The word coming from General Motors’ highest-volume market is that the Chevrolet Volt will be made available for sale by the end of this year.

This was first reported last Thursday following a 154-mile Volt “unplugged” promotional drive from Shanghai to Hangzhou, in the eastern part of China.

Kevin Wale, GM of China's president and managing director, was vaguely quoted but specifically attributed as stating the year-end time frame by an English-language Chinese publication.

"The Volt showed that GM leads the world in electric car technologies," Wale said, "and that the company is committed to introducing advanced technologies and products to China."

The article offered no further details such as number of projected units, where Volts would first be sold, etc.

A request for further commentary from a GM spokesperson was not returned over the weekend.

Last Thursday Chevrolet did an "unplugged" tour in eastern China from Shanghai to Hangzhou, which is the capital of the Zhenjiang Province.

Whether the Volt is indeed selling by the end of the year, or not long after, what is more certain is that GM has been testing interest and taking promo photos of the Volt in Chinese settings for some time.

As the technological forerunner for "the new General Motors," this is in line with the company's commitment to China, which is rapidly becoming a substantial source of revenue for the increasingly global company.

Last year’s Chinese deliveries marked the first time in GM’s 102-year history that its U.S. sales were exceeded by a foreign market.

“GM and its joint ventures sold a record 2.35 million vehicles in the domestic market,” says a GM of China press release about Chinese sales.

More specifically, its 2010 Chinese sales increased 29 percent, which was enough to top U.S. sales totaling 2.2 million units – a 6-percent increase for the U.S. market in the aftermath of financial restructuring, and cessation of sales from Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab.

And while last year’s China sales were enough to set a company record, the growth actually represented a substantial slowing from its previous pace. In 2009, GM deliveries of 1.83 million vehicles in China represented 67 percent growth, more than double the 2010 rate.

Despite challenges causing the company to apparently slacken its pace in some respects, GM maintains there is massive potential in China. In a February press conference in China, GM’s CEO Dan Akerson set the tone.

“GM will continue to make China one of our priorities,” Akerson said. “We plan to introduce more than 20 new and upgraded models over the next two years, strengthen our local product development capability, expand our cooperation and sharing of technology with local partners, and lead in the introduction of new energy vehicles including the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle. All of this is part of GM’s long-term commitment to the sustainable development of China’s automotive industry.”

GM CEO Dan Akerson speaks in China about GM's commitment earlier in 2011 – prior to fourth-quarter 2010 earnings reporting. It is now known to have been a record year.

GM’s Chinese market share is presently around 13 percent, and Akerson said the company continues to be quite dependent on its several Chinese subsidiaries, most notably SAIC-GM-Wuling which accounted for about 55 percent of its February 2011 sales.

“We regard our 11 domestic joint ventures as 11 keys to our success in China,” Akerson said, “To remain a global industry leader, GM must remain an industry leader in China.”

As previously reported a few of the challenges GM faces in China include a Jan. 1 small vehicle sales tax increase to 10 percent from 7.5 percent, and the ending of rural subsidies that had only been introduced in March 2009.

What is more, traffic in Beijing is beyond crowded. Vehicle registrations increased from 2.8 million to 4.8 million since 2005, with 700,000 registered just last year.

In an effort to curtail overloaded Beijing roadways, new license plates are being limited to 240,000 per year through a lottery system.

There is little doubt, however, that GM’s strategic planners will continue to find opportunities.

Its entry-level Baojun brand is priced for outlying regions, and the end of growth is anywhere but in sight.

In the words of GM China’s media relations, GM will “continue investing aggressively” for the “long-term success of the company.”

We will report again when we learn more specifics about the Volt's roll out in China.


Los Angeles Times