GENEVA – General Motors Corp. (GM) has set a target for production of an all-electric car in 2010, GM's product chief and Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said on Tuesday.
Lutz said the major uncertainty facing the Chevrolet Volt, a concept vehicle GM unveiled in January, was whether lithium-ion batteries can be developed to power it economically and safely.
A running Volt prototype is expected by the end of 2007, he said, adding that GM would take the unusual step of opening much of its development process to the media.
"We have set an internal target of production in 2010. Whether we can make that or not, this is still kind of an unpredictable program for us," Lutz told reporters on the sidelines of the Geneva auto show.
He added: "We're sort of outside our comfort zone."
GM detailed its broad plans for the all-electric Volt at the Detroit auto show, but the world's No. 1 automaker declined then to disclose a production timeline.
Some critics and competitors questioned whether GM, which has been hurt recently by its association with gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and trucks, would produce the Volt or might just look to capitalize on the favorable attention that its concept car generated.
"Competitors who write this off as a PR exercise are going to be brutally surprised," Lutz said.
Electric cars, including plug-in hybrids like the Volt, have drawn strong support from U.S. environmental groups, which see such vehicles as a way to reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions since they can d be recharged with power drawn from a cleaner-burning electric grid.
GM scrapped an earlier experiment with an electric car marketed in California as the EV1, an unpopular decision that made it the target of criticism and the 2006 documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?"
But GM billed the Volt as a return to the once-failed idea of a mass-market electric car. The Volt is intended to draw its power exclusively from a next-generation battery pack capable of being recharged by a small onboard engine or a normal electric outlet.
GM has said it is aiming for the Volt to be able to run for 40 miles on pure electric power, meaning many commuters would be able to get through a day without using gasoline.
Lutz said GM's initial work had shown that the production version of the Volt would have to shed some of the bold styling cues of the concept, including the extreme front placement of the wheels.
"I know we cannot make the production car look like the concept," he said. "The whole shape of the car is going to have to be a little more traditional."
Lutz also said there was still a chance that the concept could prove unworkable. "I would say there is still a 10 percent chance this will fail," he said.
Separately, Lutz said GM's 11-percent rise in U.S. retail sales in February suggested that the automaker was starting to find traction with new products after a wrenching restructuring that cut over 34,000 factory jobs.
"One swallow does not a summer make, but I think it's turning," he said.