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Higher-voltage production for GM

Presidential meeting: US president Barack Obama (left) with Chrysler Group chief Sergio Marchionne in Detroit last week.

Volt production to increase by half as president Obama sings Detroit praise

Holden logo2 Aug 2010


GM HOLDEN’S chances of securing more than a token supply of Volt plug-in hybrids for Australia in 2012 have improved following the announcement of a 50 per cent production increase in the same year.

General Motors said it will increase production of the Chevrolet Volt, which GMH has committed to releasing as a Holden in Australia in 2012, from a planned 30,000 to 45,000 vehicles that year.

The US auto giant announced the production boost last Friday, the same day US president Barack Obama made a lightning visit to the Detroit-Hamtramck plant that will soon produce the Volt.

President Obama also visited the Jefferson North factory that produces Jeep’s equally vital new Grand Cherokee, in a whistle-stop tour of Detroit automotive factories.

“Pretty smooth,” was president Obama’s assessment of the Volt after driving GM’s ground-breaking new plug-in hybrid for a little more than 10 metres within the Hamtramck facility.

“The Chevrolet Volt provides drivers with the latest technology, outstanding innovation, and something no other electric vehicle can provide – peace of mind,” said GM chairman and CEO Edward Whitacre Jr.

“We are very proud to host the president of the United States at this plant, where the future of the American automobile industry is being built today by the men and women of General Motors.”

13 center imageLeft: US president Barack Obama drives a Volt off the Detroit-Hamtramck line with plant manager Teri Quigley. GM last week announced US retail pricing for the Volt – including a purchase price of $US41,000 ($A45,000) and a lease price of $US350 ($A388) a month before subsidies – and in early July said the first production Chevrolet Volts will go to US customers late this year in California and three US cities – New York City, Washington DC and Austin, Texas.

The rollout will extend to the rest of New York State and Texas, as well as Connecticut and New Jersey, in 2011, when GM expects to produce 10,000 Volts, before it becomes available in all 50 US states within 12 to 18 months of its launch.

The Volt is due to be released in China, the world’s largest single vehicle market, in late 2011, which is likely to put further pressure on Volt supplies for international markets – including Australia – in 2012.

Last year in the US alone, Toyota sold 140,000 examples of the Prius hybrid, a plug-in version of which is now under development and could go on sale in Australia as early as 2012 – the same year Nissan has committed to releasing its all-electric Leaf here.

All three models employ lithium-ion battery technology, but while the Leaf can travel up to 160km on a single charge and GM says the Volt has a battery range of about 64km before its 1.4-litre 53kW four-cylinder petrol engine kicks in to extend the range to about 480km, prototype versions of Toyota’s plug-in Prius offer a range of just 23km.

While the Leaf burns no fuel, GM says the Volt will return average fuel consumption of only 1.2L/100km – well below the standard Prius hybrid’s 3.9L/100km.

GM says increased Volt production is a direct result of public demand, and that other car-makers have announced 30 plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicles since the Volt debuted publicly in January 2007.

Meantime, Chrysler Group used the occasion of president Obama’s visit to announce it will keep open its Sterling Heights assembly plant in Michigan beyond 2012 – when it had been scheduled to close – following the addition of a second shift in the first quarter of 2011.

Chrysler Group plans to sell nearly 200,000 vehicles in Europe and South America next year - more than double its 2010 volumes.

“Chrysler Group’s decision to keep the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) open beyond 2012 and add a second shift of nearly 900 workers in early 2011 was reached in order to support the company’s long-term product plan,” said Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne on Friday.

“After a careful review of all of our manufacturing operations, it became evident that more production capacity was needed and it made good business sense to extend the life of SHAP.

“Maintaining production in Sterling Heights will be mutually beneficial for the City of Sterling Heights, the company and the employees that work at the plant.” More than 1500 United Auto Workers union members welcomed president Obama to the Jefferson North plant in Detroit on Friday – a little more than a year after Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy.

“We were honoured to have the president come to Jefferson North today,” said Mr Marchionne. “It was because of the courageousness of his decision that Chrysler has been able to survive, and in fact thrive, a little more than a year after bankruptcy.” President Obama said Chrysler’s $US143 million operating profit in the first quarter of 2010 and the launch of the 2011 Grand Cherokee, which is built at Jefferson and goes on sale in Australia in early 2011, was evidence of the US car industry’s recovery.

“It was great to see the work that you’re doing and the cars that you’re building,” said president Obama. “Especially when you consider the fact that just over a year ago, the future here seemed very much in doubt.

“Now, I want everybody to think about where we were. We were in the midst when I took office of a deep and painful recession that cost our economy about eight million jobs - eight million jobs - and took a terrible toll on communities like this one.

“Our economy was shrinking about six per cent per quarter. Now, this morning we learned that our economy grew by 2.4 per cent in the second quarter of the year, so that means it’s now been growing again for one full year.

“Independent estimates suggest that more than 1 million jobs could have been lost if Chrysler and GM had liquidated. And in the middle of a deep recession, that would have been a brutal, irreversible shock not just to Detroit, not just to the Midwest, but to our entire economy. So I refused to let that happen,” said president Obama.

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