In China they’re running a special deal on the Chevy Volt. For the price of two Volts in the U.S., you can get just one in China.

Any takers for the top Chevy at just shy of $80,000 unsubsidized dollars?

There may be some in China, but if so, this is not the stuff of bragging rights, and GM actually declined to share when recently asked just how many of its plug-in electric cars it has sold since officially launching the Volt for sale in January .


Just unloaded Volts in January at HaiTong Port in Shanghai.

But the Volt has been a halo in the U.S. and it would appear it's even more OK to make it one in China. In the U.S., politicized attacks, overblown controversy about its battery, and a $40,000 starting price – minus potential subsidies – has thus far prevented the Volt from regularly selling more than 2,000 units per month, though word is spreading, and things are improving.

As a tech halo in China, the General hopes the Volt will create credibility for the world's largest automaker in the world's largest auto market all in good time, according to a Reuters’ interview with Ray Bierzynski, head of GM's electric vehicle strategy in China.

GM also intends to introduce the pending Volt-based Cadillac ELR and is looking into an all-electric version of the Chevy Sail.

"There's no silver bullet," Bierzynski said. "All of these may have applicability at any given point in time."

At this early stage, China is subsidizing electric vehicles heavily, but only if they are domestically produced, and regarding Voltec, GM has chosen for now to pass on that offer which also means sharing profits, technological know-how, manufacturing processes and the like that China so dearly wants in exchange for fair access to its markets.

Not quite matching President Obama’s high hopes of one million EVs and PHEVs on the road by 2015, China has set a target of just half that many, but hopes to go to 10 times this many on the road by just 2020.

The lowest hanging advanced-tech sales fruit for now, as is true also in the U.S., is with bottom-line conscious fleet buyers who – unlike sometimes not-fully informed mainstream consumers – can crunch the numbers and see a positive value proposition for going EV.

As such, the commercial sector accounts for around 84 percent of new energy vehicle sales now in China.

Perhaps they can sell some $79,000 Volts to these folks.

And perhaps after dipping its toes in, and feeling the water cold, GM might eventually decide to manufacture for-now-imported electric vehicles, at which point China will make the waters feel far more accommodating, coaxing already tempted GM to jump right in.

But for now, Bierzynski repeated prior GM statements that there are no plans to build Volts in China, but did divulge GM is developing a local supply base that could one day be used for this, and is testing Chinese-made batteries as well.

Things are just as up in the air as to when the even more pricey ELR would be introduced, or the electric Sail which thus far has been a concept on show only.

"There's work going on toward it, but we have not made any decision direction on production, volume, timing, any of that," Bierzynski said.

GM is also keeping its options open for small low-speed EVs, Bierzynski said.

At present the Volt is imported from Detroit, and available through 13 dealers in areas around Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Being partially locked out of a market whose central planners intend to expand to five million total electric vehicles on the road by 2020 must be quite a goad to GM which would otherwise surely want to get a larger piece of such a major pie – as long as the necessary concession of domestic manufacture with a joint venture partner is deemed worth the tradeoff.

Or, GM can keep going as is, and see if it can generate significant volume for the Volt against less expensive alternatives now and coming that that are eligible for subsidization as well.

'A game changer'

 

And maybe by the time GM does give in to the carrot on a stick that is China's growing EV market, it will have an upgraded Volt in the U.S., so it will not be such a sacrificial lamb after all.

Like everything else, it's anyone's guess, but GM CEO Dan Akerson said last week GM Ventures is backing battery startup Envia Systems with a $7 million investment in hopes that within 2-4 years an electric GM could have 100-200 miles range.

At that point would a Volt so equipped need a range extender? Or would all this hope for improved li-ion batteries just lead to better EVs, like the Spark and others?

For his part, Akerson only said GM is sure a 100-mile range EV is do-able in a couple years, and with luck, this could become up to 200 miles with batteries made by Newark, Calif.-based Envia.

"I think we've got better than a 50-50 chance to develop a car that will go to 200 miles on a charge," he said. "That would be a game changer."

GM Ventures placed a bet on this pony because it has reason to believe statements by Envia earlier this year saying its next-generation lithium-ion cell has already achieved record energy density. Envia said the new battery could slash EV prices by cutting the battery cost in half.

"These little companies come out of nowhere, and they surprise you," Akerson said in response to a question about GM's strategy on gas-electric hybrid vehicles.

But just to add more kinks in the future road, Akerson said GM is not only considering hybrids and EVs, but hydrogen fuel cells, natural gas, and simply more efficient petroleum-powered engines are all on the table – and which will rise in ascendancy in coming years, GM cannot say.

"We can't put all of our chips on one bet," said GM's CEO. "We've got to look at them all."

 

Reuters , MLive