ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports on the high expectations for the car, which GM hopes will become America's top green vehicle.
TRACY SAMILTON: Unidentified Man #1: You guys need any roadmap at all or are we...
AARON BRAGMAN: Unidentified Man #1: Okay. Perfect. Okay.
BRAGMAN: Unidentified Man #1: You guys have fun.
SAMILTON: Like Bragman, most will give the car high marks. It's comfortable, fun to drive, quiet. There's tons of torque - car people love torque. And there's all that cool stuff on the dash and in the powertrain.
BRAGMAN: The level of technology in this thing is surprising - even those of us who've seen high-tech cars. I mean, you pop the hood, and it is packed.
SAMILTON: The Volt runs on its battery alone for 25 to 50 miles, depending on how and where you drive. After that, the internal combustion engine kicks in to power the electric motor.
BRAGMAN: You barely even know the engine comes on.
SAMILTON: Since most people drive fewer than 40 miles a day, it's possible to drive the Volt just like an electric car most of the time. But if you need to go a long distance, you can do that, too, using gas. It's unique - as unique as the Prius hybrid was 13 years ago. Bragman says it's entirely possible the Volt could be to GM as the Prius is to Toyota.
BRAGMAN: This is really the new halo vehicle, the new green, got-to-have-it vehicle.
SAMILTON: Volt marketing chief Tony DiSalle says this one car could lift the whole company.
TONY D: When consumers see that, they quickly go to the notion that you are smart enough to design and engineer and manufacture a vehicle that's this capable and this innovative. You just must make better vehicles overall.
SAMILTON: What the car won't do is make lots of money, at least at first. GM has put more than $700 million into the program, and it could take a long time to get that back. Most analysts say Prius didn't make money for Toyota for nearly a decade. But by luring people to Chevy dealerships to see the Volt, DiSalle says GM might just sell a few more of its other vehicles.
SALLE: People would come in to look at it and not necessarily be in the target for a Volt and become extremely interested in a Cruze.
SAMILTON: While GM strategizes, some analysts remain highly skeptical. Brett Smith is with the Center for Automotive Research and says Prius has already proven itself in the marketplace. Toyota has sold more than 880,000 of the hybrid cars in the U.S. Smith thinks it's way too soon to speculate on Volt sales or any halo effect.
BRETT SMITH: They're learning about the market. They're learning about the consumer. They're learning about the technology. Give it 10 years, look back, and I think it would be interesting. But right now, it's a great experiment.
SAMILTON: For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton in Ann Arbor.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.