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GM to build Volt-based luxury Cadillac EV

General Motors Co confirmed Wednesday it will build a luxury electric car based on the technology used in its Volt plug-in hybrid for Cadillac.
/ Source: Reuters

General Motors Co confirmed Wednesday it will build a luxury electric car based on the technology used in its Volt plug-in hybrid for Cadillac as the automaker also studies plans for an all-electric small car for its mainstream Chevrolet brand.

GM did not disclose the timing for production of the battery-powered Cadillac dubbed the ELR, but people familiar with the plans said the plug-in hybrid will be built in 2013 as a 2014 model.

The two-door ELR coupe revives plans for GM's Cadillac Converj concept car that won acclaim for its bold design when shown at the Detroit auto show in 2009.

The sources asked not to be identified because details of the rollout of GM's first luxury electric car have not been announced.

The news comes at a time when Toyota Motor Corp has begun marketing its 2012 Prius plug-in hybrid, a competitor to the Chevrolet Volt. A plug-in Cadillac would be a rival to the $97,000 Karma hybrid sedan that Fisker Automotive is rolling out as a 2012 model.

With the ELR announcement, GM continues its push to seize the mantle of "greenest automaker in the world" from Toyota. GM, like other major automakers, also needs more fuel-efficient cars as the industry pushes toward the more stringent U.S. requirements that will be in place by 2025.

Former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz introduced the Converj in 2009 as a concept vehicle, something automakers routinely do to build excitement for their brands and explore design ideas.

A year later, the automaker's board approved the Converj for production, but that decision was later reversed and since then the timing of an electric Cadillac has been uncertain. GM also scrapped plans for what would have been a second electric vehicle for the brand earlier this year.

GM Chief Executive Daniel Akerson has driven GM more aggressively toward electric vehicles since taking the top job a year ago as the automaker prepared for an initial public stock offering to reduce the stake held by the U.S. Treasury. The government still owns about a third of GM's common stock.

GM's push under Akerson has centered on rolling out plug-in hybrid technology in a broader range of vehicles to recoup its investment in the money-losing Volt. By taking the Volt technology into its luxury brand, GM could reap more profits and drive down the technology's cost.

"The concept generated instant enthusiasm," Don Butler, vice president of Cadillac marketing, said in a statement. "The ELR will offer something not otherwise present -- the combination of electric propulsion with striking design and the fun of luxury coupe driving."

The Volt has a 400-pound lithium-ion battery to provide an electric-only range of 25 to 50 miles. After the battery is depleted, a 1.4-liter gasoline engine provides power.

Toyota says that its Prius plug-in hybrid will have a range of 475 miles, and will be able to drive 13 miles on electricity alone on a full charge. Its battery can fully charge in 90 minutes using a conventional household 110-volt outlet.

GM said the ELR would be powered by a lithium-ion battery like the Volt but provided no detail on its range.

GM officials made clear that the ELR will be built to appeal to buyers of a luxury brand closely associated with horsepower and performance.

In May, sources told Reuters that GM canceled plans to develop a plug-in hybrid based on the Cadillac SRX crossover platform.

GM also is exploring building an all-electric subcompact car for the Chevrolet brand, the sources said. The battery for that car's powertrain would be supplied by A123 Systems Inc , which was just awarded a contract by GM for unspecified future electric vehicles

A pure electric Chevy subcompact would be a competitor for Nissan Motor Co's Leaf, which was introduced late last year like the Volt.

GM's subcompact cars under the Chevy brand are marketed as the Sail in China, the Beat in India and the upcoming Sonic in the United States. GM and its China partner, state-owned SAIC, have pledged to work together to develop electric drive vehicles.

A Chevy spokesman declined to comment on those plans. "We are exploring others (body styles), but we're just not ready to make any announcements," Mike Albano said.

GM's plans to revive the Converj concept were first reported by the website Green Car Reports.