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Volt test fleet gives GM options

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Volt test fleet gives GM options

It could get feedback from early versions



General Motors hasn't yet determined how early versions of the Chevrolet Volt will be used to get customer feedback, a top company executive told the Free Press.

Before official production begins in November, GM will build a special fleet to test the vehicles in a variety of conditions and work out any last-minute kinks.

"We might be using those to get additional customer input," Tom Stephens, GM vice chairman of global product development, told the Free Press during an interview in Orlando last month.

But, he said, a final decision has not been made about allowing consumers to drive vehicles in the captured test fleet.

"We're actually building more vehicles in that fleet than we would otherwise build. The potential exists that we could get additional people evaluating those types of vehicles or working with us to evaluate those types of vehicles," he said. "I would say the decision still needs to be made (on) if we're going to put the vehicles in some of the other hands or not."

Stephens indicated that his attention is focused on ensuring that the official Volt launch goes smoothly.

"I'm much more worried about making sure that we have a totally bulletproof launch at the start of regular production," he said. "I think it is so critical for this vehicle to come out and be a smash hit, and I think it's got all of the makings of being able to do that."

The Volt will be able to go 40 miles on a single electrical charge, GM says. After that point, an onboard generator powered by gasoline will produce electricity to power the vehicle.

Since showing the Volt as a concept vehicle at the 2007 Detroit auto show, the company has been under pressure to come out with the vehicle. The late 2010 launch deadline is quick for a vehicle that depends upon technology that's still being developed.

GM isn't planning a huge rollout. The company has said that California, Detroit and Washington, D.C., will be some of the initial, limited markets in which the Volt is sold.

Bob Lutz, a GM vice chairman, said in December that he expects that GM will build up to 10,000 vehicles in the first year. "The reason we are going to ramp it up slowly is because this is uncharted terrain for all of us," he said at the time.

In January, GM opened a new battery assembly facility in Brownstown Township to build battery packs for the Volt. The company is preparing to begin building early versions of the Volt at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant.

Industry analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics said the major pinch point for bringing out the Volt is battery development.

"Without a battery, you don't have a car, and the battery is a complicated device to build that necessitates new manufacturing," he said. "The reason they only had a limited number of cars in November anyway was battery-based."

In January, Ed Whitacre, GM chairman and CEO, indicated that he was pushing for the vehicle to come out prior to the November launch.

"I wish it were on the market today. We're going to push as hard as we can to get this vehicle out there. It's a complicated process," he said at the time.

The Free Press reported that GM was looking at putting a limited number of cars in customers' hands, perhaps as soon as September, in part to get early consumer feedback.



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