GM's Volt sales low in China, but that's just a start -exec

DETROIT Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:02am IST

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DETROIT Aug 10 (Reuters) - General Motors Co's electric-vehicle efforts in China are still in their infancy, with low sales of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid car, but it intends to be a player in that market as it grows, an executive for the U.S. automaker said on F rid ay.

While Volt sales are minimal -- partly because Chinese import duties push the price to almost double the just-under $40,000 cost in the United States -- GM is counting on the vehicle to establish the automaker's presence as it rolls out similar alternative-energy vehicles in the future, said Ray Bierzynski, head of GM's electric vehicle strategy in China.

He declined to provide Volt sales figures other than to say it was a very low-volume car.

GM also has said it intends eventually to sell the Cadillac ELR luxury electric coupe in China and is exploring an all-electric version of its Chevy Sail, a top-selling car in the Chinese market, where GM was the market share leader last year.

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

The current emphasis in China is on the commercial sector, for which 84 percent of all new-energy vehicles are certified, he said.

The Chinese government hopes to have 500,000 electric and hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015, rising to 5 million units by 2020. It has also said construction of related infrastructure, such as charging stations, needs to speed up. {ID:nL4E8GT9F8]

Bierzynski said automakers will need to sell alternative-energy vehicles to meet the aggressive fuel economy standards China has set for 2020.

However, he said GM has no plans to build the Volt in China, reiterating what Chief Executive Dan Akerson said in April.

Volt is sold in eight cities at 13 dealers around Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Bierzynski said. GM also sells the Buick LaCrosse with its eAssist light electrification technology, as well as a hybrid version of the Cadillac Escalade SUV.

The company has shown a concept for an all-electric version of the Sail, but there are no current plans to produce the vehicle. "There's work going on toward it, but we have not made any decision direction on production, volume, timing, any of that," Bierzynski said.

He also declined to say when the plug-in electric ELR would be sold in China, which Akerson said in April would happen "soon." ELR is scheduled to go on sale in the United States next year.

GM is working to develop the local supply base and has begun testing Chinese battery suppliers' products, Bierzynski said.

While China has national targets, it also has programs and vehicles approved for use in cities and provinces, he said. For example, Shandong province has approved the use of 10,000 low-speed electric vehicles that did not receive national certification but can be used in that region.

Because some industry analysts speculate that this could foreshadow a larger Chinese strategy, Bierzynski said he pays attention to all such programs. "We're investigating all of these options," he said.

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