below initial company projections and is a money loser, analysts say. The company doesn't disclose profits by model line. Last year, U.S. sales of the Volt fell almost 19 percent to fewer than 19,000 vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne last May asked consumers to steer clear of his company’s Fiat 500e.

"I hope you don't buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000," he said.

Still, GM and its major rivals persist in their efforts because without “zero-emission” vehicles and ultra-high mileage hybrids, they could fall short of meeting government demands to more than double fuel efficiency by 2025. In addition, California has set its own quotas for zero-emission vehicle sales, and China is pushing the industry for more battery-powered vehicles.

“We’re in for the long haul,” GM CEO Mary Barra told reporters last week at the company’s downtown Detroit headquarters. “I’m very excited about the new Volt.”

The new Volt, which will be unveiled ahead of the Detroit auto show this week, will offer customers an electric driving range of 50 miles, up from about 40 in the current model.   Continued...

The General Motors logo is seen outside its headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan in this file photograph taken August 25, 2009. REUTERS/Jeff Kowalsky/Files