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GM eyes plug-in cars beyond Volt

General Motors is pressing ahead with investment in a range of electric vehicles beyond its Chevy Volt even as the auto maker slashes spending in other areas, sources with knowledge of the plan said.

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DETROIT–General Motors is pressing ahead with investment in a range of electric vehicles beyond its Chevy Volt even as the auto maker slashes spending in other areas, sources with knowledge of the plan said.

The Chevrolet Volt plug-in and other electric vehicles that will be powered by lithium-ion batteries are key to GM’s effort to reinvent itself at a time when sales are slumping and its turnaround plans have come under increased scrutiny.

To reduce costs, GM has delayed the unveiling of two models including a new Buick LaCrosse initially planned for the Los Angeles auto show this month.

GM also has scrapped development plans for a replacement platform for its full-size SUVs as it battles to shore up its cash position amid a global slump in auto sales that threatens to overrun its restructuring plans.

But even as it cuts product development costs elsewhere, GM is pushing forward with work to develop a range of rechargeable, or plug-in vehicles that will follow the Volt into the market from 2010, the sources said.

The electric-powered vehicles under development at GM include plug-ins for GM’s luxury Cadillac brand, its Opel brand in Europe and a Chevy-branded vehicle with SUV styling, one of the sources said.

GM spokesperson Dave Darovitz said the auto maker does not comment on product plans as a matter of policy. But he said GM has signalled that it will use the technology it is developing in the Volt in a range of vehicles over time.

“We’ve always said it’s not a niche product,” Darovitz said. “The architecture is flexible.”

The Volt is on track to become the first mass-market, plug-in hybrid if it is launched as planned in November 2010. Sources have said Compact Power Inc, a Detroit-area based unit of LG Chem, has won the race to supply the electric Volt with battery packs.

GM and Compact Power have declined comment.

Unlike traditional hybrids such as Toyota’s Prius, which are powered in turn by a battery or by the gas engine depending on driving conditions, the Volt and the other electric vehicles being developed by GM will be powered by electricity at all times.

The Volt carries a 1.4-litre gas engine in addition to a 181-kg battery pack designed to carry the vehicle for 65 kilometres on a single charge. The engine is being designed to kick in on longer trips to generate power for the battery.

The Volt is also being designed so that it can be recharged at a standard electric outlet.

–Reuters

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