General Motors is deliberately and systematically training its sales and service personnel to set the tone for the Chevrolet Volt’s nationwide deployment by year’s end, and all that is to follow.

As a new kind of car being launched into a world where many have no clear understanding of how they work , Chevrolet employees are being sent back to school for supplemental training.

Chevrolet ordinarily does this to one degree or another for all its new cars, according to GM spokesman Rob Peterson. It has an online employee training program for initial and periodic continuing supplemental training.

As of late 2010, the Volt introduced components that will need diagnosing, repair and replacement that previously no Chevrolet technician had to know about.

But the Volt is special, Peterson said, and Chevrolet employees are receiving more focused attention than usual.

“Our target is to train 22,000 dealership personnel across the United States within the next six months,” Peterson said, “We’ll have 20 different training sessions that are in 20 different locations across the United States.”

The process has been on-going, he said, citing one session just finished three or four weeks ago in Detroit.

“It was a 10-day program that brought through nearly a thousand dealership employees for a half-day or full-day training session,” he said of classes held in successive waves.

In such classes, strategic and technical understanding is being carefully disseminated top-down, Peterson said. The Volt is even being compared to competitors in as neutral a setting as possible, considering they are all Chevrolet employees being trained by GM.

If this is to become a more common site in Chevrolet dealerships around the country, GM knows it will need to get its people ready.

“These technicians, these employees and technicians, they begin to understand the Volt,” he said, “They experience the Volt, they get an opportunity to drive the Volt, and to experience the Prius and the Volt and make their own judgment, you know, ‘what are the benefits of this?’”

Naturally, curricula are tailored for respective employee roles – for those who have to fix them, or sell them. Technicians who started out years ago imagining they would only have some complex electronics to repair, now have more to learn than they initially thought they would.

Preparation for a paradigm shift

From a marketing standpoint, it is vital to properly foster the Volt's acceptance, and nothing short of ushering in the EV age is at stake, Peterson said. GM's powers that be believe it essential for those purveying electric vehicles not to over-promise and under-deliver, or vice versa.

“The whole EV movement needs to manage expectations, and some of that starts with, you know, regardless of what manufacturer you have, you have to manage the expectations of the electric vehicles,” Peterson said, “There are certain things – you cannot overcome physics. Physics impacts electric vehicles.”

GM anticipates a bright future for the Volt. It is doing what it believes is required to best ensure it will happen.

By doing it right, Peterson said, GM will facilitate a smoother roll out and proliferation of cars powered by batteries.

“We need to be sure we are managing the EV story. And if we can set the expectations appropriate and manage them accordingly, the EV movement will accelerate from just a simple movement to moving into the mainstream,” he said, “So now when a customer comes into a dealership to learn more about Volts, we want to make sure they understand all of the Volt. That’s key because we think we have a significant competitive advantage there. But we also want to make sure that we are managing expectations so as they experience the vehicle, they know what to expect from it.”

Early adopters are seen from a certain perspective as well, Peterson said. The proverbial light bulb of understanding went on first in their minds, but ensuring the experience is properly transferred to others is important to GM’s overarching plan to organically cultivate growth of EVs from beyond their present fringe status.

Peterson used an apt description for consumers next in line to the first purchasers. “Fast followers” will be people who adopt from the early adopters, if you will, and take on the enthusiasm of those who first embraced EVs.

Gearhart Chevrolet Owner Judy Tilton presents Jeffrey Kaffee , of Parsippany, New Jersey, with his new Chevrolet Volt - the first Volt to be delivered in the country - Dec. 15, 2010 at Gearhart Chevrolet in Denville, NJ.

“These early adapters tend to be voices that influence the fast followers,” Peterson said, “So if we increase volumes, and we have the right ownership experience – and we will and we are, we’re seeing that already – if we have the right owner experience among our early buyers, it will accelerate the adoption and the pace by which electric vehicles move from a niche to mainstream.”

Peterson’s insights further explain GM’s thinking in light of his statement a couple days ago that a mere 1,210 retail sales in the Volt’s first quarter is “right on track.” It also helps explain why in year one only 10,000 units are slated for the U.S., why only 5,000 will go to the rest of the world, and why only key demographic areas were chosen up front in seven states to start with.

Put simply, the Volt is GM's billion-dollar baby, the first of a new generation its people would like to give extra care. This they are doing, lest they inadvertently thwart the achievement of the precocious kid they expect it will soon be.