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GM Unveils 230 MPG Claim for Chevy Volt

Listen to auto analyst George Maglioni discuss market challenges facing the Volt and what electric vehicles could mean for the new GM and the struggling U.S. auto industry:

Scheduled to start U.S. production next year as a 2011 model, the Volt is at the forefront of GM’s hopes for the future. The company just emerged from bankruptcy a much-diminished version of its former self, with fewer models, dealers and brands.

“From the data we’ve seen, many Chevy Volt drivers may be able to be in pure electric mode on a daily basis without having to use any gas,” GM Chief Executive Fritz Henderson said Tuesday at a new vehicle exhibition in Warren, Mich. “[A] vehicle like the Volt that achieves a composite triple-digit fuel economy is a game-changer.”

The fuel-economy estimates cited by GM are based on a new draft methodology from the Environmental Protection Agency. Under those draft guidelines, the Toyota Prius hybrid, currently the market leader in fuel economy, received a rating of 51 miles per gallon in city driving, or less than a quarter of the GM’s predicted efficiency for the Volt. The EPA has yet to confirm GM’s claim.

The Volt is powered by a lithium-ion battery with a range of around 40 miles, a distance longer than what eight out of 10 American commuters travel each day, according to the Department of Transportation. A small gasoline engine kicks in after 40 miles to repower the battery, giving the car a daily range of about 300 miles. That battery that can be recharged though a traditional power outlet at home.

One barrier to success may be the Volt’s price tag; at $40,000, it is nearly double the starting price of the Prius. The scarcity of public outlets for recharging in urban areas may also limit its immediate appeal.

Even if the Volt manages to jolt consumers’ favor, there will be plenty of competition. Ford, Chrysler, Daimler and Toyota are all developing plug-in vehicles. Being the first to roll out with such an impressive projected fuel rating may give the Volt an early advantage. But analysts are pessimistic that it spells unconditional success for the new GM.

“As far as getting out there … on the leading edge of fuel economy, … [the Volt] is very important,” said Maglioni. “Is this going to be the world-beater, big-volume program that turns the new General Motors around? No.”